Ray Lustig: Photojournalist Who Covered Crime Storie and Natural Disasters But Was Best Known For his Work on Capitol Hill

From a Washington Post obit by Matt Schudel headlined “Ray Lustig, longtime Post photographer on Capitol Hill, dies at 83”:

Ray Lustig, a longtime Washington Post photojournalist who covered crime stories, natural disasters and auto races but was best known for his work on Capitol Hill, where he captured the debates and drama of Congress, was found dead March 10 at his home in Washington. He was 83.

Mr. Lustig was a photojournalist in Washington for 38 years, joining The Post in 1981 after 15 years at the Washington Star, which ceased publication that year. He covered the Watergate hearings in the 1970s for the Star and went on to become one of the most-respected and longest-serving members of the Capitol photography corps.

He photographed many major U.S. political figures from 1970s to the early 2000s, including such Senate leaders as Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.), Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), John W. Warner (R-Va.), Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and — long before he became president — Joe Biden (D-Del.).

One of Mr. Lustig’s favorite political figures was New York Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D), whose hearings were “like attending a college course,” Mr. Lustig told National Journal in 2004.

He used the phrase “patient persistence” to describe how he cultivated relationships with members of Congress and their staffs, building a sense of trust.

“He had incredible relationships with the leadership of the House and Senate in both parties,” Melina Mara, a Post photographer mentored by Mr. Lustig, said in an interview. “It’s one thing to be a good photographer, but it’s another thing to be a good newsman or newswoman. And he was a good newsman.”

By the time he retired in December 2003, Mr. Lustig was the longest-tenured photographer at the Capitol and was dubbed “dean of the Hill.” Associated Press photographer Dennis Cook described him, in a 2003 article in the Capitol Hill publication Roll Call, as “a kind of mediator and spokesman for the photographers.”

In the 1990s, a press secretary for Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.) attempted to close a hearing to all photographers except one from the Associated Press. Mr. Lustig organized an impromptu walkout by all the photographers, including the AP’s.

“About 10 minutes later Thompson’s press person came chasing up,” Mr. Lustig told Roll Call, “looking for us to invite us all back in. He said to us, ‘You know, you photographers sure wield a lot of power.’ ”

Mr. Lustig searched to find interesting angles and dramatic moments in the static settings of congressional committee hearings. He also had a knack for humanizing his subjects, showing the shadows in the creased faces of senators conferring together or the strain of being barraged by questions. In a quickly taken shot of Sen.-elect Max Cleland (D-Ga.), who had lost three limbs as a soldier in Vietnam, Mr. Lustig widened his lens to create a poignant portrait of the senator in his wheelchair.

At times, Mr. Lustig was called on to cover breaking news events, including the fatal shooting of two Capitol Police officers in 1998 and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, as police officers raced around the Capitol complex and staffers sought shelter.

Over the years, Mr. Lustig also covered other news stories, including fashion shows, sports and, in January 1981, the deadly crash of an Air Florida jet in the Potomac River. According to longtime Post colleague Gerald Martineau, Mr. Lustig sprained an ankle while leaping over a barrier to photograph the rescue operation from the riverbank.

Mr. Lustig usually carried one or two cameras on each shoulder and had at least six lenses with him at all times. He mastered the geography of the Capitol until he knew all the hallways, elevators and windows, with their shafts of natural light.

“You have to make lemons into lemonade every day,” he told Mara, who began with Mr. Lustig in 1998. “If you can do award-winning photography on the Hill, you can shoot anywhere.”

Raymond Joseph Lustig Jr. was born June 1, 1938, in St. Paul, Minn. His father worked for a food distribution company, and his mother was a homemaker and mother of six.

After high school, Mr. Lustig attended a trade school and worked for an electronics company in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He took up photography as a hobby, then attended the University of Minnesota to study photojournalism. He began taking news photographs in the Twin Cities and worked for newspapers in Fargo, N.D., and Milwaukee before joining the Washington Star in 1966.

He was fond of cats, automobiles and motorcycles and often photographed motor racing events for magazines. Besides the Star and The Post, his photography appeared in publications including Newsweek, Time, Life, People and National Geographic.

In 1991, Mr. Lustig won a first-place award from the White House News Photographers Association in the sports/action category for his image of an exhausted competitor at a Jell-O wrestling match. In an association publication, Mr. Lustig described what drew him to photography: “I am the eyes of the public who cannot witness the event. It’s my responsibility to show what happened, accurately.”

He added: “You get to share with your subjects the very best moments in their lives and the very worst.”

Matt Schudel has been an obituary writer at The Washington Post since 2004. He previously worked for publications in Washington, New York, North Carolina and Florida.

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