Amateur Photographer Phil Stewart Runs Off with One of 1979's Most Dramatic Pictures

updated 10/08/1979 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/08/1979 01:00AM

Photojournalism—like so many crafts outsiders assume to be largely dumb luck—is a run for your money. That was the case, literally, for Phil Stewart, 29, of Alexandria, Va., who grabbed the stunning shots of Jimmy Carter's collapse during that 6.2 mile road race near Camp David last month. Stewart is, to be sure, an amateur photographer, but he's an associate editor of Running Times not to mention a world-class runner: He was one of 65 marathon contenders picked for the U.S. Olympic trials in 1976.

When he heard that the President would likely compete in the Catoctin Mountain race, Stewart, who was also entered himself and planned to cover the event, packed his Olympus OM-1 and a 100 mm lens. When Carter turned up at the starting line, Stewart decided to carry his camera in the race. His plan was to leapfrog 100 yards ahead of the President at various points, then stop, focus and snap. When Carter crumpled, Stewart was into his second roll of film. "I clicked off some frames, and the Secret Service men waved me on," he recalls. All he could think of until he saw his negatives was: What if they turn up blank? "There was a shade of doubt," he admits.

Even with the handicap of a camera strapped to his neck and cradled in his left hand, Stewart crossed the line in 50.8 minutes to come in 437th of 750 runners. "If I had been in top form and had not broken pace," says Stewart, "I could have finished in 30 to 32 minutes." He has himself keeled over in a race just like Carter and been taken to a hospital.

"I really feel sorry for the President," says Stewart with a runner's empathy. "When I saw what was happening, I knew, journalistically, I had to shoot, but on top of everything else he's been through, I felt bad this had to happen. I don't consider my photograph a triumph."

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