On Scene with Bill Wilson: Photos of the Year

Pope Francis during a General Audience in St. Peter’s Square on April 17, 2013

 In terms of photographing people of prominence 2013 might take the cake for being the year I achieved the peak.  Being able to get photos of Time Magazine’s Person of the Year in the same year he graced the year-end cover is something that will remain a highlight for years to come. I refer, of course, to Pope Francis. When elected in March of 2013 I think the Cardinal electors knew they were getting a man who would bring needed change, but I’m not convinced they knew just how much a change he would bring. From the moment he stepped out on the loggia of St. Peter’s and asked for the people’s blessing before blessing them to his words – “Who am I to judge?” and his actions, – kissing the feet of 12 inmates at a juvenile detention center in Rome during Holy Thursday services, among them two women and two Muslims – the Pope continues to provide us with answers to the question, “What would Jesus do?”


Pope Francis kissing eight month old Mattais.

 Being able to photograph some of the Pope’s public events during his first month in office provided me with a great many memories that will remain with me. The foremost one will be the fact that during the General Audience of April 17 as he circled St. Peter’s Square, he stopped in front of me to kiss the baby of the couple next to me. The husband was a member of the Swiss Guard and was returning to Switzerland. He and his wife brought their 8 month old son to be kissed by the Pope. He did right in front of my camera. With about 70-80,000 people in the Square the chances of that happening are rather astronomical.


Justice Sonia Sotomayor  with Bill Wilson

Just being in the right place at the right time seemed to be a theme this year as I found myself dealing with two Supreme Court Justices and a former President of the United States, but not all at the same time! When Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor was in San Francisco to promote her autobiography she did two days of appearances. At the second event I attended one of the organizers told me that the photographer they had hired to take photos was unable to be there so she asked if I would be able to take pictures for them. I agreed. Briefly before her speech the Justice posed with various event organizers. After everyone had posed with her she said, “We’re not finished yet.” She turned to me and explained, “You are going to hand your camera to someone and they are going to take your picture with me.” Of course I did.


 Edie Windsor greets the throngs of supporter after oral arguments in her case before the Supreme Court

 Just being in Washington, DC during the oral arguments in the Prop 8 and DOMA cases was being in the right place, but again there were many moments that I will cherish. One of them was walking down the streets I walked as a very closeted gay man working for a United States Senator some forty years ago. That same Senate seat is now occupied by Senator Tammy Baldwin the first openly LGBT member of the Senate. Something that I could not have even contemplated would happen in my lifetime, but then I never thought it would be possible to elect a black man President in my lifetime either – why do I suddenly feel like an old man? I remember when there were no gays in Congress and when you wrote to someone you used a pen, not a computer.



Senator Tammy Baldwin leaving the Supreme Court after arguments in the Windsor case that overturned DOMA.

Justice Anthony Kennedy is the author of the majority opinions in such landmark cases concerning gay rights cases as Romer v Evans, which struck down Colorado’s Amendment Two, Lawrence v Texas, which struck down sodomy laws, and Windsor v State of New York, which struck down the Defense of Marriage Act. He was invited to San Francisco to give the keynote address at the opening session of the American Bar Association’s annual convention. It seemed very fitting that as he spoke seated behind him was the San Francisco’s Gay Men’s Chorus, which performed during the opening session. I had the opportunity to take photos backstage before the session. When I said that I had taken photos during their previous visit to ABA convention in San Francisco it was Mrs. Kennedy who replied, “Yes, I remember because many people say that they will send us copies of photos, but you are one of the few who actually did.”


Justice Anthony Kennedy and the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus.

 When it was announced that President and Mrs. Carter were going to be working on a house in Oakland as part of the 30th anniversary of their annual Habitat for Humanity Bldg. project I welcomed the chance to get some photos of the former President and Mrs. Carter doing the humanitarian work that they are noted for doing. I didn’t realize at the time that I would get a chance to participate.


The future owners of the home under construction stop for an interview as President and Mrs. Carter in the background continue working.

When I arrived at the sign –in area around 8:30 I was told the Carters were already at work on site, which was several blocks away. Because it was a construction site they had places were the media could observe and photograph from without being in the way. Every once in a while the President and Mrs. Carter would come out and use the table saw with Mrs. Carter holding the piece of wood. After I had been there several hours and gotten some great photos of them working, the President and Mrs. Carter came out and started talking with Mrs. Carter’s nephew and his family, who were also volunteering on the project. After a few minutes President Carter became a little restless and went back to work. He finished whatever he had been doing and came out of the house with another piece of wood to be cut. The place were they allowed the media was close to the table saw and when he realized that Mrs. Carter was still talking to her nephew he turned to the media and said, “Can I get some help?” Trying to remain cool I counted to two before I jumped at the chance to volunteer.

President Carter cutting lumber for a window frame with an assist from Bill Wilson (Photo:  David Kligman)

No year – end review would be complete without noting those to whom we said a final good-bye. This year the Imperial Court lost it founder, Jose Sarria whose funeral held at Grace Cathedral was befitting the royalty he was. It wasn’t too long after that that the Court paid final honors to Steve Rascher, the 16th Emperor after Norton..


 The Widow Norton at her tombstone and Emperor Steve Rascher (right).

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