Jan Young saw so much of Tempe through her trusty camera’s lens.
She would have full confidence that taking just one single picture would satisfy each photo assignment. Then she could move on to her next photo assignment for the Tempe Daily News. Once Arizona’s first and only full-time female newspaper photographer, Jan was an unmistakable fixture in the community with her blue Volkswagen Bug, her ever-present trench coat, a bowl haircut, and that twin-lens Rolleiflex camera strapped over her shoulder.
For 14 years, during the 1970s and mid-way through the 1980s, Jan daily delivered dozens of photos to TDN publisher Frank Connolly. Called a “quirky local character” and “One-Shot Jan,” she was known for having the assigned photo set up in her mind on arrival to a scene. She told her subjects what she wanted, got the shot, wrote down names, and was gone.
“In those days, the police and fire departments knew me, and I could go past the speed limit and often beat the paramedics and fire department or police to the scene,” she would say during an Oral History session at the Tempe History Museum in 2001. “I never caused them any embarrassment.”
“The reason for me being a one-shot (photographer) was because I had to fill the whole paper, and it took 70 to 80 pictures to fill that paper…to fill every demand for each page of the paper. I couldn’t take 70 or 80 rolls of film, and I wasn’t about to because I was taught to look through the view-finder and you designed your picture and you’d shoot it.”
Jan developed her own film in a lab at her house, printed photos at 4 or 5 a.m., and delivered them to the newsroom in order to meet the 7 a.m. deadline for the afternoon newspaper. When there were fires or accidents at night, Jan monitored the police radios to find out about incidents. Dispatchers regularly called and alerted her, as well. “Then I would throw my trench coat on,” she said. “Everyone wondered what I had on under it in the middle of the night.” Sometimes it was just her nightie. But it led to playful town speculation.
“Of course, I’d never let them know there wasn’t much under the trench coat,” she told an interviewer.
Jan was born in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1918, the daughter of a Reformed Church minister with Pennsylvania Dutch heritage. She attended elementary and high schools that were all-girl. She would report, “I never actually saw a boy until I was in high school.”
Jan suffered from a chronic sinus condition and low blood pressure. At the suggestion of doctors, she moved with her three children to Scottsdale in 1951. Jan had been trained as a school librarian. She took librarian roles in Phoenix’s Roosevelt School District and then Monument Valley High School at Kayenta on the Navajo Nation. She resigned from each district in disputes over administrative policies.
Previously divorced, Jan moved the family to Tempe and enrolled at Arizona State University where she earned two degrees in the art department. “That is where I discovered photography,” she said. “I had never loaded a camera in my life.”
ASU offered its first photography class within the art department. “Before then, photography was never considered an art,” she said. The instruction was only in black and white, a medium Jan called superior because it captures light and shadow so well. She believed color was “just a prop to make people look at it.”
She called Tempe Daily News owners, Frank and Irma Connolly, “the most wonderful bosses I ever had.”
“Once Frank saw what I could do and handle, he would say to me, ‘OK, you go fill the paper with pictures.’”
“If any of the big shot politicians came to town like (Congressman) Johnny Rhodes or Senator (Carl) Hayden, Frank would say, “’Go out, and get ‘em,’ but he never had to tell me what to get because that was part of the fun job,” Jan said.
Jan remembered the time a new reporter from ASU requested she give him a sheet of contact prints (negatives from assignments) because he wanted to decide what photos to accompany his article. “I said, ‘I’m sorry, but I only shot one picture.” The astonished reporter went to Frank Connolly with the complaint. The publisher simply informed him, “You do the reporting, and Jan Young will do the photography.” Meanwhile, Jan would supply the information for the captions.
Jan photographed Arizona icons so often, they became friends. “I took the last photographs of Senator Carl Hayden when he retired,” she said. “He liked me to come into his house or wherever because I did it so quietly and so quickly and I smiled.”
“Then, of course, (U.S. House Minority Representative) Johnny Rhodes used to come up and give me a kiss on the cheek and say, ‘Jan, what do you want?’” Other media folks had to wait until Jan finished photographing. Then came the time when ex-President Gerald Ford came to Phoenix, and Frank Connolly had gotten her a security clearance with the Secret Service. “So,” Jan explained later, “this little old gray-haired lady in the dirty trench coat and a camera and a bunch of stuff hanging around her neck walks in, and John gets President Ford together with him.” Suddenly she felt “two big burly men pushing my arms against me. Two Secret Servicemen clamped my arms against my sides. They thought I was going to lift my arms to shoot.” With Rhodes help, she got her picture.
Jan was the last to photograph Senator Hayden before he died in January 1972 at the age of 94. She took the photo of him seated on a couch which is now at the Tempe History Museum.
Jan’s 1968-model Volkswagen went through three engines and galloped more than 600,000 miles. At the insistence of her daughter (“Mother, it doesn’t have seat belts.”), Jan sold it in 1992, had a good cry, and moved on to a Honda. At the same time, she discarded her trench coats and moved to jackets.
After Frank Connolly died in 1979 and the newspaper was sold to Cox Newspapers, she moved to Santa Fe, N.M., to build a passive solar home “because they wouldn’t let me build it down here. They wouldn’t let me use raw adobe.” Jan stayed four years but grew homesick for Tempe and returned in 1983 where she took freelance photos for the Cox owners of Tempe Daily News and for Tempe Magazine. But while in Santa Fe, she illustrated a 160-page juvenile novel, “Marie, Mota and the Grandmother” by Sunstone Press. It featured 101 black and white photos, but it was filed away when the author died in 1982. A daughter successfully published it years later.
Jan would say she encountered someone questioning her gender as a photographer only once. “Why did the newspaper send a woman?” the man asked
“I smiled sweetly, and I said, ‘Well, the newspaper sent a woman because there wasn’t a man photographer there to come and take this wonderful photo of you to go into the paper.’” Those words disarmed him.
She donated 7,500 negatives of her work to the museum. Some 230 photos can be seen online at emuseum.tempe.gov.
Jan later moved to Chandler and then to Belize in Central America to be with a daughter. She died there on March 15, 2010, at the age of 91.