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Bob Linder: Hall of Fame Photojournalist on Capturing the Beauty of the Ozarks

Bob Linder
Springfield native Bob Linder was inducted into the Missouri Photojournalism Hall of Fame in October/Credit: Scott Harvey

There’s been a drastic technological shift over the past few decades in how news is captured through a camera lens. But while Springfield native Bob Linder has adapted to the changes, those bedrock principals that helped produce his Hall of Fame career have remained the same. KSMU’s Scott Harvey has the story.

The year was 1987. George Foreman had returned to boxing 10 years after retiring, and was scheduled to fight Bobby Crabtree at the Hitchin’ Post USA on east Kearney St. in Springfield.  It was prior to his knockout win inthe sixth round that Bob Linder recorded the image of a humble and determined former world champion onto a piece of film. Foreman would eventually reclaim his title, and Linder’s photo would become part of a vast collection that built a multi-award winning portfolio.

For 37 years, Linder served as a photojournalist for the Springfield Daily News, Leader-Press and News-Leader.   

Grateful to have photographed celebrities like Foreman, Dick Gregory and Sam Kinison, Linder; whose local family history goes back many generations, says the camera has done much more.  

“It has really connected me to my community in ways I wouldn’t have done by myself. And while the camera has taken me to some kind of far-flung places in the world, my real passion will probably always be photographing the people and places of the Ozarks region,” Linder said.

I recently accompanied Linder to Maple Park Cemetery, observing as he sought to capture the beauty of the fall foliage. He’s patient in his approach; walking several minutes before first looking through the viewfinder, taking the time to study, sometimes touch his canvass to better understand its details.

“And it seems like anything man-made the closer you get to it the more imperfect it is. But with nature, the closer you get to it is the more beautiful it is. And I mean really close like the compound eye of an insect or the veins of this leaf.”

Linder has received numerous awards from United Press International, The Associated Press, and The National Press Photographers Association, among others. In October, he was inducted into the Missouri Photojournalism Hall of Fame. Linder says previous inductees like Betty Love; a longtime Springfield photographer and industry pioneer, and ClifF Edom; founder of the University of Missouri photojournalism program, were big influences. As were the subjects he captured; three in particular. These rarified individuals lived simple lives in the Ozarks, Linder recalls. In the 70s it was Granny Henderson along the Buffalo River; in the 80s, Henry Gore in Shannon County; and in the 90s, Birdle Manon in Taney County.

They lived “off the grid,” Linder says, with no car, electricity, and running water; or, as one of his friends puts it, not “bullied by technology.”  

“And they had a real influence on me as far as their story and telling stories, and kind of putting ourselves in perspective in how we live and how others live and what’s important. Because they were very satisfied with who they were and where they were.”

To date, Linder estimates about two-thirds of his images have been captured using film. A self-proclaimed technician in the dark room, Linder says he loved developing film in both color and black and white. But he admits that in today’s world “software is our dark room,” adding that his favorite camera is the one on his phone. Regardless of the technology, Linder has made a living out of telling incredible stories by the click of a button. But he emphasizes that it starts with building a relationship with your subject.

He recalls the story of Maria Akers, who was invited aboard the USS Enterprise to honor her son, who was killed during the Vietnam War. Linder visited Akers’ Pulaski County home prior to her departure, where in a short time the two would develop a strong bond that allowed for a memorable photo.

“She was holding the flag that draped his coffin and she had it folded and she was trying to decide whether to take it with her or not. And she was talking about it and just for a moment, she held the folded flag up and just kind of hugged it, like it was her son. And it was just one of those moments where you don’t know whether to raise the camera or not, but it was really kind of OK because we had established this relationship.”

That relationship building takes time, Linder says. He encourages aspiring photographers to first let things calm down, and show that you’re “not just there to steal their image and walk away,” noting the impact it can leave on you and their story, but more importantly, how it impacts the subject.

“But when you look this way and the light’s coming through the leaves, you really get that glow, particularly with these.” 

Back at Maple Park Cemetery, Linder tells me that while photographing nature, it’s about letting your mind and body relax, and getting in tune with the shapes, colors and the contrast. 

These days, Linder is a freelance photojournalist and videographer. The hope is to continue to apply the principals he’s established in his nearly 40 year career for many more years to come.

Reacting to his recent induction into the Missouri Photojournalism Hall of Fame, a humble Linder jokes, “perhaps there’s a hall of fame for everything?” But in speaking with him, it’s easy to realize how incredibly grateful Linder is to have his name mentioned with that of others who have had an impact on his life; as a photographer, a journalist, and a person. 

Bob Linder at Maple Park Cemetery/Credit: Scott Harvey Birdle Manon stands in the gate of her modest cabin in southwest Missouri, her home since 1916. Photo made 12/5/97. By Bob Linder/Used with permission. Dick Gregory 1977Before speaking at Drury University’s Clara Thompson Hall, comedian turned political activist Dick Gregory stood backstage under a bare light bulb. Gregory was intense and quiet, as though gathering momentum before his lecture. While some of his talk was social satire, much more was fiery activism. George Foreman, 38 in 1987, was starting at the bottom again. Foreman fought Bobby Crabtree at the HitchinÕ Post nightclub in Springfield on his comeback trail. By Bob Linder/Used with permission. Gamel's Service station is now a Subway sandwich shop at 731 N. Benton. By Bob Linder/Used with permission. Granny Henderson 1978. By Bob Linder/Used with permission. Hard Hills, Hard Times Portrait of Poverty in the Missouri Ozarks 1985. The package was the News-Leader's first Pulitzer entry. By Bob Linder/Used with permission. Henry Gore 1985 lived along Bryant Creek in the backwoods of Shannon County, Missouri, in a “sawmill” house. By Bob Linder/Used with permission. Maria Akers 2000. She was invited to attend the dedication of a museum aboard the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Enterprise dedicated to 28 sailors who were killed and 344 injured, including her son, during the Vietnam War.  By Bob Linder/Used with permission. Sam Kinison, a preacher turned  comedian, during his guest appearance on a radio talk show in San Francisco. By Bob Linder/Used with permission. Splash Boys 1995. There had just been a big summer rain shower and they were standing on the corner near a large puddle, waiting to receive a refreshing splash from a passing car. By Bob Linder/used with permission. Computer for Mwaya 2012

Students from Mwaya Secondary School listened as a high school junior from Springfield guided them through video lessons from the Khan Academy on a laptop computer. By Bob Linder/used with permission. 10-year-old Levi Tuggle holds a candle as an acolyte (alter boy) at the Theotolcos Unexpected Joy Orthodox Christian Mission. By Bob Linder/Used with permission.