For Neal Menschel, the lure of photography started when he snapped a photo upside down of Orlando Casteno hanging by his hands from a clothesline.
"I used a Brownie camera," Mr. Menschel says fondly of that day too many years ago in Coudersport, Pa., when two boyhood friends were goofing around with a camera.
The click of the shutter that day led Menschel to a 26-year career capturing right-side-up images from the world's hot spots.
Twelve of those years were spent with the Monitor, traveling to dozens of countries and across America, cameras dangling from his neck. For the last few years he was the Monitor's photo editor.
Now Menschel has left the Monitor to travel a new territory: the science classroom at Groton (Mass.) Dunstable Regional School, where he is a full-time seventh-grade science teacher.
"I wanted a new-old challenge" Menschel says, recalling that he once taught school in Alaska. As everyone in the Monitor newsroom knows, Menschel is an adept teller of stories riddled with humor and information from his travels. A classroom will do little to stifle the flow.
"I was on an assignment once in Brazil with Chico Mendes," he says. Francisco (Chico) Mendes, the beloved union leader of rubber tappers in the Amazon, was later murdered as he worked to preserve the rain forest. "We were traveling by truck to a village," Menschel says, "and somebody had caught some tortoises for Chico to cook. One of the tortoises was upside down on a porch. When Mendes got there, he turned the tortoise over, lay down for a nap, and used the tortoise as a pillow."
What has always impressed Menschel in traveling, especially in developing countries, are people's buoyancy and hope. "They are so willing to take you in," he says, "and share whatever they have. Even in their struggles, I didn't find much bitterness."
But a photographer is always a stranger in a strange land. "I'd say a photographer has 30 seconds to establish some kind of trust with people before he lifts the camera," Menschel says. "If you're not sincere, they know it. You stick out like a sore thumb, and you have to be upfront about intentions."
Menschel has photographed five United States presidents, a number of revolutions, and the length of US Route 1. He has dangled out of airplanes for photos, and once fled in a car from an angry elephant.
After taking thousands of photos, Menschel says the thrill was more in "hitting the button than in seeing the photo published."
What concerns him about the future of photography is electronic imaging. "The images can be manipulated," he says, "and there is no negative, no record of what the photographer really saw."
Is he done with photography?
"No," Menschel says, "I'm thinking of building a darkroom in my basement."