Phil G. Giriodi: A Conversation With The Photojournalist Turned Author

Remnants of the World War II Battle for Midway Island, taken from a 16mm frame shot in 1957 by Phil G. Giriodi.
Remnants of the World War II Battle for Midway Island, taken from a 16mm frame shot in 1957 by Phil G. Giriodi.
Courtesy of Phil G. Giriodi

Scottsdale resident Phil G. Giriodi spent 48 years chronicling the best and the worst this crazy orb has to offer. From the eruption of Mount St. Helens' to the mid-air plane crash of Pacific Southwest Airlines Flight 182, Giriodi has photographically been there, done that.

One thing he hadn't accomplished in his award-winning career, however, was to muse over his stunning portfolio.

That's changed with his recently released memoir Breakfast in Paris, Lunch in Rome, Dinner in London: Reflections in the Eye of a CBS, NBC, ABC Photojournalist that includes 30 images from his long and successful career.

New Times chit-chatted with the award-winning artist. The following is in Giriodi's words.

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I never planned on writing a book, but after repeated urgings from my wife, friends, and acquaintances, I finally gave it a shot.

During my career, I kept Day at a Glance books and jotted down the various assignments and thoughts. Once I became serious about attacking this project, I estimate that it took me about two years of writing, working with my publisher's editors, culling photographs down to a final 30, working with cover and back [cover] graphic designers as well as book design and then the process of working with the publisher on marketing. I cut enough material from the original manuscript to complete another book, but I don't believe that I will do another one.

My photojournalist career spanned about 48 years. Fifteen years in local news in Los Angeles, fifteen years with CBS Television News and 60 Minutes, and about eighteen years with my own video production/post production company in Hawaii.

There were so very many memorable assignments. My most favorite ones were up close and personal with volcanoes such as Kilauea and Mount St. Helens. I came away with heat blisters and a lava scratched cornea while outrunning a rapid lava flow through a neighborhood. I also enjoyed covering shootouts between the cops and barricaded suspects. Both of the aforementioned assignments were extremely challenging.

One of the most challenging assignments was the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) shootout. In those days (1974), the cops and FBI agents didn't restrict us from getting as close to the action as we dared to. (I recently donated my original film of this event to the Newseum in D.C., where it will be displayed with the "FBI Crime Fighting" exhibit.) This also held true with structure fires as well as forest fires. We were on our own.

 

Probably the most difficult assignment was the PSA [Flight 182] midair plane crash in San Diego. There were fragments of bodies plastered against houses and hanging in the trees with acrid foul smelling smoke. I held my emotions together until I spotted a charred child's book in the smoldering wreckage, then I had to hide my emotions behind the viewfinder of my camera until I regained a little composure. I never became jaded regardless of how many tragedies I witnessed, especially children.

We lost our son about 11 years ago. He was a search and rescue young man who pushed risk taking too far.

We did a lot of interviews with major celebrities over the years and this was always fun. You might especially enjoy the sub-chapter titled Call me Frank. Also, the one about John Wayne and a Hollywood gossip reporter who was a witch spelled with a "B."

There were many other assignments and so varied. There was Boom Boom Le Trixie, the stripper who reminded me of a spicy salad with very little dressing. On another assignment, a helicopter dropped me off on the highest Sierra Peak in the dead of winter for a documentary shoot. As the copter departed, it was the loneliest feeling that I ever had. Eighteen days in Mongolia in the hospital OR, where the surgical masks had been used many times without being washed.

I am very active producing pro bono fund raising videos for worthy causes such as the Homeless in Hawaii, Phoenix Inner City Kids, the Preservation of Wild Mustangs in South Dakota, and presently for Abandoned Animals here in Maricopa County.

I still shoot outdoor nature pieces for the CBS Network Sunday Morning program. I also have four nature DVDs in distribution on Amazon. I also enjoy spending a lot of quality time with my wife. We have been married for over 52 years and are making up for the many days that we were apart during my career.

Now that my career has ended, I quite often miss it greatly, so I have to remind myself what Santiz in Dr. Seuss said: "Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened."


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