Former Easy Reader photographer and Hermosa helicopter pilot die in crash
by Kevin Cody
Photographer Michael Justice, a long time contributor to Easy Reader, and helicopter pilot Christopher Reed, of Hermosa Beach, died Wednesday after their helicopter crashed in Los Angeles Harbor. Los Angeles Port Police divers recovered their bodies Thursday morning in the water near the Point Fermin Lighthouse, just down the hill from Justice’s San Pedro home. Justice was 61. Reed would have been 42 on Thursday.
The two had taken off from Torrance Airport at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, on an assignment from the Los Angeles Harbor Department to photograph arriving cruise ships. The cause of the crash is under investigation.
During his years as Easy Reader’s staff photographer in the early 1980s, Justice was known for being both enthusiastic and adventuresome. His photos included coverage of the 1981 Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant blockade and an underground MMA fight in Carson between a world champion Thai kick boxer and the then unknown Brazilian jiu jitsu fighter Royce Gracie. Gracie won the fight in under a minute and would go on to found the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
Justice’s photos were notable for being tack sharp and perfectly exposed during the black and white era, when cameras required manual focusing and manual light metering. He once attributed his ability to having 20-10 vision, which he would proudly demonstrate on car trips by calling out distant freeway off ramps signs.
Justice went on to work for the Los Angeles Herald Examiner and many of the nation’s leading publications, including Time, Newsweek, Life and National Geographic. During the 1992 Rodney King riots he borrowed an Easy Reader reporter’s battered Pontiac station wagon in the hopes of avoiding attention when he drove into Los Angeles to photograph the riots. Justice’s photograph of Laurence Powell, one of the LAPD officers whose acquittals triggered the riots, appeared on the cover of Newsweek.
Justice and writer Andrea Makshanoff traveled the world, working on a book about religious pilgrimages.
On his website, he wrote of the pilgrims, “In pictures, it is one of the greatest stories ever told, the grandest expression of the search for salvation and bliss.”
The book took Justice and Makshanoff to Calcutta in October 1996, where they met Mother Teresa, just 11 months before her death. After Mother Teresa was canonized a saint by Pope Francis last September, Justice wrote on his Facebook page, “I don’t think I will ever learn to call her Saint. And yes she has many critics… but to be in her presence was to be close to the flame.”
‘Take me to Mother’
by Kevin Cody
(Editor’s note: The following account of Michael Justice’s and Andrea Makshanoff’s visit to Mother Teresa appeared in Easy Reader in October 1997)
“Take me to mother,” photographer Michael Justice and writer Andrea Makshanoff told the Calcutta rickshaw driver.
During the previous three days, the two had been holed up in their hotel room with 103 degree fevers. They had spent the previous month traveling 1,500 miles across the subcontinent, following the Ganges River from its source in an ice cave in the Himalayas to its mouth in the Bay of Bengal.
“India is a hard place to travel because of the conditions and, most of all, because of the suffering you see. We were sick and exhausted when we reached Calcutta,” Justice said.
The two were in India last October to work on a book about religious pilgrimages.
When their fevers subsided, the two left their hotel room and flagged down a rickshaw.
“All you have to say is ‘Take me to mother’s.’ Every rickshaw driver in Calcutta knows where the Sisters of Charity house is,” Justice said.
Knowing that Mother Teresa was deathly ill, Justice hoped simply to photograph the Sisters of Charity House for the Destitute and Dying because it is, itself, a place of pilgrimage for people of all religions.
A line of people, some of whom had been waiting over a month, was outside the house when they arrived. A nun at the front of the line told Justice he couldn’t take photographs without first obtaining permission from Sister Priscilla. The nun instructed them to go up a flight of stairs, take the first right, then go left and then go left again.
“We weren’t sure of the directions and evidently we got lost. Because when we opened the door where we thought we’d find Sister Priscilla, there was Mother Teresa,” Justice recalled.
“It was later afternoon and Calcutta’s hazy light was filtering in through some high windows. We thought Mother Teresa was supposed to be on her deathbed. But she was sitting up with a beatific smile, talking to a young woman in a red silk wedding sari that was fringed with gold. It was a particularly joyous meeting because the woman had been raised in the Sisters of Charity orphanage. Normally, orphans don’t marry because they can’t offer a dowry.
“As I started taking photographs from the doorway, Mother Teresa gestured in my direction.
Photographers are used to being flies on the wall, so I looked behind me to see who she was gesturing to and there was no one there.
“I went up to her, took her hand and said, ‘I’m glad to see you are feeling better.’
“She put a hand on my head, looked into my eyes with her powerful blue eyes and said, ‘Bless you my son.’
“As she said that, I heard what sounded like a choir of angels. It was the nuns in a chapel on the floor below.
“I took a few more pictures and then we left.”
Justice was a photographer with the Los Angeles Herald Examiner and has photographed and shook hands with Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, as well as countless celebrities and business leaders.
“I’m not even religious, but never before had I been affected the way I was meeting Mother Teresa. I think of her every day,” Justice said. ER
by Kevin Cody
Kevin is the publisher of Easy Reader and Beach. Share your news tips. 310 372-4611 ext. 110 or kevin[at]easyreadernews[dot]com