Louis DeLuca ’78 was down to his last lens.
The Dallas Morning News photographer’s other two lenses were fogged over and waterlogged from the rain and humidity that rolled over the Texas coast with Hurricane Harvey the previous day. DeLuca, who grew up in LaPorte, traveled from Dallas to Houston to stand on the flooded highway in the city he once considered home and, for five hours, took pictures he hoped would document and elucidate the massive flooding that enveloped a city he still loves.
And when the image that would capture the attention of people across the nation unfolded before him, he shot with the only lens he had left.
A Lumberjack at heart
DeLuca originally came to SFA to play baseball for the Lumberjacks. “That’s all I wanted to do, but I was not an asset to the team the way I would have liked to have been. It became obvious that I had topped out and needed to start deciding what I wanted to do for a career. I was good in English, so I figured I could be a sports writer and enrolled in the journalism program.”
Although DeLuca claims he wasn’t a very serious student, he did serve as editor of SFA’s student newspaper, The Pine Log, during his final semester. Photography, at that time, was a long way down on his list of priorities.
“Dr. Roach taught photography and sent a letter to me when I graduated that read, ‘You don’t seem to be very interested in photography, and I recommend you look at something else as a profession.’ He was totally right. I did not put forth effort or apply myself.”
Shortly after his graduation, another SFA faculty member contacted DeLuca to tell him of the Marshall newspaper’s need for a photographer.
“He told me he knew I wanted to write but said that if I applied, I would probably get the job,” DeLuca recalled. “I found out later that the paper had a company softball team, and I was chosen over another candidate — who absolutely was more qualified — because they knew I had played college baseball, and they figured I could help their team.”
Despite DeLuca’s latent talent for photography, his first foray into the profession was less than stellar.
“It was pretty pathetic. I had a cheap 400 mm lens I bought from the back of a photography magazine, and not one of my photos turned out. The sports editor went to our boss and said, ‘I don’t want him shooting sports anymore.’ It was an inauspicious beginning.”
But DeLuca looked to other photojournalists in order to learn and emulate their work.
“I knew I had to figure something out quickly, and if I couldn’t do anything else, I at least could copy what someone else was doing,” DeLuca said. “Ironically, I looked to the Dallas newspapers and called on several photographers when I needed advice.”
After stints at the Shreveport Journal and the Chicago Sun Times, DeLuca returned to Texas in 1984 to work for the Dallas Times Herald, a competitor of The Dallas Morning News at that time. When the Morning News purchased and subsequently closed the Times Herald in 1991, DeLuca, with vastly improved skills, was the only Herald photographer hired to join The Dallas Morning News staff.
“The Herald had been on its last leg for a while,” DeLuca said. “We were down to a bare-bones staff, and there was always talk of layoffs. So it was amazing to come to The Dallas Morning News. They were rich and strong. They planned things out, and they were sending people all over the world. I was thrilled.”
Finding Fu Yang
In October 2003, DeLuca was asked by a photographer friend working on behalf of an adoption agency in China to take a photo of Fu Yang, a 12-year-old orphan. Philanthropists had flown Fu to a Dallas hospital for surgery to correct birth defects.
“I had shot a Dallas Cowboys home game the day before, so I was tired and didn’t really feel like working, but my wife gave me this look and said, ‘Go take an hour of your busy day and help an orphan.’”
That one hour would change the course of several lives.
Fu has Treacher Collins Syndrome, a genetic defect that affects 1 in 10,000 infants. He is missing bones in his face, had an open palate and couldn’t hear or talk.
“His ears never fully formed, and people with Treacher Collins have very flat cheekbones,” DeLuca explained. “It causes the skin around their eyes to droop and requires many surgeries to restore typical human features.”
DeLuca’s first concern when he arrived at the hospital was how he was going to communicate with Fu.
“Actually, we got along from the moment I met him,” DeLuca recalled. “I just followed him around and took pictures. He was like a regular kid except that he couldn’t talk, but he was very charismatic. Everyone he met just loved him.”
While he was recuperating between surgeries, Fu lived with a family from a local church.
“It was wonderful, but they didn’t have any young kids, so he often was playing by himself and was kind of lonely,” DeLuca said. “I felt bad for him, so I visited several times, playing cards with him and putting together puzzles.”
In China, orphans who are not adopted by the time they are 10 have very slim chances of finding a family, and Fu’s chaperone suggested to DeLuca that he adopt the child.
“I was thinking, ‘My kids are almost grown. My wife and I are not prepared. I’ve got kids to put through college.’ But I introduced Fu to Dinah, my wife, and she said, ‘There’s no way we can let that little boy go back to China.’”
For the next two years, the DeLucas suffered through a profusion of paperwork associated with the adoption process and cared for Fu as he endured multiple surgeries. Physicians repaired his cleft palate and attached a titanium post to his skull. A conduction hearing aid now transmits sound waves through his skull bone to his inner ear, and Fu can hear better than many people. His cheekbones have been surgically created.
Fu was formally adopted in Beijing on Thanksgiving Day 2005, changing his name officially to Fuyang Joseph DeLuca.
“When he first started going to school, we were afraid students would tease him because of his appearance,” DeLuca said. “Instead, he became one of the most popular kids. He has a self-confidence that is hard to explain.”
In addition to a home, DeLuca provided Fu with a skill upon which he might build a career.
“He was a photographer for his high school newspaper,” DeLuca said. “One November, he was photographing his team in a playoff game, and I was covering the same game for my newspaper. At one point during the game, a player flipped into the end zone, and I saw it, but I didn’t get it. I just figured no one did. But as we uploaded photos at the end of the night, Fu said, ‘Hey, dad. Look at this.’ And he had it — an unbelievably great photo. I transmitted it back to the Morning News along with mine, and they chose his photo. That was the first time he was published.”
Now 25, Fu spent this past summer as an intern in Hawaii working with a friend of the family who is a wedding photographer there. And now, he is in Asia working with the same photographer friend who requested that DeLuca take that initial photo of Fu more than a decade ago.
“He invited Fu to work for him during a three-month internship in Hong Kong,” DeLuca laughed. “So now Fu is Mr. International photographer. Because he couldn’t hear or speak the first 12 years of his life, his sight was his learning tool. He is very perceptive and observant, and I think that translated over into why he’s a great photographer. He’s a very special person.”
DeLuca has spent almost 40 years capturing memorable moments in time. He has covered 12 Super Bowls, the NBA Finals, the World Series, the Stanley Cup Finals, the Summer Olympics, and a variety of youth, high school and college sports events in Texas and nationwide. He’s covered county fairs and church events as well as hurricanes, riots and earthquakes. His work has been published in Sports Illustrated, Life Magazine, ESPN The Magazine, Newsweek and The New York Times Magazine. His photos have been on display in galleries in Dallas’ Design District. Five times DeLuca has been named Regional Photographer of the Year by the National Press Photographers Association, and he’s finished as runner-up another five times.
“Being a baseball guy, covering baseball has always been my favorite thing to do, but having worked in Dallas since 1984, we haven’t always had the greatest team in the league,” DeLuca said. “I had laid awake at night thinking: When the Texas Rangers win the big one, where would I want to be? So in 2010, when they won the American League Championship for the first time ever, the photo I took made me the happiest of any photo I have ever taken in my life.”
According to DeLuca, photographers can’t always tell where and when the perfect shot is going to happen.
“You just have to try and guess what the best-case scenario will be,” DeLuca explained. “This one worked out as well as it possibly could.”
The best-case scenario in this instance included two Rangers players in a midair embrace several feet above ground while the electronic scoreboard near the top of the stadium flashed “American League Champions,” and fireworks above the field washed the sky in red.
A photo that stands out in DeLuca’s mind for a different reason is one he took in Los Angeles during the 1992 riots that followed the beating by police officers of Rodney King and the subsequent beating of Reginald Denny by rioters.
“I was riding with a reporter and didn’t feel comfortable about getting out, so I rolled the window down and was shooting a crowd of looters from the car. I was just scanning with my camera, taking pictures of the crowd. Then, through my viewfinder, I saw a guy standing there with an axe, and I saw him see me. He came at us, screaming, ‘Don’t take my picture,’ but we were stuck in traffic. The reporter was repeatedly inching forward then backward to try to get some room so he could cut out. Just as the guy got to my window, the reporter got enough room to gas it, jump the curb and get out of there. By that time, though, a crowd had gathered around us, and people were throwing things at our car. We hauled across a parking lot and got out of there. When we were finally in a place that was safe to stop, the reporter looked at me and said, ‘You know, maybe we should shoot something other than looting photos while we’re here.’”
DeLuca said it was surreal to see U.S. Highway 59 in Houston transformed into a river by Hurricane Harvey. After taking the exit for Interstate 610 South, DeLuca and his colleague were stopped in their tracks by a lake of water covering the roadway ahead. He saw rescue crews in boats and on Jet Skis and considered riding along with a rescuer to photograph evacuees being loaded into boats to flee their flooded homes.
“I saw a boat pulling up, and there was a mom in the group cradling her baby in her arms,” he said. “At that point, I wasn’t sure what was going to happen, but I knew there could be an opportunity, and I had to get ready.”
The boat pulled as close to the dry part of the street as possible, then Houston SWAT officer Daryl Hudeck disembarked and carried Catherine Pham and her son, 13-month-old Aidan, while Pham’s husband carefully transported an armload of supplies, including bottles of the baby’s formula.
DeLuca was still working in Houston the following day when the photo was published and went viral. DeLuca’s phone and The Dallas Morning News’ phone lines were buzzing as news organizations and other interested entities called for permission to use the photo. It has been featured on websites and in newspapers throughout the country and seen by people around the world.
“I certainly understand the power of the still image to move people,” he said, “and I’m just thankful to have taken one that so many have responded to positively. Every week, stories of hate and conflict make the news. Despite the unimaginable destruction in Houston, people pulled together to help each other, regardless of race or anything else.”
As DeLuca walks through the building that houses the 132-year-old Dallas Morning News, things are not as noisy as they once were. The staff has been downsized, and the remaining staff members are preparing to move to a smaller building that will more closely match their numbers and will feature a digitally focused newsroom to meet the needs of the future. The facility they leave is known as the “rock of truth” because of the massive three-stories-tall tablet above the building’s front door inscribed with a quote from the newspaper’s founder to which journalists have aspired:
“Build the news upon the rock of truth and righteousness. Conduct it always upon the lines of fairness and integrity. Acknowledge the right of the people to get from the newspaper both sides of every important question.”
After almost 40 years as a professional photographer, DeLuca — the baseball guy — is not sad that the photo for which he may ultimately be best known illustrates a city he once called home during a moment of despair.
“To me, it shows that, even in the midst of this horrible circumstance, there was a quiet strength. It’s just a guy with strong arms helping a lady who’s cradling her little baby, who is just peacefully sleeping. And for me, personally, it speaks to having faith and becomes a metaphor for what God does for all of us. It shows that there was a light of hope in the midst of this storm, and hope resonates with us all.”