A former executive at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company once said in all seriousness, “I want to be John Rossino.” He was envious of Rossino, the Marietta site public relations photojournalist, for his creative skills, his assignments and what he had gotten to do, and for the people he had met.
Rossino retired on 17 April 2015 after an eventful thirty-one year career. During his time behind the company camera, he captured literally thousands of images of aircraft as they were being built; parked on the ramp; in the air on their first flight and on their last. Photo by John Rossino will be the credit on historic aircraft photographs for decades to come.
He made frequent contributions to Code One, including providing front and back cover photographs and illustrating most of the air mobility and maritime patrol feature stories. He was essential to production of the magazine’s highly popular cockpit issue, which he considers one of his most memorable assignments.
While out on the assembly line or the flightline, Rossino photographed a vice president of the United States; the governor of Georgia; Secretaries of Defense (or Defence, depending on the country); senior executives; generals; captains; and beaming sergeants who received the ceremonial key to a brand-new aircraft they would soon maintain at a base halfway around the world.
With equal ease, Rossino also took keepsake photographs of line mechanics shaking hands with the site general manager when they received their thirty-year service pins.
He wasn’t born tripping camera shutters, but he found his life’s work pretty early. After graduation from the journalism school at the University of Missouri in 1976, he covered sports and general news at several newspapers in Iowa and Arkansas (where he met his TV news anchor wife, Jill) for several years before moving to the Marietta Daily Journal, located about a block from the aircraft factory. He started at the then-Lockheed-Georgia Company in 1984.
“I had the opportunity to do so many amazing things and have had so many memorable experiences,” the sixty-two year old Rossino noted. “I have stood on an ice sheet in Greenland that was 5,000 feet thick. I took photos of C-130 crews flying relief supplies into Africa while being guarded by the French Foreign Legion. I have shot air-to-air photographs while flying inverted in a Learjet and through the canopy of a T-37. I’ve been to forty-two states and twenty-seven countries with the company taking photos of aircraft. It’s hard to stack all those experiences up.”
He also kept up with the technology as photography went from film and chemical processing very quickly to digital photography with multi-megabyte files. In the film days, he would often come back from a trip and say with a glum face, “I didn’t get anything.” Of course, once out of the processing tank, most—but not all—of the images were perfect. He particularly liked the immediacy of seeing a spectacular digital image on the back of his camera—and being able to just as quickly discard the shots that weren’t up to his standards.
Although not always possible, Rossino liked to get people in his photos. Having a pilot or mechanic in a photo next to an airplane showed scale and gave the aluminum/titanium/composite aircraft a touch of humanity.
He also likes people. He made friends with everyone. He mentored young photographers. He also always knew the right person who could get him a scissor lift or the fire chief who could get a parking ramp hosed down. Rossino “had a guy” for whatever the need was.
Even in retirement, he’s not going to put his camera down. He plans on spending time volunteering and taking photos for CURE, the non-profit pediatric cancer research foundation in Atlanta. He also plans on spending a lot time at his cabin in the Georgia mountains or in a stream fly fishing.
It’s pretty safe to say we all want to be John Rossino.