Longtime Newsday photographer Don Jacobsen was among the last of the old-school photojournalists who took great pictures on film, favored older equipment and spoke bluntly about life and work.
“He liked the old photography. He liked to develop his own photos, using the chemicals,” said his wife, Laraine Jacobsen. “He thought that was the real photography.”
She added, “He said what was on his mind. People compared him to Don Rickles,” the late comedian famous for his playful digs at people.
Jacobsen, 76, died Feb. 5 in the Villages Regional Hospital in The Villages, Florida, of a heart attack, said his wife. He had suffered from diabetes and heart trouble for years.
Jacobsen joined Newsday in the 1960s and worked the full spectrum of photo assignments before he departed in 2001. For many years, his favorite work was covering the police department, whether it was taking photos of a high-profile criminal or shooting crime scenes, said his son, Kevin Jacobsen of Islip Terrace.
“He loved the action,” his son said.
His work encompassed a mixture of the major events of his time along with chronicling the everyday dramas of Long Islanders over the years.
He was there, camera in hand, when the Beatles came to New York. He covered the Poor People’s March on Washington in 1968. When the hearse carrying the body of Suffolk Narcotics Officer Dennis Wustenhoff stopped near the detective’s North Patchogue home, where he was killed in a 1990 pipe bomb explosion, Jacobsen captured the moment.
He saw so much: Richard Nixon at the Nassau Coliseum, running for a second presidential term. Hillary Clinton, years ago, running for U.S. Senate in Huntington. He took countless shots of Long Islanders struggling with snow and traffic.
Two things, though, got under his skin. First, he did not enjoy covering sports, said Laraine Jacobsen, of Summerfield, Florida.
“He had no interest in sports,” she said. “Not to watch, not to play and not to photograph.”
Also, he didn’t like the digital photography that was coming in at the end of his career, his wife said. When he retired, he wanted to pass on his old darkroom equipment to the next generation. But he could find no takers.
“It took a long time, but we eventually donated it to the high school,” Laraine Jacobsen said.
Newsday photo editor Dave Lyons recalled Jacobsen as a mentor, one who was tough on those who didn’t take the work seriously, and generous to those who did.
“He could be a curmudgeon,” Lyons said. “But if you were willing to put the time into the craft, he was willing to put the time into you.”
Don Jacobsen, an only child, was born in Brooklyn but spent much of his childhood in East Meadow. He graduated from East Meadow High School, where he took photos for the high school newspaper.
As a young man, he was a volunteer firefighter for the North Bellmore Fire Department. He and his first wife, Paulette, divorced after more than a decade of marriage. He married Laraine in 2000.
Though he resisted, the couple retired to Florida in 2010. His wife recalled that at first he said, “Retired people go there to die.”
He is also survived by a daughter, Kristin Delamer of Kingwood, Texas; a stepson, Brian Endres of Ronkonkoma; three grandsons; and three granddaughters.
Jacobsen’s remains were cremated in Florida.