SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WCIA) — Eddie “One Shot Doc” Helm spent decades documenting the history of Illinois frame by frame.
“Dad always said that this wasn’t a job to him,” his daughter, Beverly Helm Renfrow, said. “This was his first love is to take pictures.”
Renfrow grew up watching her father work as the state photographer. His catalog includes state politicians, celebrities, presidents, as well as future presidents.
“I wasn’t thinking of that,” Renfrow said. “That was just dad taking pictures. But, as I grew up and got older, I realized that he was doing something that would hopefully be special.”
But his collection — now up to 45,000 negatives and counting — were stored away in the state archives building.
“So that’s the best we had in terms of what we had was those envelopes that are stored in just a crummy little filing cabinet and on shelves,” David Joens, director of the Illinois state archives, said.
Thanks to a $60,000 grant, the state archives office is finally able to print Helm’s pictures. All of them are being added online, where anyone can access and use them.
“If you’re writing about Illinois for almost a half a century period, it’s gonna behoove you to consult this collection,” Joens said.
Helm’s first job in Springfield was raising and lowering the flag every day at the top of the capitol. It didn’t take long to climb a different ladder.
“He was not just the state photographer, but he was the leading African American photographer in Central Illinois, if not in Illinois, back in the day, with his own obstacles, his own issues to to overcome,” Joens said.
Helm took on the job in the 40s. For decades, he was taking pictures of the most powerful people in the state and country. But, after the film was used up, he was no longer welcome.
“He could go in and take pictures,” Renfrow said. “But he couldn’t eat there. There were banquets that would take the pictures, and then he would go sit in the corner or whatever.”
Helm knew he was documenting history and he wanted to make sure everyone got their due.
“He was very aware of that,” Renfrow said. “He wanted to make sure that people understood that there were also blacks that had jobs here with the state of Illinois.”
Renfrow is almost through the first 21,000 pictures uploaded to the website.
What do you see when you look at that picture?
“My father, that is him, with his camera,” Renfrow said.