Arman G. Hatsian, “Hatsie” to thousands of people in Connecticut, was a longtime news photographer for The Courant, well known around the state by politicians, society ladies and athletes.
His career ran through the end of one photographic era and into another, that of the portable, flexible 35-mm camera — which in turn gave way to the world of digital photography.
“He was the last of the old timers,” said John Long, a former photographer and photo editor at the Courant. “He knew everyone in the state [and] he had a very solid reputation.”
Hatsian, 83, died Dec. 26 in Rocky Hill from complications of heart disease.
Before cellphones and Instagram and wireless transmission of photo images, there were the old Speed Graphic cameras that produced 4-by-5 inch negatives. A little later, rolls of film had only 12 shots, and chemicals had to be mixed and negatives developed, dried, and then printed. For a newspaper photographer, that was just the beginning of the process.
Hatsian’s entry into the world of photography was an almost accidental result of his military service. The Army National Guard sent his unit to the Mojave desert in California for tank training and then on to Germany. Hatsian bought a Leica 35-mm camera at the post exchange on the German base, took pictures of anything he saw, and hung out in the darkroom on the base.
One day, dancer and actor Gene Kelly came to do a show and was walking around the base unnoticed. Hatsian got a shot that Kelly begged him not to publish, because it showed the dapper actor without his toupee. Hatsian saw an opportunity, and asked if he could take more pictures. Kelly said yes, “and that’s where he got to enjoy photography,” said his wife, Betty.
When Courant reporter Bob Zaiman went to Germany to do a story on the Connecticut GI’s. he met Hatsian and learned about the Kelly episode. Hatsian asked Zaiman, whose brother was Jack Zaiman, the Courant’s political columnist, if there might be any jobs there for him when he was discharged.
“I’ll sweep floors in the darkroom. I’ll do anything to get a job there,” he recalled in an interview in 2012 with the Courant’s Joe Nunes.
Bob Zaiman mentioned Hatsian to Courant photo chief Philip Acquaviva, and after Hatsian returned to Connecticut, Acquaviva offered him a job as a staff photographer starting in November 1953.
The first day at work, Hatsian was handed a Speed Graphic, a large format camera that he didn’t know how to use. He was at the corner of Park and Broad Streets when he saw a police officer carrying a child who had been hit by a car. The picture made the front page the next day.
“So I felt, you know, like a big shot,” Hatsian told Nunes. “And that’s what got me going.”
In the 1950’s and ’60s, it wasn’t just the photographic equipment that was different. The types of pictures that appeared in the paper were different. There were a lot of posed portraits rather than action shots. There was a lot of coverage of social events, and pictures of ladies’ clubs, events and dances. The Pet of the Week column needed a photo, as well as the Parade of Youth, which needed four pictures a week. Photographers taking pictures of sports events could only cover the first half of a game, because it took so long to develop and print the pictures and, at deadline, there was a scrum in the photo lab as photographers rushed to process their work.
Hatsian’s work stood out, said Long, a photographer who started at The Courant nearly 20 years later.
“He was a master technician,” said Long, “one of the best printers we had. High quality, the proper contrast, everything done right. The pictures would look good.”
Whereas today, photographers may take hundreds of shots to produce one that appears in print or online, back then, there was less margin for error. “We needed to be able to shoot clean, clear pictures,” Long said. “The picture quality was so bad there was no such thing as subtlety.”
Photographers also did double duty as escorts, because the women’s page editor didn’t send her young female reporters to poorer sections of town alone, recalled Linda Giuca, who became The Courant’s food editor. (There were no female photographers in those days.)
In time, Hatsian became an assignment editor and the lab manager, where his emphasis on neatness clashed with photographers used to leaving sandwich wrappings and crumbs on the desk.
“It used to drive him crazy,” said John Scanlan, a former director of photography at The Courant. “He was very meticulous, and liked things to be clean and orderly, and beat photographers tend to be an unkempt bunch. He was a bit of a curmudgeon. I think it was part of an act to keep us in line. … Everyone had a genuine fondness for Hatsie. … We thought of him as a father figure.”
Hatsian was born in Hartford on Sept. 15, 1930. His parents, Peter and Helen Hatsian, worked at Royal Tire, and for a while operated a restaurant, The Willow, near the entrance to Pratt & Whitney, where employees would gather on their way to and from work. After graduating from Hartford Public High School, he briefly attended the University of Connecticut before being led by the National Guard.
In addition to his wife, Betty Ploss Hatsian, he is survived by a sister, Shirley Markarian, and a niece, Linda Markarian.
“He was the most cheerful, willing-to-help-out person,” said Randy Cox, a former assistant managing editor for photo and graphics. “He had a smiling face. Everyone liked him, and he got along so well.”
Hatsian’s best known picture was a widely circulated image of the Hartford Civic Center roof after it collapsed on Jan. 18, 1978, following a heavy snowstorm and only hours after the end of a basketball game.
At first, Hatsian went to a nearby hotel to get the shot, but wanted a better one, so knocked on the door of the church across the street until the priest answered. Hatsian pushed a trap door up through the snow and took some shots, and eliminated any competition by telling the priest that he was taking pictures “for all the newspapers.”
“He was proud of that picture,” said Cox. “It is one of the most significant news pictures that came out of Hartford.”