War Photographer Who Captured Famous Image of President Ford Eating Tamale Has Died

Patrick Hamilton
Patrick Hamilton

News photographer Patrick Hamilton — who may have altered an election with his famous image of President Gerald Ford eating a tamale incorrectly — has died at the age of 74.

Hamilton, a photojournalist who specialized in conflict zones, passed away at his home in San Antonio, Texas on August 13 after a long struggle with cancer.

He is survived by his wife of 44 years Sylvia Hamilton and the couple’s three children, and three granddaughters.

Hamilton was a combat veteran of the Vietnam War before joining The Associated Press in 1979 and covering civil wars in Central America as a photojournalist.

Hamilton later worked as a photographer at Reuters in 1985 and covering the first Gulf War in Iraq as well as Operation Desert Storm.

Hamilton left Reuters in 1991 and was hired as photo editor at a Texas newspaper, the McAllen Monitor, where he mentored younger photographers.

“Pat had seen war as a Marine combatant in Vietnam and those experiences in some ways prepared him to return to war; but this time with a different weapon, a camera, and a different mission — to show the world both the horrors of war itself and the quiet dignity of so many whose lives were upended or ruined,” Santiago Lyon, former AP vice president and director of photography tells AP News

A Photographer in a Pre-Digital Age

According to The Washington Post, Hamilton mostly worked in the pre-digital age as a photojournalist.

This meant Hamilton had to lug two heavy silver aluminum suitcases of equipment from assignment to assignment. The photographer would usually set up a dark room, often in the bathroom of his hotel room, sealed with duct tape to keep out the light.

The Washington Post reports that colleagues recall him developing his prints under a red light, with a bottle of Wild Turkey by the bathtub. One of his most frequent remarks was: “Hell, any idiot could do this sober.”

A Photographer Who May Have Changed an Election

In addition to covering combat and war zones, Hamilton also worked as a staff photographer at the San Antonio Express-News in 1976. During that election year, Hamilton photographed President Ford campaigning near the Alamo and biting into a tamale with the corn husk still on.

@forrestfromtexas Did a tamale cost President Ford the state of Texas in the 1976 Presidential election? The Great Tamale Incident of 1976. #ushistory #uspresident #geraldford #jimmycarter #texashistory #sanantonio #satx #tamales #funfacts #thealamo ♬ (Hey Baby) Que Paso – Texas Tornados

The culinary faux pas, sometimes called “the Great Tamale Incident,” was regarded as a factor in Ford losing Texas to the Democratic nominee, Jimmy Carter.

Image credits: Header photo via Facebook.