In 1971, photographer Richard Menzies, on assignment for the Salt Flat News (SFN), took what would become the iconic image of legendary New Zealand motorcycle racer Bert Munro, on Bonneville Salt Flats. With no other photographer around, Menzies sensed there was something extraordinary about Munro.
It would be more than 30 years before the rest of the world would take notice of this image of an international folk hero, when, in 2005, Anthony Hopkins played Munro in the film “The World’s Fastest Indian.” Menzies was in the right place at the right time; it turns out, just three decades too early.
Richard Menzies’ modus operandi has always been what he calls “an unthreatening guy in an unthreatening vehicle.” His unthreatening vehicle is a 1973 VW bus, which he bought new and still has. Menzies, it seems, has always taken the road less traveled literally and figuratively. Menzies is a rare breed of journalist, one who writes as well as he photographs. Add to these two talents his innate ability to know a good story when he finds one and you have a creative powerhouse.
When he was 12, Menzies bought his first camera, a Brownie, on credit from a shop in Price for $10: $2 down and $2 a month. When he upgraded to a Kodak Signet camera he paid a whopping $74 in $5 monthly payments. By 1957, young Mr. Menzies began winning Kodak-sponsored photo contests, 38 in total, some with international recognition. Prize money fueled Menzies’ passion for photography, but it was nothing like seeing his name in print. “I wanted to see my pictures in the paper,” Menzies said. “I was an addict for a byline.”
In 1969, as an unemployed college graduate with a degree in English he landed a job as a bookmobile driver, which brought Menzies to Wendover as part of his route. He was fascinated. As fate would have it, Menzies introduced his friend, Richard Goldberger, to the Salt Flats on one of his trips in the bookmobile. Goldberger too was so intrigued by this part of the Great Basin he started the SFN. Menzies had an outlet for his words and photos. If Goldberger was the facade of SFN Menzies was its heart and soul.
During his time at SFN, Menzies ferreted out quirky personalities, like Floyd Eaton aka Deputy Dump, a hobo who lived in a junkyard and Robert Golka, a genius with a penchant for creating lightning bolts. They and others are featured in his 2005 book Passing Through.
While Menzies was contributing to SFN, he wore yet another creative hat when he learned on the fly to use a movie camera and began producing documentaries for KUTV. He found the high profile of TV too much and so Menzies gave up on TV but not before he produced two features that were sold to a national network.
As Menzies turns 71 this April, he has a new book; Virtue is its Own Punishment – A Memoir of Growing up Mormon, an account of his youth and spiritual journey.
And, though Menzies still has that 1973 VW bus, he won’t be driving it this summer when he returns to Speed Week on the Salt Flats. He has yet another assignment at the place where he met Burt Munro in 1971. Knowing Menzies, something unusual is in the works again. §