Photojournalist, independent spirit
Patricia “Trish” Branley, a longtime COURIER photographer, died on January 6, 2014 after a battle with cancer.
She was born in Florida, the second of four children who were doted on by their father, John Branley. Young Trish was a real beach lover while living in the Sunshine State, her sister Pam shared. She enjoyed swimming and scuba diving in the warm waters of the gulf as well as catching some rays amid the surf and sand.
Ms. Branley got her first college degree in fashion merchandising. When she was in her early 30s, she changed course and earned a degree in photojournalism. Her journalism career would encompass a transformative time in photography, spanning from the days of film and darkroom to the digital era.
In 1993, Ms. Branley was hired on as photographer for the Claremont COURIER. The local newspaper was an ideal place for a budding photojournalist to build a portfolio, even more so because then-publisher Martin Weinberger loved photographs and believed in running them big. She would continue to work at the newspaper until January 2007, shooting countless photos in Claremont as well as some in more far-flung locations.
Former COURIER reporter Gary Scott had high praise for Ms. Branley.
“I remember how reliable Trish was at finding a front-page photo—a photo that captured what was happening in Claremont—what Claremont was about—whether it be as complicated as a protest over a police shooting or as simple (but not simple to photograph well) as a flower in bloom,” he said.
“Trish was a talent,” Mr. Scott continued. “Quiet and unassuming, she spoke through her pictures. I still have copies of prints she made of a trip to Guatemala hanging on my wall. Every place she went was about the people there. If you can capture that essence, you are an artist. She was an artist.”
Ms. Branley lived in a small cabin in Mt. Baldy throughout her tenure at the newspaper, braving freezing winters and the winding mountain road in order to be close to nature. A dedicated cat lover, her winters were made cozier by the presence of two beloved feline companions, Coco and Tiger.
Trish often brought back scenic shots of bighorn sheep and snow-covered peaks, sharing a bit of the wild with COURIER readers. She had a close call with the wild in 2003 during the Grand Prix Fire that wreaked havoc in Claremont, especially in Claraboya, Palmer Canyon and Padua Hills, as well as in Baldy.
In a My Side of the Line column he wrote the following month, Mr. Weinberger reflected on Ms. Branley’s bravery.
“It was difficult to reach our newspaper photographer, Trish Branley. Phone service seemed to be erratic,” he wrote. “Trish was fine but I told her to leave the Baldy Village area, where she lived, because of growing dangers from the mountain fire.
“Trish possesses the mentality of a news photographer, probably the best thing that could be said about someone who follows that occupation,” Mr. Weinberger continued. “Baldy Village was soon to be evacuated by order of the sheriffs. Trish said, and the words rang loud and clear: ‘I’m here to take pictures. That’s what I’m going to do.’ And she did.”
Ms. Branley was soft-spoken but bold. When she was in her 20s, she participated in amateur events at the Pomona Raceway, racing against trucks and muscle cars in a truck she dubbed “Swamp Fox.”
While at the newspaper, Ms. Branley loved nothing more than to climb into one of the small airplanes housed at Cable Airport to capture aerial shots. She was often accompanied on these flights by equally-intrepid COURIER reporter Pat Yarborough.
“She was a fine photographer and a friend,” Ms. Yarborough said. “We enjoyed each other’s company.”
Picking up on her adventurous spirit, then-publisher Martin Weinberger sent Ms. Branley far and wide, letting her camera lens become the “local angle” for national events.
Ms. Branley traveled to Guatemala to capture photographs for the COURIER as well as to Florida to immortalize the launches of the first and second Mars Rovers. Perhaps her most memorable journey was a visit to New York just days after the September 11 terrorist attacks. Mr. Scott accompanied Ms. Branley to provide COURIER readers “with a local perspective on what felt then like the only story that mattered.”
When they arrived at Ground Zero, first responders and volunteers were no longer looking for survivors. Instead, they were sifting through the rubble for bodies. It was a grim scene, but Ms. Branley was undaunted.
“Trish was a stalwart: never tired, always ready to go one more block, turn one more corner, talk to one more person, to ensure we were actually capturing something different and important,” Mr. Scott said.
In 2004, Mr. Weinberger sent her to New York to cover the Republican National Convention. There, she met fellow photographer Neal Kemp, a member of the New York Police Department photo unit, who would remain a friend. Together, they toured the floor level of the Pit at the World Trade Center site, where recovery and cleanup had ceased and new construction had yet to begin.
“It was an eerie, silent oasis in Lower Manhattan. Imagining the death and destruction that had occurred there just a few years earlier would have a profound impact on anyone. Maybe that’s why Trish went into law enforcement,” he said, speaking of Ms. Branley’s next career move.
In January of 2007, Ms. Branley reinvented herself once more when she embarked on a position as a forensic identification specialist with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Crime Lab.
“I thought it was the perfect fit, because Trish had always been analytical in her approach to just about everything,” Mr. Kemp said.
She embraced her new career, returning to school and earning a degree in criminal justice. On the job, she often worked in Compton, recording evidence such as knives and guns used in gang-related assaults.
“She put everything she had into that job,” her sister said.
The last years and months of Trish’s life were some of her happiest, according to her family. She loved her job, was able to buy a house and a new car and even envisioned a retirement in Florida, complete with a house on the beach. She also managed to travel a bit, including a summer 2013 tour with her sister Pam of scenic sites like Catalina, Sequoia and Yosemite. She may have already had cancer, but she showed her characteristic gumption, according to her sister. When the two women hiked to a waterfall in Yosemite, Pam became exhausted three-quarters of the way and turned back. Trish continued to the top, snapping photographs all the way.
Family members and colleagues remember Ms. Branley for her hearty laugh, sparkling smile and remarkable self-sufficiency.
Ms. Branley was predeceased by her father, John Branley. She is survived by her sisters, Debbie Tellingheusin and Pam DeMar; by her brother, Scott Branley; by her longtime best friend, Veronica Dillane, as well as many other friends and colleagues; and by her beloved cat, Jet.
A celebration of Ms. Branley’s life was widely attended by members of the LASD crime lab staff.