|Norfolk Public Library||Sargeant Memorial Collection||Norfolk Memories|
Charles "Charlie" Simpson Borjes (1891 - 1959)
Charles Borjes was one of the most prolific photographers in Norfolk's history whose career spanned 41 years with our local newspaper The Virginian-Pilot. He was born in the Brambleton section of Norfolk, Virginia on 25 November 1891 to Charles Borjes and Gertrude Russell Borjes. His father Charles was a classical musician and a symphony director while his mother stayed home to raise the children. Borjes attended public schools here in Norfolk and was a natural born athlete who loved to play baseball, basketball, and football. He attempted to become a professional baseball player when he tried out for the professional baseball team in Bristol, Virginia. He even made it onto their first string. He was unfortunately sidelined by a broken ankle during one of Bristol's practice session and had to return home to Norfolk for recuperation. Borjes had to give up his dreams of playing professional sports when his foot was crushed in an elevator accident here in Norfolk. Borjes fell back onto his passion of photography that was kindled by his parents when they gave him his first box camera one Christmas during his teens. As he recovered from the accident, his family searched everywhere for any books on photography for Borjes to read and learn about his passion.
His passion became an illustrious career as a photographer with The Virginian-Pilot. Before he begun his career as a photographer, he joined the Norfolk Blues Artillery regiment of Virginia National Guard and along with the regiment was sent for two years along the Mexican border. After his service in the National Guard, he came back to Norfolk and begun to hone his skills as a photographer. His favorite subject for his photographs was capturing images of the outdoors with preference to the area around Seashore State Park. His work quickly caught the attention of Keville Glennan with The Virginian-Pilot and was hired in 1913.
During the course of 41 years with The Virginian-Pilot, his work brought national and international renown due to his coverage of events like the crash of the airship dirigible "Roma" and his sports coverage. His adventures as a photographer have become local lore and made it into George Tucker's column. The most memorable episode to happen to Borjes was when he was on assignment to capture a great image of the Core Mausoleum at Elmwood cemetery here in Norfolk. He arrived to the cemetery late in the afternoon and had to use his pan of flash powder. The flash bulbs had not been invented yet. The neighborhood beside the cemetery was filled with residents and Borjes could hear the great bustle of life coming from neighborhood. Borjes set to work setting up his equipment and put an extra pinch of flash powder in his flash pan to ensure he would get a great shot of the mausoleum. He stepped back and pulled the camera's trigger. A great explosion of bright light and noise erupted from the flash pan. When the light and noise faded, a silence swept over the adjourning neighborhood. Thinking of nothing else but getting back to the paper, Borjes quickly gathered his equipment and hurried back to develop his great shot for tomorrow's morning issue. After completing his assignment, he wondered why everything had become quiet after he took this photograph. Borjes headed back to the neighborhood the next morning and found it a ghost town. He had scared away all the residents.
His adventures continued with the newspaper until he retired in 1956 and passed away three years later in Portsmouth on 23 May 1959. He is buried with the rest of his family in Elmwood Cemetery, Norfolk. His legacy lives on in the thousands of images of Norfolk and the surrounding region that future generations have all come to appreciate.
Photograph: Charles Borjes with the Virginian-Pilot's first staff car in early 1920s. From the Sargeant Memorial Collection Photographic Collection, Norfolk Public Library.
Written by W. Troy Valos, June 2010.