Thomas Nguyen is an office administrator for a Galleria-area doctor. For the past 17 years, he's also been a part-time photographer stringing for the Houston Chronicle's zoned editions, mostly on weekends.
As with most zoned editions, a lot of the work can entail taking shots of ribbon-cuttings at local businesses or "grip & grins" with awards and giant checks being presented.
Three years ago he took an utterly unremarkable shot of a local doctor opening his new clinic. It turned out to be a photo seen around the world.
That doctor was Conrad Murray, opening his Acres Homes Cardiovascular Center. When he was implicated in the death of Michael Jackson, media outlets everywhere needed a picture of him. Now.
There were none to be found, except the one Nguyen had shot.
"Apparently the guy likes to keep a low profile, for obvious reasons," Nguyen told Hair Balls.
The Chronicle had just one shot from the session; rumors are it's made a ton of money in licensing fees by people using it.
Nguyen, not so much.
"Unfortunately, there are no extra royalties for me," he says. "At first it was exciting to see my picture everywhere, but then it kind of sunk in that I wasn't getting anything for it. But I double-checked the contract, and that's what it said."
He was able to dig up some unused shots and sell them to outifts such as the New York Daily News and the European Pressphoto Agency; one sale was "in the four figures," he says.
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The Chron did give him a bit of a bonus, too, but nowhere near what he might have made if he owned the rights instead of the paper.
Does he remember anything about the photo session? "The only weird thing was that he [Murray] kept us waiting for 20 minutes, even though he knew we were coming," Nguyen says. "It wasn't like he was seeing patients, he was just back in the office by himself."
While Nguyen obviously would like to have cashed in a bit more on the experience, what he's gotten is, in a large sense, "found money" -- income from some obscure assignment three years ago.
"It's unbelievable that I'm tied in a way to one of the biggest news stories of the decade," he says. "You shoot so many functions, and all of a sudden this happens."