Jonestown, Cocaine Cowboys, Mariel Boat Lift: One-Of-A-Kind Photo Collection Needs A Home

Jan 30, 2013

In a small house in west Miami-Dade, Tim Chapman has nearly filled his guest bedroom with cardboard storage boxes, each one carefully labeled with a year.

“I’ll show you a couple years,” said Chapman, moving pulling a box from a teetering stack. “This is Mariel right here, the first slide.”

Chapman holds up a color slide of an iconic photo he took during the Mariel Boat Lift in 1980.

For the last 40 years, some of the most famous pictures from some of the most famous events in South Florida have come from Miami Herald photographer Tim Chapman. Along the way, he’s obsessively archived photos, negatives, slides.

On top of a box, off to the side, is a copy of The Miami Herald that’s nearly 35 years old, on the front page is arguably Chapman’s most famous photograph. In 1978, he was one of the first journalists to arrive on the scene of the mass suicide in Jonestown, Guyana.

“I just left,” said Chapman, “I didn’t tell anybody I was leaving. I just went to the airport. And my wife at the time called - it’s probably why she’s not by wife anymore - she called for me to bring some milk home. And one of the photographers said, ‘well, Mrs. Chapman, he’s in South America.’”

In covering foreign events, Chapman has had guns pointed at him, a car (he wasn’t in) explode, a helicopter (he was in) get shot out the sky. He’s one part photojournalist, one part action hero.

After 40 years with The Miami Herald Chapman has finally retired. His legacy is archived in his spare bedroom, in teetering cardboard box towers.

Chapman’s planning on moving to the Keys, where he’s spent years hand-building a house to withstand 300 mile per hour winds.

What the house cannot manage is the space required to store the Chapman Archives.

So Chapman is ready to make a deal: If there’s an institution that’s willing to store, and ideally help digitize, this collection – he’ll gladly donate the whole thing.

You can contact him at or call 305-796-4050