Jul. 9—ALBANY — While discussing Albany State University, there are alumni and supporters who will gladly tell you all the memorable events that have elevated the historically black university's rich history.
They'll talk about the chimney on the lower campus, the impact of the Flood of '94, of founder Joseph Winthrop Holley's brave efforts to offer a higher education to a population that had no such options, of the Jones brothers and their basketball prowess, of the post-flood move to the "upper campus," of the consolidation with Darton State College, of students' involvement in the civil rights movement, of alumni who have gone on to bigger and better things.
But the people who know the ins and outs of the university well will, to a person, tell you there's a behind-the-scenes face of ASU that for the last 30 years has been just as vital and memorable a part of the institution as some of those more heralded personnel, landmarks and events.
Anyone who has ever attended an event at the university, be it on-campus, an athletic competition, a community happening, will, if they're paying attention, have noticed the same gentleman at all things ASU, taking photographs to record the university's history. That man, Reginald Christian, is the keeper — the chronicler — of Albany State's history, an individual whose passion for the college runs as deep and as fully as the Flint River that flows along the university's eastern campus.
"I cannot imagine Albany State University without Reggie Christian," a university alumnus said. "I've never seen a man more passionate about his work. That he is so personable and professional makes him perhaps one of the brightest gems in ASU's long history."
An Albany born-and-raised native, Christian started working at ASU after a 13-year career as a production assistant at local television station WALB. Shortly after earning a business administration degree at — where else? — Albany State, Christian answered a "help wanted" ad at the TV station.
"I had absolutely no experience, but they told me they'd give me 90 days to learn," Christian said while he prepared for a recent photo shoot on campus. "I took to it and really enjoyed it. I had no plans of leaving the TV station, but one day I was doing a story on campus and (then-ASU president) Dr. (Billy) Black told me I ought to come to work over here. I told them I was happy with my job.
"I came back again three or four months later, and Dr. Black and (former educator) Brenda Tiller told me again I would be welcome at Albany State. We talked a little more, and even though I was happy at the TV station, money does talk. So I decided to make the change."
Christian came to ASU two weeks after the worst of the Great Flood, and working to preserve and restore photographs and documents that had received water damage was one of his first chores. He set up and often operated equipment in classrooms and, since he had a photography background, he was called on to take pictures at certain events.
As new presidents came — Black, Shields, Freeman, Fedrick — Christian's duties evolved. He obtained a CDL license and was often called on to take university officials from place to place. And somewhere along the way the administration realized how valuable Christian's photography background would be in chronicling the university's history.
"It kind of started out that I was the only person on campus who could do these things," Christian said. "But it soon became an important part of my job. I think it really hit me that 'this is what I do' when I started meeting and photographing the celebrities that were on campus or at university-sponsored events.
"When you get an opportunity to take just one shot of Ray Charles — and you know you have to get it right — and it ends up in Jet magazine, you realize this is a pretty cool thing to do. Then taking pictures in a hotel room for a private event for Ray Charles with Usher and Janet Jackson in the room, and walking onstage with Patti LaBelle ... You realize, first, that you can do this and, second, that these folks are really ordinary people like everyone else."
Christian has shot easily millions of photographs for ASU, but he says the experience is never mundane.
"Being around all these students keeps you young," he said. "And it's pretty cool — and humbling — to go to a homecoming event and have alumni come up and say, 'Are you still here? You were here when I was a student.' Or have students say, 'Mr. Christian, you were here when my momma or daddy came to Albany State.'"
With 30 years under his belt, there is inevitable talk about maybe leaving the college behind and engaging more in his passions: fishing and riding his Harley-Davidson. But even a recent knee replacement surgery hasn't slowed Christian down or cooled his ardor for ASU.
"People start talking about retirement, but that's not something I think about," he said. "I love coming to work today as much as I did 30 years ago. There's something new and different going on every day.
"When I look back over my 30 years here, I know in my heart I gave it my all every day. And every time I see something — out in the community or somewhere outside Albany — that has Albany State on it, I say to myself, 'I had something to do with that.' That's a good feeling."