WASHINGTON -- Charles Tasnadi, who braved minefields and barbed wire to escape communist Hungary and went on to spend three decades as a top Associated Press photographer, died Thursday following a stroke. Famed for his skills as a photographer and revered as a great gentleman, Tasnadi was born Karoly Tasnadi on March 1, 1925 in Ajka, Hungary.
During his career, Tasnadi covered seven presidents, including a return to his native land aboard Air Force One, accompanying President George H.W. Bush.
On the ground, Tasnadi hid his emotions behind the camera, determined to get good pictures, colleagues recalled. He also traveled to Cuba more than 40 times, gaining access to Fidel Castro and other leaders of that country. A former editor credited Tasnadi with helping pave the way for AP journalists to return to Cuba. His dangerous escape from Hungary in 1951, Tasnadi later remarked, "really helped me put a better perspective on deadline pressure."
In winter snow, Tasnadi, his then girlfriend and others escaped to Austria, slipping past guard towers and one border guard who simply looked away, said his daughter, Diana.
Settled in a refugee camp in Salzburg, Tasnadi married his girlfriend, but they were unable to get into the United States, so they headed to Venezuela where a cousin lived.
Photography was his hobby, so in Caracas he told a taxi driver to take him to the newspaper, launching a long and succcessful career that included a stint with Time-Life before finally coming to America and joining the AP.
Tasnadi retired in 1996 and while photographing his last White House press conference, President Clinton started a round of applause, thanking him for years of service.
"Charlie was a graceful photographer, a generous colleague and a complete gentleman. The arc of his life tracked the sweep of world history in the 20th century, yet he will be remembered most for a thousand daily kindnesses," said Kathleen Carroll, AP senior vice president and executive editor.
Among the famous photographs Tasnadi made was one of President Johnson displaying his scar to the media following surgery. Others included Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, President Nixon, Soviet Leader Leonid Brezhnev and candid shots of Presidents Clinton and Reagan.
Tasnadi was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2006 and underwent surgery and chemotherapy before suffering a recent stroke. He is survived by his widow, Maria, and his daughter, both of Washington. Funeral arrangements were incomplete.