That was 2009, certainly. About 260 days on the road, another Geographic story notched and published, another started for this year. Blessedly, another year behind the camera. Ups and downs, a few good frames, lotsa bad ones, another camera update (hardly a yearly event, more like bi-monthly) and, instead of another file cabinet with hanging slide sheets, a few more terabytes of storage. Cameras became like cars–hybrids. Tweeting now, and saw the Facebook thing turn the word “friend” into a verb.
Finally sold my Contax G2 rangefinders, so now, really, don’t officially own a film camera. Yikes. Kodachrome officially closed up shop. Indirectly, I guess I had a hand in it. I was one of 3 photogs called to a lunch meeting by Kodak in 2008. The question was asked: If we stopped producing Kodachrome, would you miss it? Awash in the quality of digital, I had to answer, “No.” But, I still have about 10 bricks of it in the freezer. Old habits die hard. I shot so much Kodachrome over the years I could take a brick and strip it out of the yellow boxes and plastic containers and into my shooting vest in about 60 seconds. I like to think that skill would stick with me, even if I was smitten with amnesia on assignment kinda like that guy Jason Bourne, who could still strip down and reassemble a Glock even though he couldn’t remember his name.
Time passed, and so did some people, sadly. A tough moment this past year was the passing of Frank McCourt, he of the wonderful use of language, and the indelibly Irish humor. Made the picture of Frank in a bar in the west of Ireland.
There was a big window and a little window. Main light, fill light. Shot it quickly, in the midst of more than one or two rounds, and it remains one of my favorite portraits. Which figures, because Frank, who I got to know on a photo trek to Ireland, was one of my favorite people. We began our relationship by bantering back and forth with good nature about the relative workloads of photographers and writers. He wryly observed us as a passel of lumbering beasts of burden, bristling with lenses and toting bags of machinery, and wondered out loud about the silliness and excess of it. I countered with the observation of the comparatively easy life of the writer, who can ply his trade with a pencil and a pad of paper.
Underneath all this lighthearted repartee lay the simple fact that I was pretty stressed. Reason? In a pocket of my bag was a small Tiffany box. At the end of that week, Annie and I would take ourselves off for a weekend in Dublin, and I was going to ask her to marry me. I was nervous about a lot of stuff, like losing that box, or having Annie find it, or if it might be raining when I popped the question. A litany of potential disasters loomed in my imagination.
Frank and his wonderful wife Ellen were also heading for Dublin, and all four of us went bar hopping and music listening (they go pretty much together in Ireland) on a Friday night. Now having Frank McCourt guide you through the bars of Dublin was pretty special indeed, and it was made more so by the fact that, while Annie was in the ladies’, Frank and Ellen became the first to know that the following morning was the morning in question for the question. It went well, obviously, and the reply was in the affirmative. I sent them an email that said simply, “She said yes.” They sent back an equally simple one. “He did it!”
They were gracious enough to come to the wedding, and, after I gave a brief speech, Frank came up to me and gave me a note he had written on a dinner napkin. It is framed in our bedroom. We both miss him, even though we rarely saw him, as his enormous capacity for wit and wisdom made him a world traveler. He embraced life, love and good fortune and enjoyed all of them immensely. The only thing that makes me smile even slightly at the thought of his passing is the certainty that heaven got to be a funnier, more erudite place.
Ted Kennedy moved on. His campaign for president was one of the first I ever covered. It was very new to me, all the competitive hubbub, but it was certainly exciting to be covering a Kennedy. Made this at the NY convention.
I remember making the pic. Behind and above, sort of in the cheap seats, yet again (sigh) where I wasn’t supposed to be. F2, 400mm F2.8, tungsten Ektachrome push one stop.
2009 marked the passing of Marty Forsher, the wizard of 47th St. From his obit in the NY Times…
“For more than 40 years, Mr. Forscher ran Professional Camera Repair Service in Midtown Manhattan. Founded in 1946, the shop was a Mecca for generations of camera owners, from the world’s most celebrated fashion, advertising and news photographers to wedding portraitists, threadbare students, bejeweled celebrities and anxious tourists.
Though renowned as a repairman, Mr. Forscher was perhaps best described as an armorer. For if news photographers were foot soldiers in the fight for social justice, as he long maintained, then he was intent on equipping them soundly. As a result, many of the seminal events of mid-20th-century history — World War II, the American civil rights movement, the Vietnam War — were recorded in part by cameras he had repaired, donated or adapted.”
To go stand on line for service at Pro Camera was to hang out with friends. It was a social call as well as a service call. Marty was always there, and from the front counter you could watch all the guys tinkering away, with the guts of a camera spread out on the table in front of them. It was like being an observer at a surgery. Very cool.
What was even cooler was not what Marty repaired, it was what he made. I still have my Forscher Polaroid back. The post screwed into the bottom enabled you to tripod mount the rig if needed.
The Polaroid back permanently attached to the back of your 35mm, and the image translated through fiber optics to the Polaroid film plane. If you pulled it right, you could get two 35 size instant images on one sheet of Poly. For me, the best way to glean detail off such a small positive was to use a maglite and reverse an 8x Agfa Loupe and minutely inspect it. (Other uses for an upside down Afga Loupe? They make a pretty good shot glass:-)
The real Marty twist to the camera above? See the additional flash sync port just below the lens release button, camera right side of the lens mount? I was so desperate for rear curtain sync back then, I brought this FM2 into the shop and Marty drilled a second sync for me into the camera body. It was specifically wired to fire at the close of the shutter. At that point in time, to get logical flash blur, I was asking people to walk backwards, drive in reverse, you name it. Just to make the blur locate behind them, where it’s supposed to be. The alteration to this camera cost more than the camera was worth, but it became my go to body for flash work.
Another year passed. I got a year older, though no wiser ’cause I remain, stubbornly, a photographer. Annie got more beautiful. (How does she do that?) Thankfully, more tk…..