I was working for Time Magazine at the time as a copyboy. What is a copyboy? I don't believe there is any such occupation anymore. Back then, a story was written by a writer either on a typewriter or by hand on paper. It was then re-typed by a typist and then distributed to the researchers for checking. Then it was re-typed and distributed to the editors. It worked its way (re-typed every time, changes or not) up to the senior editors and finally the managing editor. All along the way, it had to be moved through the offices... that was the copyboy's job. As a copyboy, you waited for a buzzer button located on the editor's desk to be pressed, buzzing a buzzer at your hallway post. You would then leap up, clear the annunciator flag, walk into his (or her) office and take the contents of his (or her) outbox and place it in the copydesk inbox. Thats it. Oh, sometimes they would ask you to do some humiliating thing like get down on the floor to look for a lost cufflink, go out of the building to purchase a copy of some magazine on the newstand across the street at the Rockefeller Center. I guess you could call the job being a "gopher". I felt better when I found out that five years earlier, Dick Cavett had my job.
Photo by Pete Giammanco
At some point, I discovered that Time Inc had a 100% tuition refund program. Since I was in New York, the thought passed through my mind that I should try to see if I could study in private with some of the practioners of photography (as I defined it). I had heard that this was sometimes possible. I asked one of the more educated and senior copyboys (who was a struggling playwright at that time) about the refund program... how much documentation need I provide, etc. I remember him saying it was very liberal. "Anything except sex education on 42nd Street".
I first contacted Garry Winogrand and as I recall he got back to me fairly quickly since he had a small group forming. The group met at his spacious but rather dark and oddly laid out apartment (rent controlled, I'm sure) in the upper west side of Manhattan. He was always was alone with the exception of a young girl who, at those times she was visible, sat quietly and embroidered... not the old lady kind of work, but the hippie stuff on vests amd jeans kind of thing. He introduced her as "...Eileen!" with a bit of a flourish. Nothing further in the way of explanation of her presense there was offered. I suspect it might have been Eileen Adele Hale, but I'm not sure.
On the first visit, he looked through my portfolio. He said nothing except commenting that he liked this one...
the others were kind of standard artsy-fartsy stuff. Didn't seem to interest him.
The darkroom tour was interesting. He had kind of a commercial setup with large dip tanks with racks capable of holding large numbers of Nikkor stainless steel 35mm size reels. I was amazed since I developed my film one roll at a time in an 8 ounce tank. I was really a fanatic about precision time/temperature control and did my own color negative processing in my bathroom sink. I did own a 4 reel tank but almost never used it. I also noticed a large deadbolt lock on the inside of the darkroom. Garry explained to me that he went through a divorce and locked all his belongings in the darkroom until things were straightened out.
At the time, he was thinking about purchasing a stereo component (receiver) and since I know something about audio, he mostly talked about that when we were one on one. When he was at home, Garry was very warm and friendly. He served us milk and cookies, those thin raisin biscuit squares that they don't make anymore. When I would see him outside of his home—Central Park, the lobby of the MOMA offices are two times I remember—he was kind of abrupt and cool.
Every weekly meeting, we were given an "assignment". I wish now I had taken notes since I've forgotten what exactly the assignments were. We spent some time each session looking at selected examples of his work. That was the most interesting part for me. I started to hang out at places he suggested were his favorites. I have to admit, Bethesda Fountain in Central Park on a warm sunday in early spring is amazing! So much crazy stuff going on in a small space and really fast! It was there that I took this picture of him.
Garry mentioned in passing that he wanted to make slides of some of his photographs. I had done quite a bit of work with reversing Panatomic-X film and had gotten quite good at it. His attempts were not working well... faded and pink looking. I explained what the problem was and how to fix it. He mentioned that the slides were to be used in giving slide-talks about his work. I guess that's why he invited me to a talk he was giving at Cooper Union School of Design (downtown Manhattan). I went and sat in the back of medium sized lecture hall. After the introduction by someone there at the school, Garry simply stood up from his seat in the front row and half turned to everyone and said something like... "I'm going to show some pictures and then I'll answer questions". The lights dimmed and the show began. It wasn't long, maybe the 20th slide, that people started to get up and leave in droves. When the show was over one of the few remaining students asked a question about one of the images containing a statue of some political leader with a pigeon sitting on his head. The question related as to whether it was a political statement as to his (Garry's) opinion about the politics of that leader. Garry was puzzled and had no idea which image he was referring to and would certainly not be making a statement about politics since his pictures had nothing to do with politics.
Speaking of politics, he told a funny story about his encounter with what he believed was the CIA. He said that he had answered an ad in the newspaper for a photographer. He arrived at a plain, rather empty office with a man behind a desk who explained that he would be given an amount of unexposed film and he was supposed to go to a protest rally, take pictures and return the exposed film the next day at which time he would be paid. In telling us about this, he laughed heartily and said he went to the rally and took pictures of nothing except "tits and ass" and was very amused at the thought of the government guys having hundreds of pictures but not a single face.
I felt that I got a lot out of the Winogrand workshop and decided to look up Diane Arbus. Garry had mentioned that she might be up for doing workshops too. I don't remember how I got her phone number, but I called and left a message. She returned the call and invited me to come down to Westbeth to talk and look at my work. She met me in the building's vestibule/lobby area where we could sit down and talk and she could look through my portfolio of mounted prints. She remarked about the quality of my prints and said that she only recently learned how to make really fine prints like mine. Other than that, she didn't have much to say about my work. I liked her a lot and left the building excited at the prospect of spending more time with her. I had given her a check and she said she would call me when a group was formed. I was thinking it would be similar to Winogrand, where there would be a group of 4-6 people.
Sometime later, I got a call from her. There was a workshop in the making but not the small group I envisioned, rather, a large group of people... turned out anyone who was capable and inclined to write and sign a check for $50 was in. No portfolio review required. I was crushed... pissed off. How could she do this to me?
The day (night actually) arrived for the first class. I was appalled at the parade of fashion models, fashion photographer wannabees, commercial photographers etc. that walked in. They all seemed to know each other and all seemed so hip and cool. I drifted off to the side of the room to brood. Somehow I struck up a conversation with another "wall hangar". In the course of small talk, she discovered that I had graduated from Rochester Institute of Technology and knew some of the people at the Visual Studies Workshop at Eastman House. Her name was Anne Tucker. She was an intern at the photography department of the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA). She is now curator of photography at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston.
One of the class members who didn't speak english well audio taped the classes. Those tapes became the basis for the video "Masters of Photography: Diane Arbus" available on Netflix and elsewhere. In those few moments that I could get over my angst and listen to her words, I found her very inspiring.
One night, she brought in someone everyone (except me) wanted to meet... Marvin Israel. At that time, I believe he was editor of photography at Harper's Bizarre. This is the guy everyone in the room wanted to suck up to. This is the guy that was going to buy your photographs--and pay big bucks too! As usual, I sat along the wall and moped. Maybe I was jealous... maybe I wanted to be with the beautiful, young, hip and rich crowd too but couldn't. Something was standing in the way of that. Was it a passion for pure photography or was it just the feeling that I wasn't pretty, clever, hip, smart or cool enough? As far as I was concerned, fashion magazine editors told you what to do, how to do it, when and where. What's left for the photographer to do? Oh, forgot... push the button!
The last session was held in Diane's apartment at Westbeth. It was over. I was adrift. The life preserver I thought she would toss to me got snapped up and ripped to shreds by the fashionistas. I was in a daze. I thought about calling Lisette Model (see postcard). Diane was right. That would have been good for me. I should have done it.
As it was, I drifted along at Time Magazine. One day, I got a call from Anne Tucker at MOMA. Diane was dead... suicide. Interestingly, Marvin Israel was weekending with his wife at Avedon's house on Fire Island on the day Diane was committing suicide. Shortly after that I got fired from Time Magazine. They called it a layoff, but I could tell my boss was pleased to be rid of me. I was hanging around with a bunch of people linked to a guy from work, "Ian". I had told Diane about these folks and showed her some of the photographs I was taking of them and she encouraged me to stick with it. Some of the photographs from that period can be seen here . When my unemployment insurance ran out, I felt that it was time to give it up. I gathered my stuff and rented a U-Haul and drove to Washington, DC. I sold off most of my Leica equipment except one body and a couple of lenses--which I still have. I was done.
I arrived at my sister's house in downtown (Dupont Circle) in Washington, DC. If not for her hospitality, I guess I would have been homeless. Things turned around though and you can get a glimpse of the events leading up to the present on this page
The above is my best effort to remember what I thought and felt at the time. In the clarity of hindsight, I realize I was bitter, jealous ignorant and immature. I was trying very hard to succeed as a photographer/artist. As Ron English says in his film Popaganda, NOBODY was making a living as a fine-art photographer in 1970. Despite the heroic efforts made by John Szarkowski and others, photography was not something that most art collectors were interested in buying in 1970.
Phil Pook said... "Thanks for sharing your experiences Norman! I am starting out as a photographer and am reading Susan Sontag "On Photography" where i started to reference the people named in the book! So came across your sight. Thanks again
Pete said... "So cool to read about your personal experiences, Norman with those iconic photographers and visionaries. It's easy to forget how hostile the art environment was for them back then! As for Phi's reference to Sontag's book - at that time she was also really struggling to embrace the medium, I think she's changed her tune somewhat since.
Best wishes!" 2008-01-21
Eileen Hale said... "Norman, thanks for your reminiscences. I found your writing in the course of Googling my own name - I am Eileen Adele Hale, and you're right, I am the Eileen whom Garry Winogrand introduced to you. I'm amused by your description of me, and pleased that I was embroidering. More than anything, though, I am happy to read your memories of Garry, and of that time. It's a very good description of him. I think he was abrupt and cool, when you saw him outside, because he was protective of his shooting time, lest it should get eaten up by socializing.
Thanks for this -
Eileen Hale" 2008-05-18
Eileen Hale said... "P.S. I want to wish you the best of luck and enjoyment with your photography, and whatever else you enjoy doing." 2008-05-18
Mason Resnick said... "Hi Norman, Thank you for sharing your memories of Garry Winogrand and Diane Arbus. I only knew Garry from a 2-week workshop but it sounds like you got to know him somewhat better. Interesting that you were considering a workshop with Lisette Model...when I was making a decision about which Master Workshop to attend in the summer of 1976, it was either going to be with Winogrand...or Lisette Model! Herb Goro, who ran the program they were both teaching in and who was my photography teacher in Queens College, suggested I might get more out of the Winogrand workshop." 2008-12-10
Rosenfeld David said... "Hello Norman... Your story is fantastic... like a movie !
Best wishes !" 2008-09-29
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Johnny Meah is a friend and neighbor (lives two blocks away), spent a great deal of his life in the carnival/sideshow business. He continues to paint banners and writes among other things. He is listed in the credits for the film FUR: an imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus. He is also featured in the documentary included with the new DVD release of Freaks.
www.4screenslideshow.com is a slideshow created from some of my negatives from 1970-1971. Thanks to Mark O'Connor for permission to use his music Appalachia Waltz.
Matt O'Sullivan is a Toronto photographer who photographs based on his eye and heart rather than his brain. Seeing it more than thinking it. I love to look at his work even though it makes my feet sore. This guy is everywhere. Does he ever go home?