Today is “Flag Day” throughout much of the world. Here, it is much more. It’s my Mom’s birthday.
Esther Letticia Holder Armstrong left us 11 years ago. But for me and my family, she’s very much alive in spirit and 101 years young. They were singing “You’re A Grand Old Flag” and “Over There” when Mom was born on that June 14th in 1917. Mom’s father, my grandfather, was over there. He was a sailor in the Danish Navy during World War 1.
Gramps, a Barbados native, saw plenty of action as he would tell us many times in the years to come.
Esther Holder, as Aunts and Uncles would gleefully tell me, was a feisty child and teenager. “Smart as a whip,” friends said about Mom. She graduated near the top of her Julia Richmond High School class of 1935. My Mother once described herself to me as a “Jazz baby,” showing off pictures of herself as a young woman who liked to dance. I’m not sure how that resonated with some of the older folks in the family but none of them lived in a glass house – if you get my drift.
I guess Mom left a trail of broken hearts when she and my dad, William Benfield Armstrong, married in 1941. It was one of the biggest social events of the year. However, modesty aside, the glittering affair was just the warm up to my début on the world stage in April of 1942. A star was born — at least that’s how I’d see it in my private fantasies which Mom frequently punctured.
Mom was a single parent during my early years because Dad was away — in the Army – seeing some of the heaviest action of World War 2 in France and Germany as a Sargeant in the still-segregated armed forces.
We looked like a Hollywood family when Dad finally came home from the war. At least that’s what I thought. Mom was beautiful and Dad was such a handsome guy.
Over the years, my Mother was “the voice” of our family. She clearly set the parameters for right and wrong, good and bad for my two younger brothers and me. I tested her many times, especially as I got older and became a “man” in my immature mind. I always lost those confrontations.
Mom was tough! She was also tender, in her own way. She encouraged me to read and write. She actually read my first attempts at fiction and assured me I had talent. She told me I should pursue my dreams.
We weren’t big on outward displays of affection, something that I would have to deal with in later years. However, Mom always found quality time for me. She knew I had a huge passion for movies. We’d go to the movies, 3 times a week. I was “Mom’s date.” She would explain who the people on the big screen were.
They were Gable, Tracy, Hepburn, Cooper, Grant and all the others who reigned over my fantasies through my many years of loving Hollywood. Mom said she named me after her favorite star, Gary Cooper. There was a mixup in recording the birth certificate and Gary became Garry.
There would be frequent mixups later when I became a news guy on television. Actually, there are still frequent mixups. Some things never change.
I’m not sure my Mother was excited about my career choice. She always said I should become a doctor, lawyer, or minister. She agreed I talked well. What she really said was, “Garry, you have a big mouth!” I’d smirk when she said that. The smirk usually quickly disappeared she gave me “the look.” Mom also thought I was too good for the women I dated. I think she left that impression with many of those women in my life. I got lots of feedback about it.
I remember Mom and Dad celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. I saw a look in their eyes I hadn’t seen too often. The look of love.
Dementia took hold of Mom in her last few years. Dad had passed away. Mom was alone with my middle brother Billy in the old family home on Long Island. Anton, my youngest Brother, was busy with his blooming career as director of the St. Olaf Choir in Minnesota. I was the married, busy TV news guy up in Boston. Family get-togethers were difficult.
In what would be her last coherent afternoon with me, My Mom floored me when she admonished me to be a good husband, to find quality time with Marilyn, to show affection and not stonewall Marilyn with internalized emotions. Mom held my face close with her hands like I was that stupid teenager. She smiled with patience and compassion, counseling me to “… be good to your Wife … you are lucky to have her. Show her you appreciate her, that you love her.”
I’m still trying Mom. I’m not there yet.
In the meantime, Happy, Happy Birthday. Mom. You’re the best!
Purple is the color of half the stuff leftover for clearance sales! Enter the annual purple sweater of the year.
It really is. Orange and purple. I know because during the poorest years of my life, those were the colors of all my shirts and sweaters. They were the only things left in my size. Eggplant, aubergine, pumpkin … whatever it was called, it was orange and purple.
I’ve always like dark purples and sometimes, the more lavender or red-violet purples, but there have been a few that were just a bit overly intense for my neutral mind to fully grasp. Orange is an okay contrast color if the rest of what I’m wearing is dark brown or black, but other than as a nightgown, I have a little more trouble with orange.
To wear that is. I absolutely love it as a Jack O’Lantern!
Purple is the color of the Mayflower, the classic iris, lilacs (sometimes more lavender, but close enough), and the spots that float across my eyes if I look into the sun for a moment.
For a brief few days, I vaguely contemplated dying my hair purple, but fortunately, no one shared my enthusiasm for the project and it died off on its own.
Let me add just a little nostalgia for long ago years when drugs were fun. Not something you took to make the pain in your back ease away. Not only was this quite the song of a generation (to be fair, it was not one of my favorites; I was more “Judy Collins” than “Jimi Hendrix”), but look how young they are! My granddaughter is older. I was that young too, but it’s hard to remember. Fifty years have passed. Fifty.
Purple Haze! Not just a song, but a crazy, mad state-of-mind … for about 12 hours with a residual fade of four more, give or take a couple. Oh, those really were the daze.
Many musicians toil away at their craft hoping to break through the mass of musical acts and reach success with a hit recording. Following endless rehearsals and low paying jobs, some of the best, or most interesting, will land recording contracts. These artists wait eagerly for the day when one of their songs will be heard on the radio and climb the pop charts. In 1968 there was no shortage of new acts to reach the Top 100.
Success may mean interviews and television appearances. In an era with many television variety shows and, of course, American Bandstand, a chance to show off in front of millions could be at hand. After finally having made it, performers looked for the next hit. For many it would not be. They would go down in music history as “one hit wonders.”
Some golden songs will be 50 this year but will anyone come to the party? As a one time triumph, the tunes may have faded from memory. Some of you may still have the vinyl recordings on hand and listen to these songs with great fondness, despite the pop and hiss on your old record player (Millennials should go look up “record player” before reading on). Others of you may have forgotten these completely.
In order to bring back some memories, I will give you my top 10 “one hit wonders” of 1968. I promise you all of these really did hit high on the pop music charts and they are songs I still like.
Some of these songs sing out “Give Me One More Chance,” so come over because it “Ain’t Nothin’ But A House Party.” You will find us “At The Top Of The Stairs” where “Sally Had A Party” with the “San Francisco Girls. ” You might discover the “Smell of Incense” at our “Soul Meeting,” “Thank U Very Much.” Don’t worry, “I Got A Sure Thing.”
10. Fire, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown. This song charted in many countries and sold over a million copies. If you see the video, you will think Arthur is indeed in a Crazy World.
9. In A Gadda Da Vida, Iron Butterfly. The album version of this psychedelic hit played over 17 minutes. The song was edited down to 2:53 for the single. By the way, the song was supposed to be “In The Garden Of Eden,” but the drummer could not understand it when the singer first played it for him (he was drunk, apparently), wrote down the wrong thing and the title stuck. It’s just another strange rock legend.
8. Green Tambourine, The Lemon Pipers. The song was released in late 1967 and hit number 1 by February 1968. Status Quo, also on this list, covered the song on their 1968 album. It was not their one hit wonder.
7. MacArthur Park, Richard Harris. The Irish actor and singer had his one big hit with this Jimmy Webb song. The tune was written with the group The Association in mind. They did not do it, but there were many covers, including a disco hit by Donna Summer.
6. Nobody But Me, The Human Beinz. This was a cover of the 1963 Isley Brothers tune which failed to hit the charts. Released late in 1967, the song made number 8 for The Human Beinz in 1968.
5. Pictures of Matchstick Men, Status Quo. This psychedelic rock tune was the only song by the group to chart in the US. The group did have some later success in the UK.
4. Classical Gas, Mason Williams. The instrumental piece was composed and performed by Williams. Fun Fact: Williams was the head writer for the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour and premiered the piece on their program.
3. Angel of the Morning, Merrilee Rush and the Turnabouts. A number of artists found success with this composition. Rush received a Grammy nomination.
2. Soulful Strut, Young-Holt Unlimited. It’s another instrumental piece for our list. The jazz musicians Isaac Holt and Eldee Young from Chicago had no further success with their trio and gave up by 1974, although they still played around town.
1. Grazing in the Grass, Hugh Masekela. It is another jazz instrumental. This time South African trumpeter Masekela takes the lead. The Friends of Distinction would add words and have a hit with the song the following year.
Click on the title of any song to go to the video, or hit up the entire playlist here.
Mostly, I miss the pants. The big wide bell bottoms were the most flattering jeans I ever had. They made my legs look longer and my hips narrower.
From the year my son was born — 1969 — and for the next few years, fashion and I were simpatico.
It was the hippiest of times … and I was as much as a hippy as I would ever be.
I was young. I wore big bell bottoms. The patchwork jeans were my favorites, although at the end of the day. I looked like I had been sitting on a waffle iron.
My shirts had fringes. Purple fringes.
I wore granny glasses with rose-tinted lenses. My hair was cut in a shag. I had my baby in a sling on my hip, a Leica on my shoulder and a song in my heart (probably the Beatles). That was a good as it got for me.
Hanging out is a concept lost to modern youth. I think it’s a tragedy, personally. The best parts of my life were spent hanging out.
I was a teenager in college. Madly in love with my first boyfriend who was seriously into the “Village scene.” He brought me there for my first taste of cold chocolate at a MacDougal Street coffee shop. I took to the Village like the proverbial duck to water.
From the old Italian coffee houses that sold coffee along with a few other non-alcoholic drinks, to the tiny, dingy coffee houses where folk music was born, this was the Heart of Hip. Everything was a 15 cent subway ride from home.
The world was mine.
It wasn’t only the Village, either. A lot of New York was free back then.
Museums were free. The Metropolitan Museum of Art was a magical experience. For that matter, the huge New York Public Library behind the stone lions had basements full of original, ancient documents into which you could freely delve. You couldn’t take them out of the library, but they were free for you to absorb. (I have no idea if that’s true anymore.)
You could spent an afternoon at the Hayden Planetarium watching the stars. If you had just a little bit of money, afternoon plays on Broadway could be very cheap, especially if you could live with “standing room only.” In the afternoon, there were always seats available. A lot of things you pay big money for now weren’t expensive then … and this wasn’t just a matter of the change of the value of money through the years. It was a huge change in culture.
If you were a teenager, New York on your doorstep was heaven, but Greenwich Village in the 1960s on your doorstep? That was the stuff from which dreams came true.
From Bob Dylan and Tom Paxton, to Pete Seeger and Judy Collins … they were all there. The famous, soon to be famous and a few infamous people. All young, making music and passing the basket.
I’d take the subway and get off at Bleecker Street, alone or in the company of friends. It didn’t matter whether you brought company or went by yourself. There were always people to meet. You didn’t need much money — good because none of us had any. We were kids, mostly without jobs and in school. Those of us not still living with parents lived in apartments shared with other people so we could make the rent and maybe afford food too.
All I needed was subway fare — 30 cents round trip — and a few more cents for a hot (or cold) chocolate at the Reggio. For this pittance, I could spend an entire day and evening in the Village. Hanging out.
“What do you mean “hanging out?” asks my granddaughter.
“You bought a coffee or a chocolate and just sat around waiting to see what might happen. You could read or watch people coming and going. Hoping you’d see someone you knew — or maybe wanted to know.”
“That’s it? You just sat around?”
“Yup. Just sat around. And we didn’t sit around with our cell phones because there were no such things. We just sat around. Talking or thinking or reading. It was a quiet place until the music started. That was hanging out. No one told you to hurry — or told you to buy something or leave. It was cool to simply be there.”
I often sat with a cup of coffee or chocolate for a whole day. No one pushed us out the door to make way for ‘the lunch crowd.’ No one bothered you unless you looked like you’d like some bothering.
When it got dark, you went to one of the places where people sang. There were usually no entry fees. Hopefully you had enough money to drop something in the basket for whoever was performing. It wasn’t particularly odd to have no money at all. A lot of us walked around with empty wallets. Without wallets, too. Rich was having exactly enough money to buy a coffee and subway tokens. It was okay in the 1960s. Poverty was cool.
Not only were there no cell phones. A lot of people had no phone. People rode bicycles with naked guitars strapped to their backs. Cars? I think most of us didn’t have driver’s licences. I know I didn’t. That was a decade in the future.
People were friendly, funny, and we were sure we were going to change the world. I think we did, though sometimes when I’m in a dour mood, I wonder if all we really did was make denim a fashion fabric.
Out near Hofstra in Hempstead, where I was occasionally attending school and getting far better grades than I deserved, I was a music major and one of the perks were free concert tickets to Carnegie Hall. There’s the “main room” — but there are also a number of “recital halls” where up and coming musicians perform. I’m hope that’s still true.
Meanwhile, one of my soon-to-be husbands and his best friend decided to bring culture to Long Island. They opened the AbMaPHd (pronounced ab-ma-fid) coffee-house. It was a light-hearted reference to education — AB, MA, and Ph.D. Nobody got the joke.
They brought in the same people who were playing in the Village. Dave Van Ronk gave me my first good guitar strings. He even put them on the guitar for me.
What did I do there, in Hempstead? I hung out, of course. Sat around, meeting friends, drinking something, listening to music, meeting musicians. Hanging. I also played bridge upstairs in Memorial Hall instead of attending classes, but no one is perfect.
No one was texting, computing, or phoning. There was no electronic background noise (unless you count the squeal of feedback from the microphones). Nobody’s phone was beeping, dinging, or wailing. No one was going off into a corner to talk on the phone.
If you were going off into a corner, you were either making a date — remember dating? — or buying (or possibly selling) drugs. All the noise was human. Talking, laughing, fighting, singing, discussing. Eating. Drinking.
It was an incredibly happy time for me, even though I thought I was deeply troubled, probably because I hadn’t really made the full breakaway from home to real life … and also because I’d read too many books about troubled youth and figured I must be one.
I know that whatever kids are doing today, they aren’t having nearly as much fun as we had. I feel sorry for them. We were adventurous, playful, willing to try anything at least once and most of us, more often. If I hadn’t been me during those years, I’d envy whoever had been the girl hanging out. If I miss anything of the “old days”? It’s hanging out. Just being there and doing nothing important.
I wonder if operating systems will be relevant a few years from now. Change has been a synonym for technology for the past 30 years or more. Change has driven the computer industry. Change is why we need to buy new software, hardware and operating systems.
Change can make things work better, but it’s not unusual to discover that your “upgrade” is a downgrade because what used to work no longer does. You pays your money, you takes your chances.
I grew to adulthood in a pre-computer society. I started working before cable TV, when encyclopedias were huge heavy sets of books and a computer was gigantic and needed a whole building for itself. It ran on punch cards and used machine languages — COBOL and FORTRAN.
Decades later, personal computers were still just one step removed from a doorstop, floppy disks were 5-1/2 inches across and really flopped.
Those early machines (personal units, not mainframes) — I hesitate to call them computers — didn’t do much. They didn’t have hard drives. There was no software and no user-friendly interface. I don’t think the concept existed. No WYSIWYG. What you saw was a black screen with lurid green letters that made you feel as if you were going blind after an hour or two.
Then everything changed. First there was Apple and then Windows. Windows didn’t work very well at first, but it got better.
In the beginning, there were different players in the marketplace and many more choices of operating system. Wang and DEC plus a crazy quilt of dedicated word processors and computers made by Commodore, Atari and many others. For a while, I had an Amstrad, a European machine that was almost a computer, kind an intelligent typewriter with a screen. It spit out paper.
Soon everything changed again. Computers started to really do stuff. Magic!
The speed of change accelerated. Technology was in hyperdrive. Then came a thing called the Internet. I had to buy and install Netscape to use it. After I got connected, there wasn’t much going on, but it was cool to just roam around. Mostly, you bumped into other people looking for something interesting. And then came AOL.
You could send electronic mail — email — if you had a friends with computers. You sent them messages over old copper telephone wires and everything happened in slow motion.
Just getting on to the Internet could take … well, let me put it this way. Turn on the computer. Turn on the modem. Go to the kitchen. Prepare dinner. Cook dinner. Serve dinner. Eat dinner. Clean up everything. By the time you got back to your computer, you might have actually managed to connect to something. Or not.
Then suddenly there were ISPs popping up all over the place. I got a super fast modem that ran at a whopping 2400 BPS! Imagine that. I worked in California from my home office in Boston. Cool! Telecommuting was the cat’s pajamas.
By the time my granddaughter was born in 1996, everybody had a computer or two. In her world, computers have always been fast, the Internet has always been the world’s shopping mall.
At age three, she could run basic applications. For her, it’s like electricity was to us: something you use that is always there. Always was. I’m sure she can’t imagine a world without it. It’s hard for me to remember that world — and I certainly would not want to go back there.
For a brief interval, the rate of change slowed. We drew a collective breath and didn’t have to buy new computers for a couple of years. High speed connections arrived, though most home users didn’t have it right away. Everything kept getting faster and soon, with cable modems, no one could even remember what it was like to try to get onto the Internet using an old telephone line.
Every time you looked around, there was a new generation of processors, bigger and faster hard drives, amazing super high-definition monitors and speaker systems to knock your socks off.
The Internet became a world-sized shopping mall and overnight, catalogue shopping became website cruising. The Internet was a world unto itself; I played bridge in real-time with a partner who lived on an island off the Pacific coast.
We have computers all over the house and what isn’t a computer is run by a computer or contains a mini computer … microwave ovens, smartphones, digital cameras and GPS units. Three computers are in daily use plus two Kindles — and only 2 people live here. We should get computers for the dogs. For all I know, when we are out, they go on-line and order stuff.
A brief interruption of cable service leaves us wandering around like wraiths, without form or function. Now, we live in “the cloud.” It’s the same old Internet, but cloud is the “new” word for data stored on external servers. We’re going back to where we began, to using stripped down computers with no hard drives. Instead, everything is stored on someone else’s computer — out there. In the cloud. Our data might be anywhere. We have no way of knowing where it lives. Most people don’t care … until they discover it has been hacked.
Am I the only one who finds this unnerving?
I can see advantages. When you eliminate memory sucking operating systems and cumbersome installed applications, your computer will run faster. Start-up is instantaneous because your computer doesn’t have to load services and applications. You don’t have to maintain and upgrade big expensive applications and volumes of data. You won’t need ever bigger hard drives, more memory and video RAM. You wind up with faster computers that are less expensive and easier to maintain. It’s a win-win, right?
Or is it? How much do you trust your Internet service provider?
If your cable company has a bad day or the servers on which you store your critical data go down — even for a short while — you have nothing. As long as everything works like it’s supposed to, it’s hunky dory, but Murphy hasn’t left the building yet.
Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong at the worst possible time.
Maybe it’s my age showing, but I would prefer to have data on hard drives that I own. Mine. Just in case. Because I’ve used a lot of different clouds over the years and at least half of them have folded their servers and disappeared. The only places where my data lives permanently are Amazon for books, Audible for audiobooks … and places I shop. And, of course, the bank. Because some things, you just have to count on surviving.
All my photographs are on external hard drives as is all my writing. Including the posts from this blog. Because it makes me feel better.
I can’t live with the idea of entrusting everything — from photographs to manuscripts — to an unknown server somewhere in the world. It scares the hell out of me. What if the building in which the server storing my stuff burns down? Gets hit by a terrorist attack? Taken down by hackers? Is hit by an earthquake?
You have no way of knowing what country your data is in or how stable its government is. Or how good an infrastructure it has — or how frequently it has been hacked. Your financial data could be in Pakistan, Indonesia, or Kuala Lampur. Or next door.
My bank got hacked too. I think almost every place I have data stored has been hacked at least once. On the other hand, my personal, external hard drives have not been hacked because they aren’t hackable.
How many times have you been unable to access a web page because servers are busy or crashed? The times when their — or your — servers are inaccessible because of maintenance, repair or upgrade. Or those ubiquitous hackers. What if you need a critical piece of data from a server while its offline? It does happen.
If your ISP is down, you are out of business. If you think your cable company has you by the throat now, how much worse will it be if everything you need to run your life and business is dependent on their services? Come to think of it, we may already be there because when our WiFi is down, we feel … crippled. Like we are missing our hands.
Those of you who are old enough to remember the great Northeast power blackout in the mid 1960s know what I mean when I say that overloaded systems can go down like dominoes. I am all in favor working together with my fellow human beings throughout the world, but if you put the world’s eggs in one basket and the basket falls, that’s a hell of a lot of broken eggs.
That’s way beyond an omelet. It’s just a complete mess.
I worked for more than 35 years in development. That was my world and although I’m not an engineer or developer, I know what’s behind a user interface. For example, modern word processors embed commands in text, but behind the interface, it’s entering the same commands I entered directly on the huge IBM mainframe by hand. It’s faster and prettier now. You get to see how your document will look when it’s printed, but it’s nothing but an elegant wrapping on an old familiar box.
My concern is not the graphical user interface (GUI) that overlays our computer (regardless of operating system), but that these new operating systems are designed to work with “The Cloud” … a meaningless term that represents servers located anywhere and everywhere. We don’t have to know where they are; they’re in the Cloud … kind of like Angels and God. We are being herded toward using external storage and we aren’t supposed to be alarmed that we have no control over it.
We use services consisting of server farms located somewhere on earth for our bank records, calendars, contacts, blog posts, Facebook, Twitter … and everything we’ve ever bought on line. Everything. We assume the people from whom this server space is leased are dependable. We assume they are not criminals looking to steal identities and data … and their infrastructure is secure and won’t collapse from a power outage or hacker attack. And finally, we trust our ISPs to deliver the goods, keep us online so we can access the stuff we need.
Charter Communications is my cable company and controls my high-speed internet access, as well as my TV and telephone. I have difficulty controlling the wave of rage I feel when I think about them. How do you feel about your cable company, eh?
Even if the servers that store your stuff are safe, you can’t get there without a high-speed connection and that, my friends, means your local ISP … cable, telephone, satellite, whatever you use. They already have you by the short hairs. You are not independent; you rely on their services.
Anybody anywhere can build a server farm. It’s a great business that requires a bunch of servers, a climate controlled place to put them, and a few IT people to tend the equipment.
Where are these places? A lot of it is located in places that have government which are — by any standards — unstable. How good is the infrastructure? Are they in the middle of a war? Are their electrical generating facilities dependable or sufficient? What protection against hackers do they provide? Are they trustworthy? They could easily be a bunch of criminals and the data they collect is the mother lode.
Remember when Equifax got hacked? How appalled we were, but how they sort of shrugged it off? That won’t be the last time.
Meanwhile, the Russians are coming, the Russians are coming.
Call me cynical. Paranoid. I think the “cloud” is snake oil. Use the “Cloud” when you must, but have dependable external drives too.
The first time I went to the Vineyard, it was my honeymoon — to my first husband and the year was 1965. I didn’t know anything about the Vineyard. I hadn’t even known it was there, but we were looking for somewhere interesting to go that we could afford. It’s funny to realize that in 1965, Martha’s Vineyard was a relatively inexpensive place to vacation. Now, it will cost you your first-born child and all your gold.
Jeff and I stayed at the Menemsha Inn, which is on the west side of the island. It turned out that this was also the place where Alfred Eisenstaedt spent his summer vacations. He had his own cabin and his books of photography were everywhere. I had just started to take pictures. I had my first camera loaded with black and white film. No electronic meter. No electronic anything. Manually loaded film and a hand-held light meter.
I was using my first camera, a Prakticawith a brilliant Zeiss 50mm lens. It was a terrific lens. Otherwise, the camera was basic. No electronics or automatic anything. A hand-cranked film advance on a completely bare-bones camera. I had brought half a dozen rolls of black and white film with me. I used them all.
Eisenstadt was not at the Inn while we were there, but his books became my guide to photography. I went every place on the island where he had taken pictures and I copied each. Literally, I figured out exactly where he had stood — or crouched — to get each shot. To say it was illuminating doesn’t cover it. By the time I was through with that week’s vacation, I could take pictures.
The moral of the story? If you are going to copy, copy from the best.
In the summer of 1991, channel 7 let Garry do a feature about Alfred Eisenstaedt — world-famous photographer — and Lois Maillou Jones, world-famous painter. Both of them lived on Martha’s Vineyard. Both had recently received Presidential Medals of Honor from President Bush (the first).
When the shoot was over, we got to be friends with both artists. Eisenstaedt was 93. Lois Maillou Jones was 86. It was an incredible honor for us. For me, getting to really know a man I’d been admiring for decades was beyond thrilling.
I had been an admirer of Eisenstaedt’s work as long since before I began taking pictures.
It was ideal for a beginner. I had to take a light reading with a handheld meter. I had to focus the lens, set the shutter speed and f-stop. Choose the film speed — though you only had to set film speed once when you loaded the camera.
There weren’t a lot of settings to learn, but they were and remain the essentials of photography. My 50 mm lens was a prime. No zoom. It was a good piece of glass and moderately fast at f2.8.
If I wanted a close up, I could move in. Wide shot? Run the other way. I learned photography in a way that those who’ve only used digital cameras with zoom lenses can’t imagine. Most of today’s photographers have never so much as held a camera that doesn’t include auto-focus, much less taken a manual light reading. And if you forgot your meter, you could use the suggested setting on the little paper enclosure that came with Kodak film. After a while, you could set your camera pretty much by eyeballing the light and you’d get it right 90% of the time. We don’t actually need all the gadgets we use.
Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe it does.
The camera was a gift from a friend who had bought a new camera. Armed with the camera and determination, I followed Eisenstaedt’s path. I discovered where he’d taken each picture, figured out how he’d gotten the perspective. I duplicated his shots down to the clump of grass behind which he’d crouched to create a foreground.
My first roll of film was brilliant — except the photographs were copies of Alfred Eisenstaedt’s. He taught me photography by giving me foot prints to follow. By the time I was done with those first rolls of film, I had learned the fundamentals. I’m still learning the rest and I’ll probably never be finished.
When I actually met Alfred Eisenstaedt, it was the most exciting moment of my life.
As we got to know Eisie better, I asked him to autograph his books for me. He didn’t merely autograph them. He went through each book, picture by picture.
He was in his nineties and had forgotten many things, but remembered every picture he’d taken, including the film, camera, lens, F-stop, and most important, what he was thinking as he shot. He could remember exactly what it was about the image that grabbed his attention.
For example, the picture of the sailor kissing the nurse in Times Square on VJ Day, he said he was walking around Times Square with his Nikon. When he spotted the dark of the sailor’s uniform against the white of the nurse’s dress, he knew it was what he wanted and shot. Light, contrast, composition.
We spent time with him each summer until he passed in 1995. We were honored to be among those invited to the funeral. Although we were sad Eisie was gone, we found things to laugh about. Knowing him was special and some memories are worth a chuckle.
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