Interview and transcript © 1990 by Kay Reese & Mimi Leipzig. ASMP staff edited the transcript for online presentation and added supplemental biographic information.
After graduation from Cornell University in 1936, Barrett Gallagher worked as a portrait photographer in New York. But he made his bones in the profession during World War II, when he was assigned to the U.S. Naval Aviation Photographic Unit. Its mission was to provide newspapers and magazines with images to promote the American cause. Under the command of Captain Edward J. Steichen, the unit also included Horace Bristol, Wayne Miller and Victor Jorgensen.
After the war, Gallagher did assignments for Time, Life, Fortune, Colliers, Saturday Evening Post and other magazines, photographing such luminaries as Ingrid Bergman, Leonard Bernstein, Yehudi Menuhin, Burgess Meredith, Mitch Miller, Nelson Rockefeller, Carl Sagan and Isaac Stern.
He joined ASMP in 1947 and served as its president in 1953-54. He also undertook various Board posts and committee roles in subsequent years. In 1976, he resigned from ASMP to protest the way ASMP was handling an arbitration claim, but he was subsequently persuaded to rescind his resignation.
Gallagher was also known for his wildlife portraits. A 1976 exhibit of his East African works at Cornell included various birds, baboons, cheetahs, and on down through the alphabet to zebras.
Gallagher died in 1994.
The interview begins with Barrett Gallagher showing photographs from a Fortune Magazine assignment.
Barrett: This is Arecibo; are you familiar with Arecibo? It’s in Puerto Rico; it was built by Cornell University. It’s a bowl 300 feet in diameter and it’s perfectly symmetrical within an eighth of an inch over its entire circumference. From here, they can turn this and tilt it and then fire radar signals down into it and bounce them off the moon or the planets or any part of the unIverse.
ASMP: And this?
Barrett: This is Cornell. It happens to be the Fashion Institute on 27th Street. The university was trying to raise the money to build a theater, a Center for Performing Arts. I’m very active in this, and they gave us the job of finding the hall to have the meeting in. The trustees and all the influential Cornellians would be here. So we looked all over — Juilliard and all over the city — and we found the Fashion Institute.
One of the things the committee discussed at the meeting was, should we discuss money with the alumni who showed up? And I said, “Hell, no, they’re sophisticated and they know all about money,” so we didn’t mention it. We just had the meeting and then they talked about it, and they raised $26 million that night — first meeting!
This is the old theater and it’s quite a famous one. It was built by Sterling and Wilford. It is an old building out on the campus; there’s a gorge running down through here. It was squeezed into a very small place, but it’s very elaborate. This is the lobby of the theater.
“Strike the top mast!”
This is the Bluenose, the last of the fishing schooners, and the last race between the Bluenose and the Gertrude L. Thebaud in Gloucester. I came across them in England in ‘35, when I was over there at Oxford, and I met the skipper. He said they’d come from Nova Scotia and they were going to leave there and go back to Nova Scotia and he wanted to know if I’d like to come with them.
ASMP: Did you go?
Barrett: Damn right! So we left from England, from Falmouth, and headed across the Atlantic. We went through the eye of the worst hurricane in recorded maritime history. We were the only ship on the ocean that survived. You can see the smashed boats and broken booms.
A couple of years later, they had the last race between the Bluenose and the Thebaud. I suggested it as a story to Life, and they said they were thinking about it. When the time came, they said, “We’re going to assign a staff man on it.” I said that was fine.
Then they called up the night before and said that they couldn’t get anybody aboard the Bluenose. Could I get aboard? I said that I thought I could. I took the night plane up and got aboard the Bluenose the next morning.
The first race, she was ahead and winning, when the lookout on the top started to holler, “We’ve got a cracked top mast!” So Angus Walters, the skipper, said, “Strike the top mast!” We lost the first place, but we ran the race.
“Everybody in Japan was after us.”
This is World War II. At the end of the war, they assembled all four divisions of the 6th Pacific Fleet together for one hour for this picture: Operation Snapshot.
ASMP: Operation Snapshot?
Barrett: It was the only time they’ve ever collected that whole fleet together in one place.
This is Amori in Japan. They were bringing copper over in this ferry from Hokkaido, the next island. B29s burned the town, but they didn’t cut the ferry line, so five of us went up in these hell-divers, like this one, and blew up the ferry and broke up the railroad. This was like bombing Jersey City — you know, everybody in Japan was after us.
(A photo of Gallagher in a hell-diver is available at the GI Photo Joe site.)
“Who are you? Jesus Christ?”
I was in the Steichen group during the war. Well, first I was an armed guard with merchant crews on merchant ships. But, after a year of that (and about a quarter of my colleagues were torpedoed during that time), then they transferred us to the destroyer escort. I was gunnery officer on the destroyer escort in the North Atlantic for a year. That got me into the Steichen group. Do you know about the Steichen group?
ASMP: No, I don’t.
Barrett: Well, he put together for Forrestal and for the Navy a group of half-a-dozen photographers — Jorgensen, Jacobs, Bristol, Dorsey and Wayne Miller.
We had orders to proceed to any ship or station in the Pacific Ocean area, Class 2 priority, which was Admiral’s priority, with 250 pounds of excess baggage, “omit, alter, or revisit as necessary.” I showed these orders to the guy in San Francisco that stamped orders; he read them through and said, “Who are you? Jesus Christ?” No one had never imagined such orders.
Jerry Brogan was the air group commander that I was attached to for the rest of the war, with Harley Burke, “31-Knot Burke,” and Mark Mitchner. This is Randolph, one of the carriers we were on, and we had just catapulted off of this catapult. This is a destroyer making 30 knots in the Pacific.
This is silk and it’s waterproof. It says here in all the languages in the Philippines and that area, “American pilot; take them to your headquarters.” This is the same thing in Chinese. We were flying the China Sea a lot at that time.
“My orders are to go where I please, do what I want, and go home when I feel like it.”
I was going to talk about Horace Bristol, who was a great salesman. He made trips out to different admirals’ flags out in the Pacific and he always went out with a great big plane full of photos — he made prints and distributed them to his friends out in the field. That was his means of maintaining friendly connections with some of the Navy people. Wayne Miller kind of stayed in Naples and Rome all the time; he did his own private little remote-control war in Naples.
Victor Jorgensen was one of the most original and active. He later went out with Steichen on a number of his trips and he was very influential in setting up the whole group and keeping it active. Then he went from there on into The Skipper, a magazine in Annapolis; he was editor of The Skipper for a long time.
ASMP: And what was your specialty then in that situation? Everybody had a friend; did you have a friend?
Barrett: I latched onto Admiral Brogan. He was a tough fighter, a bantam-weight fighter; he was notorious. I asked some of the guys in the Steichen group who to go to, and Dorsey told me that Brogan had a great advantage, as he did not have any sycophants on his staff. He hired people on merit and on ability; that was all he was interested in. So I went out to get aboard the Intrepid and I went up to see him.
I took a plane out to the West Coast and I got out to the Pacific and we were hitchhiking rides on small landing craft. I got to the Intrepid and up to the flag bridge and said, “I want to see Admiral Brogan.” So they sent me in to see him, and I said, “I want to be on your staff.” He said, “What are your orders?” I said, “My orders are to go where I please, do what I want, and go home when I feel like it.” He said, “I’d like to see them.” I handed them to him and went down to get lunch. I came back after lunch and he said, “Damned if they don’t.”
I was with him for the rest of the war, just like that. He never gave me an order; I never had any conflict with him. Anywhere I went, any ship I went, any place in the Navy, “Brogan sent me” was much better than orders. It was the “open sesame” to the whole thing.
“It ran on every lamp post in the state.”
ASMP: And what’s that certificate up on top?
Barrett: That’s Cornell’s Sphinx Head, an honorary society. It’s up there because it’s the right size and shape.
Here’s a few other things. We were called up one day when Nelson Rockefeller was going to run for governor and he’d asked Fortune who should take the picture for him. They suggested us. So we drove up to Syracuse where he was going to be — he summered with the family on weekends — and photographed him. It ran on every lamp post in the state.
This is Orson and Burgess Meredith in The Five Kings. Timmie [Mrs. Gallagher] was in it; she was a radio queen and she was in The Five Kings with these characters.
This was Drummond, who was head of the Dramatic Club at Cornell and a very famous character and a great teacher. He had infantile, but it didn’t slow him down very much.
This is East Africa, Paul Draper, an old friend. So that’s the biography for the day.
“The Great Ramrod”
ASMP: Let me ask you some questions about the ASMP. When did you join the ASMP, and why?
Barrett: It was pretty near the beginning: 1947. The magazines — especially Life and the big ones — were quite unfriendly to the whole idea of a union and quite unfriendly to making any commitment as to the day rate or the page rate or any other facts of life. In fact, one of the principal ways of getting along with those art directors was to never bring up any such embarrassing questions. They just wouldn’t even consider discussing when we were putting the Code together; in other words, just deaf on the idea.
ASMP: You were president from ‘53 to ‘54?
ASMP: And, evidently, while you were president, an awful lot of the Code was passed, just during that time.
Barrett: All of it.
ASMP: How did you get into the ASMP?
Barrett: Well, Victor Jorgensen, I guess. He was a great salesman and he got us interested in it.
One of my first jobs [in ASMP] was to go and find a lawyer. I interviewed a lot of lawyers all over the city and finally found [pulls out picture] this wonderful guy. That’s Herman Gray. So, under his guidance, we wrote the Code and passed it. It immediately became very well accepted, curiously.
ASMP: Kay told me that Gjon Mili called you “The Great Ramrod.”
Barrett: Well, that was in order, I’ll tell you that. It was not a very popular undertaking.
“It was thrown out on a very technical point.”
ASMP: But you accomplished a lot.
Barrett: Yes, because it was very vital to do, it was very much necessary. And we were not trying to swindle them out of anything. We just wanted to get these things written down and understood so that we knew what we were doing. Here’s the original Code.
ASMP: How much did you work for before the Code was passed? What were you getting paid by Fortune?
[Timmie Gallagher joins the session]
Timmie: Fortune was good. I’ve forgotten exactly how much they paid, but their day rate was very good, and their motto was “Day rate or page rate, whichever was greater.” In fact, the Code was based on their page rate.
Barrett: It was curious because Time was the worst, but Fortune was about the best.
Timmie: Well you see, Life had a staff, after all, and Fortune never had a staff.
ASMP: But you did sign agreements, you managed to get agreements signed with US Camera, and Life and Collier’s.
Timmie: Not Collier’s. Collier’s is what brought it to a halt. They challenged it; they took it to the Labor Relations Board, or whatever there was at the time, and they challenged it. So we had to count the number of photographers per issue. Well, as you know, one photographer could do five stories in it, but his name would only appear once in the final result. Then they would use lots of other sources, but each one of them would be pictures here from AP, UP and so on, so it would add up numerically to more names, because the same photographer might have had four stories.
So it was thrown out on a very technical point. But, by that time, the Code had gotten very well established.
“One black and white picture turned the tide the wrong way.”
After that all blew over, everyone went right back to working for Collier’s. They paid very well, if you remember. So it didn’t affect working for them in the slightest, because everybody worked for them right along.
ASMP: But they still refused to sign the Code?
Timmie: It was kind of a matter of principle.
Barrett: As a matter of fact, they had a showdown with the ASMP people. They counted up all the assignments, all the pictures the photographers had done for them, and then compared that with other photographers. They finally got to a countdown, and one freelance photographer — with one black and white picture — turned the tide the wrong way. It took us years to get over that.
Timmie: And, yet, when that was over, then we were still all working for Collier’s.
“Anybody who really wanted to could get through the fences.”
ASMP: Would you have preferred to be a freelance or a staff photographer in all this time?
Barrett: I never had the slightest interest in being a staff photographer, because then you were working for that one art director and you were his flunkey. You didn’t have any standing or any independence of any kind. So I never had the slightest idea or interest in being on a staff.
ASMP: But now that you look back on it, if you had had a choice, was there anything else you would have chosen to do?
Barrett: No, I don’t think so. I never did want to be a company man or answering to some board or one person. And photography is one of the few ways you can operate like that, unless you’re a writer.
ASMP: I noticed in some of the old Infinitys, there were a lot of arguments about who should be admitted to the ASMP. And they were limiting people and, at one point, somebody suggested that they look at tear sheets.
Barrett: Well, I thought that the admissions were pretty open. Anybody who really wanted to could quite easily get through the fences.
Timmie: I think you had to know a lot more about photography then, because you didn’t have all the automation and everything.
“They’re pasting them together like a jigsaw puzzle.”
ASMP: What do you think about the quality of the photographs that people are doing today?
Barrett: Well, they’re doing something different today. They’ve stopped taking journalistic photographs. There isn’t any photojournalism any more. Almost all the people who are active in it now are doing commercials in one form or another. And the commercials, as you’ll notice if you watch television at all, are just a slice of the wheel, or just a slice of a column in the back kind of thing, tilted and cut to something else, and there is practically nothing like the development of a story, like there used to be in photojournalism. It’s an entirely different situation now.
ASMP: Do you think there’s a future in photography?
Barrett: If you’re a good salesman; that’s the important factor now.
ASMP: Do you think there’s a future for the ASMP?
Barrett: Sure. I think it’s unfortunate that they’re not aggressive or active in working for the improvement of the trade. What people are selling now are fancy cut-up essays or snippets of things. They’re pasting them together like a jigsaw puzzle.
Timmie: Don’t you think that the computer techniques that are coming in have changed things in ways we can’t even guess at? Who owns what anymore? It’s gotten very tricky.
“You don’t want to leave it to an organization that won’t show it.”
ASMP: Are you still photographing?
Barrett: Not very much. I’m not turning any jobs down, but I don’t get any photojournalistic assignments any more.
I’m very active in Cornell. There are some pictures still going on there. We have the cover of the June Cornell Alumni News, for instance. See that lion? The president of the University made a tour of East Africa recently and they were looking for a cover picture. I had just the thing.
Then I was on the Cornell University Council. I attended all their meetings and at every step of the development of the Center for the Performing Arts, we were involved. It’s just about complete now, and it’s a most elaborate and sophisticated theater, indeed.
ASMP: What are you doing about your estate and the photographs that you have?
Timmie: Well, Cornell University is getting the estate, so the photographs would go with them.
Barrett: In fact, we still have almost everything right here in these cabinets.
Actually, we’ve been trying to really organize them, so that another party — whoever it might be — would make some sense of them. But you hate to just leave it to people who aren’t ready to devote their lives to it. And you don’t want to leave it to an organization that won’t show it, that would just put it in the basement. It’s something that we ought to all think about.
“We’re a fledgling magazine.”
ASMP: I had a funny experience with Life. They bought two of Artie’s photographs for this last issue on children. I was talking price and I said, “You have to pay us at least an ASMP minimum.” Little did I know that there are no official ASMP minimums any more.
Barrett: I didn’t know that.
Timmie: We sort of did, I guess.
ASMP: So the woman said to me, “Well, you know we’re a fledgling magazine.”
Timmie: You’ve got to be kidding! [laughter]
“A lot of people did a lot better.”
ASMP: Did you ever lose any work because you were active in ASMP?
Barrett: Oh, I’m sure there were cases…. The news was around.
Timmie: We did fine, but we heard that an editor we hadn’t even met, on one of the magazines — I won’t go into names — held Barrett’s activities so against him that he was always talking out against him at the magazine. We heard it from another source that we believed. You’d think they’d admire people, wouldn’t you, that would go up against? I always thought that. So I’m sure that you did.
Barrett: Well, they’re company people, see.
Timmie: But, here’s a funny thing, though. Even with Life, I think a couple of the editors there, like Roy Stevens, wouldn’t let Barrett’s name be mentioned. But there were so many editors, each doing his own story, that we still worked for Life, because Barrett had the Navy stories. So, somehow they were big enough organizations that if you came in with something they wanted, they’d give it to you. So it was a curious situation. You could make one department furious, but the other one needed your work.
ASMP: I think Roy Stevens lost some big accounts.
Timmie: Oh, I think everybody did. I remember Al Murphy, he had been photographing one of his big accounts — he was doing Time Inc.’s Christmas covers, or Christmas gifts, or something of the sort — and they suddenly wouldn’t quite pay the ASMP rate and he wouldn’t do it. I think a lot of people suffered, don’t you?
ASMP: Yes. On the other hand, a lot of people did a lot better, even though they lost some accounts, because of the difference.
Barrett: Oh, sure, no question about that.
Timmie: At least it took the burden of negotiating prices off the art department and the photographers.