Photo courtesy ASMP member Andy Batt
Interviews with ASMP Founder: Jerry Cooke
Interview and transcript © 1992 by Kay Reese & Mimi Leipzig. ASMP staff edited the transcript for online presentation and added supplemental biographic information.
Born in Russia in 1922, Jerry Cooke emigrated to the U.S. in 1939 and started taking pictures in 1940. In subsequent years, his photos were published in many American and European magazines, including Colliers, Der Stern, Life, Paris Match, Sports Illustrated, Time and Vogue. His photographs were also published in many books and exhibits including Edward Steichen’s classic Family of Man, the United Nations’ Exploding City, Master Photographer’s Photography and Fine Arts, and the hallmark photographic collection An American Century in Photography.
He joined ASMP at its founding and served as its president for the 1951-1952 year.
ASMP: I’m under the impression that you were born in Odessa.
Cooke: That’s correct.
ASMP: And you came to this country when you were a teenager?
Cooke: I was 17 and a half.
ASMP: What year did you come?
Cooke: I came to New York in ‘39. I went to school for a while. My aunt was one of the founders of an agency called Pix, and through her I got to know all these photographers. And then I eventually went there and I worked in the darkroom there as an assistant. And my aunt loaned me a small Rolleiflex, four-by-four centimeters, and I started taking some pictures — some of which I have hanging here. I don’t believe in hanging pictures in general, but I have some of my early old pictures hanging in the foyer on the way to my bedroom, taken in ‘39 and ‘40. And then I sort of evolved into a photographer.
ASMP: How did you get that first job?
Cooke: I used Pix as an agent for a few years and they started giving me assignments based on what I had taken.
“It was an insult that she was on a roll of film with some rats.”
ASMP: I heard that you got your start at Life because you nailed a rat to a door so you could do a close-up.
Cooke: That’s not quite true, but he’s close. It was one of my first Life assignments. The city of Buffalo had an invasion of rats. There were so many rats that they had to do something about it, so they offered a reward to people, especially to kids. They got a dime for every rat they brought in. They wanted people to put out rat traps and so on. And Life decided to do a story about this, so they sent me up there.
If a rat gets caught in a trap on its tail, it will bite off its tail, which makes sense; it will bite off its own tail to get away. And I got a picture of this rat that had its tail caught and was about to bite it off as I arrived on the scene, there in some farm shed. And that was the lead picture in the story.
But there’s more to the story. I took a sleeper back to New York, and that evening I was assigned by Life to photograph Patrice Munsel’s debut at the Met. She sang Carmen; it was her debut. And I went there and photographed it. (That was before the union started to make it difficult for photographers. You could sit in the prompter’s box in those days and photograph ballet or opera, which was a wonderful angle.) So I photographed the thing and took some pictures of Munsel in her dressing room.
Well, in those days everybody paid attention to every penny. I still had film in my camera from the rat thing, which I hadn’t turned in yet; there was no great rush. So the first shots I took of Munsel were on the same roll of film as the rats. And somehow her press agent had made an arrangement to show the pictures to her. She had a fit! They called up Life magazine and said it was an insult that she was on a roll of film with some rats. There was a big to-do.
ASMP: Why would anybody send her pictures of the rats?
Cooke: I guess they showed her the contacts, who knows? And the rat pictures and the Munsel pictures ran in the same issues, which also incensed her, because she knew they were on the same roll.
“That’s your man, right there!”
ASMP: I was also told that you worked for the Boy Scouts.
Cooke: Close, but not quite. Henry Luce was the son of a missionary; he was born in China, and somewhere there was a connection with the YMCA. Luce was always on the Board of the YMCA. He walked into Ed Thompson’s office one day — Ed was the picture editor — when I was sitting there, and Luce said to Thompson, “I want you to find a photographer for me who can take pictures for the Y. They do calendars, and they need some pictures of the kids’ activities.” And Thompson said, “That’s your man, right there!” He didn’t want to get involved with Luce; he didn’t want any of his staff photographers to get involved with him.
So I became the official photographer for the YMCA, which I did for a long time. There was a very nice man who was the PR chief there and his name was John Burkhart, and I worked with him for, oh, 15 years or longer. I didn’t do much; I’d do a calendar and one or two things a year.
“I thought it had certain economic purposes.”
ASMP: When did you join ASMP?
Cooke: I was introduced to it by Bradley Smith, whom I met somehow, I forget how, and that must have been in ‘44. I think I joined in ‘44; that’s when they had their first get-together.
ASMP: Do you remember meeting at Ewing Krainin’s?
Cooke: Yes, we had meetings there. He had a studio on Fifth Avenue. And we met at Bradley’s house a few times up in Freeport.
ASMP: Why did you join ASMP?
Cooke: I thought it had certain economic purposes. I never considered it a labor union.
I’m going to jump a little, because this all happened a little later. When I joined the board, which I think was in ‘49 — I know that I became president in ‘51 and it seems to me I was vice president for two years — then I ran into this whole business that existed, which was a group that wanted this to be a labor union, and another group that wanted it to be a professional organization of some sort. And there were long disputes. The people that were the most militant, union-wise, were people like Barrett Gallagher and Victor Jorgenson. Those two stand out in my mind because they were on the board with me.
Then something happened in Albany that made it actually — fortunately, as far as I was concerned — impossible for us to be a labor union. I can’t remember what happened. There are certain things you have to be able to do when you’re a labor union and we were unable to do it. What do they call these votes?
ASMP: NLRB certification, that established 50 percent of the workers and members of the union.
Cooke: Most of us were not employees; the only members that we had that were employees were a lot of the Life photographers. But the Life photographers were part of the Newspaper Guild.
“They didn’t have to, but they were going to be very nice and pay.”
ASMP: We’d like to know about the negotiations that ASMP had with magazines.
Cooke: I was very involved with that. That was ‘51. We had two major negotiations about those kind of money things. One was the $100-a-day rate, which was sort of a break-through figure, because it’s a simple figure.
And the other one was a big argument with Time-Life when they started the books. We had a committee, and there was Cornell Capa and Arnold Newman. This involved basically the rights to pictures done on assignment for Time Inc. When they could use them in books, and how they would be paid for, and so on. And what restrictions there might be on our use of the pictures.
Not all contracts were the same in those days, of course. But I remember that, in my contract, I was restricted. I wasn’t permitted to work for Look, and I believe I also was not permitted to work for Newsweek. And if I had a contract with Sports Illustrated, I was not permitted to work for a magazine called Sport, which doesn’t exist any more. And they had certain rights to republish [my photos] in their publications at their space rates.
So when the book thing came along, the people in charge, who never bothered to look at these things, felt that they could publish all the pictures that had been taken for Time Inc (especially Life, since there were so many) in their books. But they didn’t realize that they had to pay for them. The staff photographers’ pictures, of course, they could publish; but there was so much freelance work. And that led to a major argument. In fact, we came to a strike. And then finally we prevailed. We signed an agreement, which I still have somewhere.
ASMP: But even so, Jerry, didn’t they get back into it and take some pictures from Sports Illustrated covers and run them as if they owned them?
Cooke: That’s a special area. They always had the right to run pictures taken for one of their publications in their other publications, but they had to pay. Sports Illustrated, for instance, started in 1954 and I had maybe six or eight of the first 20 covers, because it started in the fall and there were certain sports that they couldn’t get at, like football; it was too late. They had to use last year’s stuff, or whatever they could get their hands on. And those were all pictures I took for Life, which they could run, but they had to pay for them, and vice versa.
The business with the covers came up later and they inserted it in their later contracts. Life published a soft cover book of all their covers. Later on, they inserted a clause in the contract saying that, since the cover is a commercial thing, if the cover itself was published anywhere, they had the right to do that without paying. But what they didn’t realize is that in the old contracts, that clause wasn’t in there.
ASMP: That’s why there was a big uproar.
Cooke: Yes, it was a big uproar, because there were a lot of covers involved. And then Sports Illustrated did the same thing; they published a book with all their covers, or they published all their covers in the magazine, or something like that. And the same problem arose, because they also put this thing into their contract at a certain point. They wanted mine (and a lot of other people’s), and they paid for them, but they used a rather ingenious thing: They said that they felt that they didn’t have to pay for them, but they were going to be very nice and pay.
“With photography, possession is 99 percent of the law.”
ASMP: Did the ASMP get involved in that?
Cooke: No. Frankly, the ASMP has never had any impact on Time Inc., even though they talk to them from time to time. I think everything was settled by the time ASMP had any involvement. I’m not aware of anything.
There was really nothing to argue about. The question of the rights was set. The staff photographers had no rights, except for David Douglas Duncan, who was smart enough to take all his pictures away; and some other photographers did that, but very few. I have always maintained that with photography, possession is 99 percent of the law. If you have the picture, you have the picture. What are they going to do, sue me? But I’m not doing anything wrong; I have the right to use my pictures.
“They get all kinds of perks, like equipment, and cars.”
ASMP: I was really interested in this royalty business at Life, but the ASMP was not directly involved. That so-called strike in the spring of 1955 was handled outside of the ASMP office. I didn’t know anything about it until much later.
Cooke: There were always some Life staff photographers who were members. Of course, there was very little we could do for them, because they were on staff and they had salary, and they had no rights. A lot of them are very annoyed about that, even today. Of course, they knew it all along.
ASMP: What do you think of the fact that all these disparate characters — all of you guys who were freelance photographers, or who worked for Life — managed to get together in an organization to focus on something together, rather than individually?
Cooke: I don’t know that’s so unusual. The actors do and they’re certainly just as complex a group, if not more so. And I believe the writers have some sort of group. Songwriters have ASCAP, and that was early on. I think we probably came almost last. And the newspaper guild.
ASMP: But that was the staff people.
Cooke: Yes, but it included photographers. And they didn’t have to be members of the Guild. At Time Inc, you didn’t have to be a member of the Newspaper Guild. You could be, but you didn’t have to be; it was up to you.
The newspaper photographers have always been a part of the newspaper guild, and their terms are really quite good. They get all kinds of perks, like equipment, and cars, and all that sort of thing. I had a fellow here, an elderly guy, who photographed me for this silly Newsday story. He was telling me about the equipment, and the arrangements and so on, and it sounded quite fair.
“All the salaries — freelance writers, photographers, artists — came to about 6 percent.”
I think magazine photographers in general have done terribly. When I signed my first Time Inc contract when I left Pix in 1947, my contract said that I was going to get $100 a day for black-and-white photography and $150 a day for color photography, which in those days was much more complicated. And that’s ridiculous. Think about what they were getting for a page of advertising, for instance, in 1947 — or look at frankfurters, which were a nickel. And if you compare that with the current day rate, which is $400 a day, it’s a joke.
Unfortunately, the main reason for that, I suspect, is the fact that for most of the other things that they buy, they have to deal with unions, or they have to deal with people who sell paper, and it’s a competitive situation. And whatever the price of paper is, that’s what they have to pay, just like everybody else. But when it comes to photographers, there’s really nothing that forces them to.
ASMP: John Whiting told me once that in producing a magazine, 90 percent of it is paper and printing.
Cooke: It’s more than 90 percent. At Life, all the salaries of all the editorial staff — all the traveling expenses, all the freelance writers, photographers, artists — came to about 6 percent. The other 94 percent were paper, printing and distribution.
“They said, ‘We didn’t pay anybody.’ “
Do you know about this argument that came up about a year ago with Sports Illustrated? They put out this special issue and refused to pay for it; they said they owned the rights under the new copyright law. And I said, “I have a contract here. All my contracts specifically say in print what rights you own and what rights I own. How can you say you own them?” Of course, they finally gave up and they had to pay; there was nothing they could do about it. They didn’t admit they were wrong. They said they felt that they were right; however, out of the goodness of their hearts, they paid. I think they fired the person that was responsible, because it cost them a couple hundred thousand dollars, and that was just one issue. But that person deserved to be fired, because they didn’t bother to ask; it was ridiculous.
ASMP: I remember they told you they were going to discuss it at a proper level.
Cooke: That was the thing — at the proper level. And I said, “Who the hell did you discuss it with before?” They never answered that.
ASMP: It’s a constant fight, not only with Life.
Cooke: It’s starting all over again with this whole electronic business. This is going to be much more complicated. But anyway, I think the ASMP probably has its work cut out for them with this electronic business, because that’s really going to be a major problem.
“They’re not going to come around and ask.”
Did you ever see a movie called the Manchurian Candidate? I went to see that movie; I’m a great fan of Richard Condon’s. And I was sitting there watching the movie where Laurence Harvey was being programmed in some kind of a movie theater.
And all of a sudden I see on the screen a photograph of mine, the picture of the insane woman. And then before I recovered from that, I see on the screen another photograph of mine. They were all out of the Family of Man. And then I see 15 more photographs of people that I know whose pictures were in this thing.
I called up the ASMP, but they didn’t seem to know what to do. So then I called up Columbia, which had made the picture. They said, “We took the pictures out of the book.” I said, “I know that, but the book is copyrighted, who did you get permission from?” They said, “Permission, what permission?” I said, “You used all these photographs and you didn’t pay for them, at least you didn’t pay me.” They said, “We didn’t pay anybody.” I said, “You better pay for them.” They paid me, but I don’t know about the others. I told the others.
But with television? I just happened to see the movie, but you can’t expect to see everything. The copyright law is very complicated and I don’t pretend to fully understand it. First of all, it keeps getting changed. And it seems to me there was something in the ASMP magazine about it.
ASMP: About the changes?
Cooke: The Encyclopedia Britannica has a new little line in their agreement. The normal agreement always used to be that you buy a picture for one-time editorial rights, or whatever, depending on whether it’s a book or a magazine.
ASMP: Single publication.
Cooke: Yes. But now they’re adding “non-exclusive electronic use”.
ASMP: That’s pretty open.
Cooke: It is very open. But of course they’re not offering to pay any more for this.
ASMP: What does that mean?
Cooke: That means if they were to make a video cassette, if they were to put the Encyclopedia Britannica on a video cassette (which I’m sure they will one of these days, if they haven’t already), they have the right then to show that on a video cassette. This is where the problem comes in. Assuming that you’ve given them that right and you’ve gotten paid for it, that’s fine. But what isn’t fine is that somebody else then can come and take that image off the television set, and how the hell are you going to know who that is? It could be somebody in Australia, or in China, or anywhere. And they’re not going to come around and ask. So this is going to be a really complicated affair.
“It becomes quite a problem for the author.”
ASMP: As I understand it, the leading organization to argue for photographers’ right, the first and the most effective, was ASMP. Is that your impression?
Cooke: Yes, and it still is.
ASMP: Do you think you really made a difference?
Cooke: Absolutely, there’s no question about it. I think we made a big difference. If you just look at the area of stock photography (which is becoming increasingly more important since everything is becoming digital), I think an awful lot of photographers are dependent on a lot of income from the sale of their photographs. Some even are taking new photographs to sell for stock.
It’s become totally accepted, I think in the publishing field, at least in this country, to refer to what are known as “the ASMP rates.” Which they don’t raise often enough as far as I’m concerned. But there’s an ASMP minimum, which immediately becomes the maximum. It’s so much for books, and so much for half a page, and a quarter page — I think it’s very useful. If you don’t want to sell a picture for that price, that’s up to you, but at least you have something to back you up.
I had a phone call yesterday from some guy in San Francisco. What he wanted was a picture of a sweating horse. He called the right person, of course, but then he said, “But I really can’t afford to pay anything for it.”
This is a major problem. I got a letter today from a friend of mine, the same thing. When an author writes a book, the publishers, for reasons which are beyond me, expect him to pay for photographs if there have to be photographs in the book. Now, my picture of the insane woman, which has been published God knows how many times, certainly more than 100, but I keep getting letters from people who are writing books about psychiatry, because they all read the same books and they always see this damn picture. There’s two or three pictures, there’s one with a guy knocking his head against the wall. And most of them keep saying that they can’t afford to pay for the picture because it comes out of their fee, and I guess they don’t get paid much money if they’re writing a book about psychiatry — these are textbooks. I feel for them, but at the same time, that’s my business. Let’s assume you want to use 10 pictures in a textbook, that’s not much; or maybe 15 pictures. If you’re going to pay a minimum of $150 per picture, you’re talking about $2,500. I don’t think they get more than $5,000 advance to write these textbooks. So when you look at it that way, then it becomes quite a problem for the author.
“No cleanings, no pictures.”
I can tell you, I got this call today from an old friend of mine who used to be a Life reporter, Phyllis Feldcamp, she was married to a man named Fred Feldcamp, who’s dead. He wrote a book about a man called Will Cuppy, who was a humorist. And when the book appeared, it was a paperback, and I had photographed Will Cuppy in a story that I did with Phyllis in Greenwich Village, it was a piece about Greenwich Village. And they liked that picture and asked me if they could have it to put on the back of this paperback. And I said, fine. I gave them the print, it was on the back of the paperback and that was that.
Well, two months ago Phyllis was approached by a publisher called Marlboro who wanted to put out a hard cover of this book. And she called me up and said, “They want to use the picture of Cuppy on the back of the hard cover.” I said fine. She said, “I’m not sure that they can afford to pay you.” They weren’t paying her much, maybe $1,200. I don’t think she was doing anything; the book had been written. And I said, “Look, Phyllis, you want to use the picture, it’s yours, you don’t have to pay me. If they have funds to pay for the picture, then let them pay me. If they don’t and you want to use it, you use it.” Well, I got a letter from her today, she must have misunderstood me. Because she said, “They’re refusing to pay anything. I guess they’re not going to use the picture.” I’m going to write her a note and tell her to go ahead and use it. So that’s not unusual.
ASMP: There seems to be a belief that photographers should contribute their services.
Cooke: I’ve had the same dentist for 35 years, and he is a great photography fan. He takes pictures, they’re terrible; but he takes pictures all the time and he hangs them up in his office. He keeps showing them to me and I say, “That’s very nice,” or whatever one says. And then one day I had a picture with me, I think it was a picture of a dog, and he said, “That’s great. Can I have that to put on the wall?” I said, “We can trade it for a couple of semi-annual cleanings.” He said, “No way!” I said, “No cleanings, no pictures.” We discuss it about once a year.
“Whatever it was, I wanted to see the whole thing.”
ASMP: How did you go about getting work when you first started in photography?
Cooke: You mean after I left Pix?
Cooke: When I left Pix, that was the end of 1946, I was quite well known. First of all, I had a Time Inc contract, so that took care of that. I was an established photographer, and I worked for various magazines.
ASMP: Then people called you for assignments? Or did you show portfolios, or tell people that you were free?
Cooke: I have never shown a portfolio to anybody, except once or twice to an advertising agency who had a campaign. I hate portfolios; I think they mean nothing. For four years, I was editing at Time Inc and I didn’t look at portfolios. If somebody wanted me to look at something, I looked at a job. In other words, if a guy went out and photographed a political rally, or a football game, or whatever it was, then I wanted to see the whole thing. That, I think, is worth looking at. A portfolio of somebody who’s been taking pictures — he’s been taking pictures for 20 years, he’s going to show you 25 good pictures. If he doesn’t even have that, then there’s no point in him coming in. But I don’t think it proves anything.
“To me you send a dead horse!”
ASMP: Tell us about the story of the dead horse.
Cooke: I was walking down Lexington Avenue and there was this dead horse; it had fallen over dead. I had my camera, because I was always walking around with my little Rolleiflex in those days. Anyway, I took the picture of the dead horse. I took it back to the darkroom and I developed it, and I made a print of it and I showed it to the boss there who ran the agency.
Pix is quite active with international agencies and somebody had gotten killed — I think a Frenchman, an assassination or something — and they got hold of this picture. So they sent the picture of the dead Frenchman to The Daily News, and the horse. They sent them these two pictures.
And then to the other paper, they sent the picture of the horse, because the Frenchman was already spoken for. So the phone rang, somebody called and asked for me, because my name was on the picture of the dead horse on the back. And this editor, I had no idea who he was, screamed at me and he said, “Are you Cooke?” ! I said yes. He said, “To the News you send a dead Frenchman, to me you send a dead horse!” and slammed the receiver down.
“I wasn’t going to start a lawsuit in Caracas.”
But I think the ASMP did an enormous amount of good for photographers. I don’t think anybody can really question that. Today it’s a different world out there, of course, and the whole business of copyright and possession is becoming more and more important. People are pretty honest, in publishing at least, and I think it’s rare that somebody uses a picture of yours. I had some trouble maybe two or three times, especially in a South American publication, where by chance I happened to see something that they stole, just by copying it. There was a Venezuelan horse that, against the most incredible odds, won the Derby in 1971. The next thing I knew, somebody showed me this double-page which had run in Sports Illustrated of the finish and it was in a Venezuelan magazine, which was also distributed in Spain.
I happened to have a girlfriend at the time who was Venezuelan, and she worked for the Venezuelan mission at the U.N. I got absolutely nowhere with these people. They had an office in Miami — nothing. So I complained to her, and she complained to the mission. They took it quite seriously, and they apparently contacted this outfit. But it seems under the Venezuelan copyright law — I don’t believe this — they claimed to be entitled to print it down there without asking me and without paying me. And what was I going to do? I wasn’t going to start a lawsuit in Caracas.
But in general, it’s very rare that people take pictures and use them without asking. Some people simply don’t know.
ASMP: That they’re not allowed to use your pictures.
Cooke: Well, not if they come to me and get the picture to use. But if they see a picture on television — it’s not something that you can retrieve.
ASMP: Even if they see a picture in a book…
Cooke: Yes, except they can’t get their hands on it, the book is copyrighted. So they’re in trouble with the publisher, and also they don’t have a print.
“How much money can you possibly make with a picture book?”
ASMP: What are you going to do with your estate? You said you have all the negatives that you were took, what are you going to do with them?
Cooke: I don’t know; I’ve been thinking about it. I don’t have to do anything with them; they’re presumably part of my estate. So whoever inherits my estate can decide what to do with them in terms of working with agents.
ASMP: There might be some kind of intrinsic value that might be taxed.
Cooke: I have taken care of that.
ASMP: Do you want to share that?
Cooke: It isn’t any great secret; the law is very simple. If you have a wife, you’re permitted to leave $600,000 to whoever you want to, and if you leave the rest of your estate to your wife, or if you leave it in trust for a child, you don’t pay any taxes. And the photographs will simply be part of that, so there is no tax problem. You’re right, if somebody didn’t have a spouse, then the IRS would have to figure out some way of assessing the value.
I wrote an article about this for the Bulletin. There is a rule of thumb that they tend to accept, which is based on what the photographs have done for you over the last five years. It’s a stupid rule, because the photographs only get more valuable. I guess they don’t understand that, or can’t bother with it, because how are they going to prove it? If you take the average stock sales over the period of five years, the agent’s commission is already deducted, then you probably come up with a figure which I suspect the IRS would accept. Because you could always claim that now that you’re not around anymore, who’s going to sell the pictures? Who’s going to look after them? I think they might even accept something less than that.
I read an article this weekend in the New Yorker magazine; it was an article about Random House. The editor at Random House, Harold Evans, who used to be editor of The Sunday Times, apparently has made a deal with Dick Avedon for the rights to his photographs.
The article didn’t specify whether they were rights to be used in a book. I don’t know what else they would do with the pictures. The amount of money is so high that I think I somehow suspect that it must be more than a book.
It seems that there was somebody negotiating with Avedon before Evans — this is a new job for Evans, he’s only had it for about six months. And whoever was negotiating with him, I think the figure was a million and a half, and it seems that Evans upped that by a considerable amount. I can’t imagine him paying Avedon $2.5 million to publish a book. How much money can you possibly make with a picture book?
ASMP: How much can you sell it for?
Cooke: You can sell it for $75, but so what?
“I left and took the other job.”
ASMP: Are you happy that you’ve been a photographer all these years?
Cooke: Yes, it’s been very interesting.
ASMP: Would you have chosen any other profession?
Cooke: I can’t judge that, because I didn’t. When I was at Columbia, I took an aptitude test and it was hilarious. The verdict they came out with was that I was best suited to be an actor, which I thought was pretty funny. And the second choice they came up was a lawyer. So I don’t know how I would have done as an actor, who knows?
ASMP: This is after you were a successful photographer?
Cooke: No, this was when I was 18 or 19 years old.
ASMP: Did you always want to be a photographer?
Cooke: No, I fell into it in a very strange way. When I got through with school, I had to do something. First of all, my parents didn’t have any money. I had to get a job of some kind. I don’t know how people go around nowadays looking for jobs, but I knew some people who knew some people. And I had these two offers. One of them was from a life insurance company down on Wall Street, one of the big ones, maybe Equitable — it doesn’t really matter. I was going to start there and they were going to pay me $10 a week, which I guess was normal in those days. Then I had this opportunity to start in this darkroom, and they were going to pay me $6 a week. So I decided to take the job with the life insurance company. I went down there at the appointed hour; it was a Monday morning. And the guy I was supposed to see wasn’t there. As it turns out later, he got the flu; but he wasn’t there. And that really annoyed me — I’m very impatient with certain things — and I left and took the other job.
ASMP: And that changed your life.
Cooke: I suppose it did. I’m sure I would have done well at the life insurance company, but I certainly wouldn’t have become a photographer.
“I’m not a news photographer.”
ASMP: What especially did you like about being a photographer all these years?
Cooke: First of all, it was a lot of fun and an incredible amount of traveling, and I learned a lot. I think I can discourse on — except possibly for the health of hippopotami — almost anything that I’ve dealt with because of this profession, anywhere. That’s pretty good, if you think about it. If you have a job of whatever kind, I suppose you can travel and so on, but unless you’re a writer, it won’t give you the same access.
ASMP: You have permission to talk to anyone.
Cooke: Yes, it was very educational and really very interesting. It’s an interesting profession. It was. I’m afraid that those days are gone. Of course, there are the fashion photographers, but that’s a different breed. But otherwise, who has the chance to do that kind of work today? Magazines can’t afford it. Life magazine is a disaster; maybe there’s one guy in an issue that has gone to Ecuador to do something. We used to do that every day. I just don’t think it exists anymore. Maybe it exists in television, but then it’s news, that’s different.
I’m not a news photographer. Well, I’ve done a little bit. I photographed the coronation, that’s news. The amount of money that was spent in photographing the coronation would be unthinkable now. There were 20 of us photographing the coronation. Of course, the magazine of that type doesn’t exist anymore; that was before television. I think maybe it was just the right time.
“Unfortunately, there are not enough swine.”
ASMP: Are you still friendly with the other people you worked with? Are you still connected with a lot of people? Did you establish some kind of a circle of acquaintances and friends by being in this profession?
ASMP: Did you ever use the ASMP for other things or just as a forum for exchanging ideas about photography?
Cooke: I think we did exchange ideas of sorts, in the early days, about the problems that we had. Have you ever heard Philippe Halsman’s great speech about advertising? He made a little speech about advertising and photography. And he said, “Taking pictures for advertising is like tossing pearls before swine. Unfortunately, there are not enough swine.”