Photo courtesy ASMP member Andy Batt
Interviews with ASMP Founder: Lou Jacobs
Responding to written questions by Kay Reese & Mimi Leipzig, Lou Jacobs recorded this in 1994. ASMP staff edited the transcript for online presentation and added supplemental biographic information.
Born in 1921, Lou Jacobs, Jr., grew up in Pittsburgh, PA. He graduated from Carnegie Mellon University in 1942, and the next year entered the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
In 1949, he completed a photojournalism curriculum at the ArtCenter College of Design in Los Angeles, and during the 1950s worked for many magazines as an editorial photographer. Beginning in 1960, he taught photo joumalism at the Brooks Institute, UCLA and the CaI State extensions.
He joined ASMP in 1950, and was active in the Los Angeles Chapter. He served on the national Board of Governors during the ’80s and was ASMP’s president in 1984.
In addition to writing and illustrating several children’s books and a number of “how to” books on photography, he has published articles in Popular Photographer, Modern Photography, Petersen’s Photographic, Modern Maturity, Campus Photo and other journals.
A West Coast Photographer
My name is Lou Jacobs, Jr. I’m a member of ASMP and have been since 1950.
I started at ArtCenter School in the fall of 1947. One of my greatest influences there was an instructor named Will Connell, who was then an ASMP member, and he introduced me and a number of other people in the photo journalism major to ASMP. By the time I got out of Art Center in February of 1950, I was already indoctrinated to belong to ASMP. I thought it was a privilege, because there were a number of well-known photographers who belonged to ASMP. Will Connell and Peter Stackpole were my sponsors.
I know that, in the early ’50s, there were meetings in Los Angeles of ASMP members who lived in the area. We met at Bob Landry’s studio. Bob Landry was noted for his sexy picture of Rita Hayworth that ran in Life a long time ago. We did have some speakers at those meetings. I can’t remember who they were, but I do remember there was a lot of fascination and stimulation for a guy like myself who was just getting started in what I called magazine photography.
Connell used to tell us that there are only a few photo journalists in the world; the rest were magazine photographers. He said that you had to have a special talent and a special flair in order to be called a photo journalist, such as Gene Smith or people in that category.
Will Connell had seminars, as he called them. They were meetings of his upperclass photo journalism majors that took place on Tuesday nights at his home on Berendo Street in Los Angeles. His wife, Grace Connell, was a Western Editor of U.S. Camera at the time, and she was always at the meetings. She was one of the great encouragers of photographers among us at the time.
In fact, Grace held my hand, in a way, when I told her I wanted to write an article about photography for U.S. Camera. She got me started in writing about photography for photographic magazines, and I kept on doing it from the early 1950s until 1959.
In 1959, I remember getting a call from an editor at AM Photo, asking if I would like to write a book about variable-contrast papers. He had seen an article I did for Camera 35 magazine called “The Pleasures of the Darkroom.” I remember how naive I was, asking him, “Will you pay me?”
For a couple of years, my file folder that had the manuscript and correspondence and so forth about it just said The Book. At the time, I didn’t conceptualize that I would write any more books. But in 1994, I counted up and I have written 22 books about photography and, particularly, how-to books. I’ve also written 15 books for children on factual subjects, sometimes illustrated with photographs that I took. I also illustrated other people’s books about subjects such as “cargo” and “sand,” and a number of other subjects. And I did a couple of books with other people that didn’t have any photographs in them.
“I’d piggy-back the jobs.”
In the early days of my career, I did a lot of independent productions. I found stories that I could do and, after querying a magazine, sent those stories. They were generic sorts of stories. I was reading old copies of Life magazine recently and I realized that they were all generic stories, the kind of stories that TV does now and magazines don’t do. At any rate, I did those stories almost entirely in black-and-white because color, at the time, was much more expensive to print. Many of us knew how to shoot color; I learned at Art Center. But it wasn’t the common thing it is today.
Those stories were done by the dozens, and I built up a following among magazine editors by showing them the work I could do. They would buy it, publish it and, eventually, give me some assignments. Coronet and Pageant were two of the ones I got assignments from. My best client was a magazine called Friends, which was published for Chevrolet and which gave me jobs all over the west.
I’d piggy-back the jobs. I would find a job that Friends would pay the expenses on, and then I’d find some other people that wanted stories done and would pay minimal expenses in the same areas. And I’d put them all together and go on to Arizona in the winter for a few weeks, then I’d go up north into Oregon and California in the summer. I did that for the first five years of my career, and saved enough money that I closed the business in 1955 and went to Europe for six months.
“The first legitimate chapter of ASMP was in Los Angeles.”
As far as ASMP is concerned, there was always a Los Angeles group. When they started calling it a chapter I’m not sure, but I am sure that the first legitimate chapter of ASMP was in Los Angeles, because there more photographers in Los Angeles than anyplace else in the country except New York. Therefore, we had an active group there.
I have a plaque on my desk here — it’s a paperweight — that says I was President of ASMP, Los Angeles Chapter, in 1957. That means I must have been on the Board as soon as I came back from Europe in 1955. I remember a number of the people who worked with me, or I worked with, during that time. I have a piece of Southern California Chapter stationery here, a letter from the then-president of the Chapter, whose name was Jack B Kemmerer. Jack and I were very good friends. He was on this stationery as president in January of 1961. Ernest Rashovski was vice-president, Virginia Mclntyre was vice-president and Maurice Torrell was secretary-treasurer. Maurice (Butch) Torrell was a Look photographer for most of his life, but he resigned from Look in the early ’60s and started to sell mutual funds. In fact, I bought some mutual funds from him.
The trustees on this Chapter’s stationery — and it was called a Chapter in 1961 — were Richard Fish, myself, Leonard Nadel and Julia Schuman. I think Leonard and Julia Schuman were both presidents of the Chapter at one time or another. Schuman, if you don’t know, was the preeminent architectural photographer on the West Coast. Nadel was a great and good friend of mine who was a direct competitor; we both worked for the same kinds of publications doing journalistic stories.
The Fight for Fair Play
I have an announcement here signed by Victor Jorgensen, President, and Barrett Gallagher, Chairman, Negotiations Committee, dated October 1st, 1952.
Today is the day! We have done a lot of talking; now we act. Today the ASMP Code of Minimum Standards goes into effect as directed by the 10 to 1 vote of our members. We shall proceed along the following lines:
1. Signatures. The Negotiations Committee will make efforts to obtain agreements from magazines, accepting the terms of the Code.
2. Legal Action. At the proper time, a case will be presented before the National Labor Relations Board in order to obtain formal recognition of the clear-cut, legal right of our members to bargain collectively. Once this is done, it will only be a matter, in the case of each magazine, of showing that a majority of its photographers are our members.
3. Economic Pressure. This is the one that involves each of us directly and is the most important of all. The real means of making our Code genuinely effective lies not with Committees or Boards; it rests in your hands and in mine. It is what you and I do that will ensure the success of the Code. It means that in all of your dealing with magazines of national circulation, you must not work for less than the terms of the Code, and neither will I. Neither will the other guy. And, if the other guy does, it is a breach of trust, which the Society will not tolerate. We have our strength. It is the strength that comes from the loyalty and unity of our members. Already, within the last two weeks, certain moves have been made by the magazines that indicate they realize our strengths, too — and this even before we really got started. Time magazine has changed its day rate for its color department from $75 to $100. Life has raised its black-and-white page rate to $150. Fortune has changed its day rate to a flat $125, and has upped its page rate to match Life’s. This means that the Time Inc group acknowledges our minimums are equitable and justified. The magazines say they will continue to deal with photographers, individually. This is a violation of our legal rights, which we will correct in due time.
It’s a very interesting concept there: At the time, ASMP assumed that it could bargain for its members on the basis of being a union-like organization. Some members hated the idea of becoming a union because of a long-standing antipathy about unions, but it’s interesting that, at the time this Code was enacted, we could put out a directive that said, “You’ve got to follow it, or else there are going to be consequences. Magazines say they will deal with photographers individually; this is a violation of our legal rights.” I’m not sure that that was our legal right at the time, but it certainly could have been. But, between 1952 and 1954, there was a lot of talk and a lot of agitation about becoming a more cohesive Society.
This directive of 1952 goes on to say,
We should make the terms of the Code our minimum terms. Make it clear to your clients that you’re bound by the Code and you cannot work on inferior terms. If the magazine wants to pay less than $100 a day, refuse and report it to the Society; if they want to pay $150 or $200 and don’t want to pay for processing, or want all rights, or some other detail, figure carefully how you come out. If, by paying for processing, you’re giving up your rights for double the minimum, and you still come out, overall, at or better than the minimum, accept it. If you don’t, discuss terms prior to the assignment and bill at least on the basis of the minimums. If there is a complaint from your client, turn it over to the Society if you feel that you can’t make it stick by yourself.
It goes on to talk about how magazines worked and what techniques to use to make the Code stick.
I have here a little promotional pamphlet for the ASMP. The headings are, “Why an ASMP,” “Who is Eligible,” and “Where are the ASMP Services?” It’s not dated, but it does say the initiation fee is $25 and dues are $4 a month, payable by the quarter in advance. That $48 a year were our dues; I would say this was sometime between 1948 and 1951. There’s a list of ASMP members here, which does not include my name, which means that it’s sometime before 1950, because that’s when I joined.
Incidentally, when I joined, you had to be in business for a certain length of time in order to join ASMP. But I was out of school perhaps six months, out of The Art Center, when I became a member.
There is a two-page spread here on “Meet Your Colleagues” and it included some gossip in here, a letter from Jerry Cooke — something about Look’s Washington man, Doug Jones. “An incident calculated to bring sympathy subject to a photographer. Gene Smith was doped and ready for his recent operation when they decided that a picture of the inside of his mouth was indicated. The photographer was called, he set up his lights; Gene’s mouth was stretched to its widest opening. Then the photographer discovered he was out of film and had to go to the darkroom to reload, leaving Gene to sweat it out.”
Collision Course for Conferences
In the late 1950s, the Photo Journalism Conferences in Florida started at the University of Miami, and Morris Gordon was one of the founders of it, along with [Wilson] Hicks, the Life photo editor. In 1960, we in the West decided we would have a Photo Journalism Conference of our own, because it wasn’t that easy at the time for a lot of people to go to Florida. I had never been to a Miami conference, but a few people I knew had, and they thought they were terrific. So we figured we could support one in the California area.
Two chapters — ours in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Chapter, as it was called then — got together with the University of California at Berkeley and we put on the first Photo Journalism Conference in the West, which took place in September 1960. This was a very important occasion for us, and we went on and had two more Photo Journalism Conferences in 1961 and 1962.
I was involved with all of these conferences. Jack Kemmerer was Chairman, I was Program Coordinator, Joe Monroe was on the Committee, Ted Strashinski was on the Committee and Leonard Nadel was Conference Photographer. The keynote address was by Ray Mackland, Picture Editor of Life. And we had Don Ornitz on the program, along with Yoichi Okamoto, who was then with the USIA in Washington and became Lyndon Johnson’s personal photographer. Other speakers were George B. Leonard, who was a Look writer; Joseph Muench, the father of our present ASMP member, David Muench; Wynn Bullock; Wayne Miller; and Lloyd Scherer, who was a West Coast Correspondent at Parade.
Ansel Adams gave us a talk on “Technique and Creativity.” We also heard from J.R. Eyerman, on the Life staff, who was a terrific photographer and an inspiring type of guy; Robert Gilka of National Geographic; Angus McDougall of Harvester World, who went on to be the Head of the Photo Journalism Department at the University of Missouri; Frank Keppler, who was editor of Friends; Mark Strage of Cyanamid magazine; Art Kane, a photographer from New York, who is now at the Art Center School in Pasadena; Will Connell; and Bill Tarrow, who was a designer.
Dorothea Lange, George Leonard and Yoichi Okamoto were on a panel, “Photography as a Social and Political Tool.” John Morris of Magnum Photos, formerly Picture Editor of Ladies Home Journal, gave a talk on “Developing and Representing Photographers.” And the last panel was “Plain Talk About Shelter Magazines” with Morley Baer, John Mack Carter, Editor of American Home, Julia Schuman and the Art Editor of Sunset, Richard Dawson.
The final speaker was Charles Eames. I contacted Eames and told him that we’d like him to come as a guest to our first Photo Journalism Conference and give us his view of what he heard and what he felt during this conference, which he did. It was called a “View from the Outside: Impressions of Today’s Magazines.” He was spellbinding, and he had an amazing delivery, which held everyone in the auditorium.
This was at Asilomar, the California conference center owned and run by the University of California.
“The second Conference was also held at Asilomar.”
The second Photo Journalism Conference was in 1961 and it was also held at Asilomar. I inveigled Edward Steichen, who was then director of the Museum of Modern Art’s Department of Photography, to be our keynote speaker. He came out with a somewhat younger wife, who seemed to take care of him, but he was a vigorous guy at the time. His Family of Man exhibit had been seen by over 7 million people in 37 countries.
We heard from Howard Chapnick at Black Star Agency and from Alan Hurlburt, who was art director of Look magazine. Ernst Haas gave an absolutely inspired talk, showing us — it must have been 100 slides of flotsam and jetsam, the most beautiful, poetic things. Other speakers were Proctor Melquist, who was editor of Sunset magazine; Eliot Elisofon; Cal Bernstein; T. George Harris, who was bureau chief of Time in San Francisco; Herb Keppler, executive editor of Modern Photography (and now the executive editor at Pop Photo); James O’Connell, who was the managing editor of the IBM magazine, Think; Doug Borgsted, who was the photo editor of The Saturday Evening Post; John Morris, who was with Magnum Photos; Bob Willoughby, who was a freelance photographer and an ASMP member who lives in Vence, in France; Philippe Halsman; Don Bonfeeley, co-owner and art director of Gill, Bascome and Bonfeeley, an ad agency; Todd Walker, an ASMP member; Dean Smith, a graphic designer; Jerry Astor, picture editor of Sports Illustrated; Michael Leary, director of publications for Western Electric; Charles Holton, chairman of the Department of Journalism, University of California, Berkeley; Vince Tajiri, picture editor of Playboy; Laddy Marshak, picture editor of TV Guide; and John Hutchinson, director of Press and Publication Service at USIA.
There was no report after the 1960 Photo Journalism Conference, but there was one from the 1961 Conference. I know that I was on the Committee of three or four people who put it together; I think it was the same group who put the one together in 1960.
“That caused a problem.”
And there also was one of the third Conference in 1962. It took place in Santa Barbara and was sponsored by the ASMP Southern Califomia Chapter and UCLA — not Berkeley, this time — because we had problems coordinating with two chapters of the ASMP and the Berkeley faculty.
We made an arrangement with the University of California that really couldn’t be beat. They footed the expenses under their Extension Program and they advertised it in their extended distribution catalogs. We had somewhere between 150 and 200 people at each of the conferences. With the money that was earned, they got their overhead back — we had stipulated what their overhead would be — then the rest of it came as earnings for ASMP. And that caused a problem, which I’ll go into a little later.
The conference took place at the Miramar Hotel in Santa Barbara. Gene Daniels was Exhibit Chairman; I was the Chairman of the conference; and Jack Kemmerer, Ernest Rashovski, David Sutton and Fred Schwartz were on our Committee. We had a really distinguished group of speakers.
Ray Mackland was again the lead speaker, and he was followed by Roy Rowan, who was assistant managing editor of Life. We also had John Warner, who was editorial director of Sea Co Publishing (and formerly the editor of Friends). Edith Arlan was a socio-psychologist researcher. Jack Lyle was an assistant professor of Journalism, UCLA; that was kind of a political thing, they wanted us to include one of their professors. Bert Glinn from Magnum Photos showed us a marvelous series of pictures. Bruce Downes, editor of Popular Photography, and Bill Tarrow, the illustrator who was at our first conference, also spoke. So did Franz Furst, vice-president and sales manager of Pix Incorporated, a late lamented picture agency — lamented, in the sense that it was sold and resold, and resold and dissolved, and the pictures from Pix got disbursed and exploited.
Frank Kelly was vice president of Mass Media Studies at the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions in Santa Barbara. Stanley Fleischer was an attorney specializing in censorship. Walter Wilcox was the chairman of the Department of Journalism, UCLA. Bill Garrett was illustrations editor at National Geographic. Henry Wolf was the art director of Show, formerly Harper’s Bazaar and Esquire. Laura Burquist was a senior editor and writer at Look; Jay Eyennan was a contract photographer and former staff photographer at Life. And Jack Kemmerer and David Sutton were on the program, too.
As I remember the conferences, the first one was exhilarating. The second one had the greatest collection of talent on the program, and I probably remember it more vividly than the first one. Then at the third one, the program was a bit diluted, but the venue in Santa Barbara was lovely. We had fewer “stars” to show us pictures, but we learned a lot in terms of the publications and media field.
“The Board of Governors has become an autocratic body.”
Now I’m going to read pieces of a statement made in October of 1962, “To all members of the ASMP.” It starts out,
It may now be common knowledge that the entire Executive Board and the Photo Journalism Conference Committee of the Southern California Chapter — eleven members — are resigning from the American Society of Magazine Photographers. For several years, many of the members of the Southern California Chapter have felt a growing dissatisfaction with the lack of understanding which the Board of Governors has shown to our interests and needs. The principle which compels this unprecedented action and statement goes far beyond the periodic disagreements inherent in any organization. I will not burden you with the details of our countless grievances, but will instead sum up why we have not been able to achieve the full benefits of the Society, to which all of us are entitled. The Board of Governors has become an autocratic body and, with all due respect to the integrity of the Board members, they refuse to understand the problems and needs of members outside of the New York area. The Board’s attitude is, unfortunately, damaging the reputation of the Society, undermining relations between members and weakening the effectiveness of the Society in general; all of us are affected by its provincial attitude. Because of this, the Society no longer fulfills its stated purposes and functions for our far-flung membership.
It’s followed by a little propaganda about the Chapter and area, and how many people lived outside of New York. It continues,
The Board’s provincial thinking was dramatized in its unreasonable and arbitrary actions connected with the planning of the Photo Vision ‘62 Conference in Santa Barbara. We have not, and do not, question the right of the Board of Governors to exercise supervision and control over this Conference. However, the intransigent attitude shown by Board members indicate that we were working for them, not with them. After the Conference Committee had successfully planned a budget and a program, in close cooperation with the University of California, Los Angeles and the Chairman of the National Education Committee, the Board of Governors issued an ultimatum as late as August 3rd, 1962, withdrawing ASMP’s co-sponsorship of the Conference unless a list of unreasonable, additional demands were immediately complied with. By its unreasonable demands, the Board of Governors showed complete indifference to the high-caliber Conference program, the prestige of the Society and the educational service of the Conference to the profession, all of which are stated functions and purposes of the Society’s existence.
From the beginning, ASMP was never obligated for the expenses of the Conference, but only stood to gain from potential profits. I think that the crux of the matter was that the Board felt that, if we lost money, the ASMP would have to make up the losses. And that was not true; they didn’t understand the arrangement we had with UCLA, which indicated that, if there were losses, the University would pick up the tab. We might not make a cent on it, but we wouldn’t lose anything. And the Board evidently refused to understand that thesis.
Finally, the Board of Governors reluctantly continued its co-sponsorship, but dismissed the Conference Chairman only after the conclusion of the Conference — a farcical and vindictive gesture, since the Chairman’s term automatically expired at that time.”
So all of those eleven people, including myself, resigned in protest to a very petty thing that the Board did, since they couldn’t punish us for something. Actually, we didn’t do anything wrong, and we did have ASMP’s sanction to have this Conference. I worked closely with Morris Gordon, who was in New York, and kept the Board informed.
This whole episode is in sharp contrast to the Board of Governors’ own mishandling and mismanagement this past summer of the New Hampshire Conference, which lost money for this Society, a fact which should have been impossible under rules which the Board of Governors established, but failed to follow itself.
As a result of the circumstances, and because our efforts to resolve our differences and conciliate our relations have received no response from the Board of Governors, the officers of the Southern California Chapter in Los Angeles, we resign.
Since most of us have been Past Presidents and officers of the Southern California Chapter, it was only after much discussion and consideration that we make this reluctant move, which we do not take lightly. We feel that we cannot function usefully within the Society as long as we remain relegated to second-class membership status. We hope that bringing these matters to the attention of the full membership will eventually benefit the Society.
It was signed by Leonard Nadel, President; David Sutton, First Vice; Jim Sullivan, Second Vice; Ken Whitmore, Secretary; Gene Trindell, Treasurer; Jack Kemmerer, Trustee; Virginia Mclntyre, Trustee; Ernest Rashovski, Trustee; Fred Schwartz, Trustee; Lou Jacobs, Chairman of the Conference; Gene Daniels, Conference Committee.
“The Board of Governors cannot place the interests of any group above the Society as a whole.”
Individuals on the Board in New York tried to prevail to keep us from resigning. There might have been more resignations, but people didn’t want to give up their Blue Cross insurance coverage which, at the time, meant something. So, between October and December, there was a lot of going back and forth. I think the Board decided that they would try to be more conciliatory, because an October 23rd announcement from the Board of Governors to the Southern California Chapter members reminded them that, even though a number of people resigned, there was no effect on the Chapter’s status, as far as the Society or on the status of remaining Chapter members.
Some time later, probably in November, the Board sent a letter to the membership regarding our letter of resignation.
It is with regret the Board received the resignation of some 19 members of the Southern California Chapter. The absence of these valued members is being felt by the Chapter and the Society. The Chapter is continuing to function…. It is clear that most of the resignations were induced by misstatements. For the purpose of clarification, the Board of Governors prepared this explanation.
Through many administrations, a small group of individuals running the Southern California Chapter have, by complaint, obstruction and delay, impaired the work of the Chapter and the Society. Their one specific grievance relates to the Santa Barbara Conference. The facts are these. In March ‘62, the Board sent to all chapters a checklist of requirements for the businesslike management of conferences, which applied equally to all conferences. The Governors are responsible personally and legally for every phase of this Society’s work and every activity conducted in the Society’s name. They cannot, obviously, allow others to make agreements which bind them and the Society without their knowledge and consent.
“The Board of Governors did not make any additional demands in August when the Conference was announced from California without any written agreement having been made and approved. The Board advised the Committee to not co-sponsor unless the requirements were met. At this late date, in view of the work already completed, the Board finally decided to continue co-sponsorship, even though many of the requirements were not met. The Board did, however, discharge the Chairman of the Committee at the close of the Conference, as it could not allow him to remain in a position to further commit this Society.
“The Board of Governors cannot and will not place the interests of any group above the Society as a whole…. In the reorganization of the Southern California Chapter in the coming election, new officers will enable it to work together with the rest of the Society.
“We had made a useful statement.”
I have a November 12, 1962 letter from Ben Rose, who was the President of ASMP at the time. He said, “This sudden turn of events has been most unfortunate.” He’s pretty sorry that I was resigning. “I feel that if there had not been a history of antagonisms which built up to a breaking point, things would have been quite different, even with Santa Barbara. For example, your dismissal from the Education Committee would probably have resulted in your lying dormant for a few months, and then returning to the swing of things.”
Ben went on to say that he felt that, “a few of the individuals in Southern California Chapter have always been inclined to mistrust the purposes and intent of the Board of Governors, and not the other way around, as they have often implied.”
But having been on the Board of Governors in those days, I knew the Board of Governors almost completely ignored anything I suggested in terms of trying to represent the rest of the country, and there were no other people on the Board of Governors at the time, from anyplace but the New York vicinity. It was difficult for a guy as fair-minded as Ben Rose to realize that the Board of Governors had a provincial point of view, which did not represent the whole United States. In fact, from 1962 to maybe 1975, the Board didn’t represent the whole country, not until more people were elected from around the country and a New York Chapter was established, distinguishing New York members from national members. That change, in my estimation, helped the ASMP grow considerably and mature, and made the ASMP a national organization with a New York accent.
Ben asked me to reconsider my resignation, and he said, “I can assure you I would make it my personal business to go to bat for your reinstatement.” I followed his advice, and a few days later he wrote, “I want to congratulate you on your decision to rejoin ASMP.” In fact, all of those who resigned as a symbolic protest did rejoin ASMP — not all at the same time, but they did all rejoin ASMP. We had made a useful statement, which I think the Board learned something from. We did, too, of course, but we were looking in terms of showing New York that they didn’t have a proper attitude about organizations within ASMP that didn’t originate on the island of Manhattan.
“Things are never so bad as they seem to be.”
In a December 6, 1962 letter, Morris [Gordon] wrote,
“When I originally got the Constitutional Committee together, I recommended there be a conference of all chapters at least once a year. It was agreed to, but I don’t know when it got lost.” (Which I think is very interesting, since we’ve had chapter meetings once or twice a year now for the last decade. Morris was just ahead of his time.) “This is the only way to settle matters, via mail which would become lost in semantics, and we have no time to sit down and write a lengthy letter…. To get around this, I recommended to the Board recently that, instead of having four regional conferences annually, we have one and rotate it around the country. The reason for this is that, under our old plan, we became cannibalistic. We all had the same speakers to shoot at and the competition for their services became acute to the point where there was actual competition.
He hoped that a single conference would attract 200 to 400 people and that the conferences could also serve as an annual meeting of all the chapters, with each chapter paying the expenses of their delegate.
“This agent or delegate should be the President. He could sit down with the other Chapter Presidents and the National President and iron out whatever difficulties exist. They should set the policy for a set time. It would then become the job of the Board and the President to see the Executive Secretary carries out this policy.
“We plan to study the annual conference idea for an entire year. The Board [has] unanimously accepted this suggestion. If I’m right, this single venture would annually make enough money to operate our office. NPPA, as an example, does this to their annual convention. The city in which the convention is held guarantees them a set amount of money, and their convention consists of only about 150 people. We could easily attract at least 300. I tell you this because I still would like you to work with me when you are reinstated.
“And I’m in 100 percent accord with you that ASMP needs a strong Executive Director. [Yvonne] Freund is nothing but an office secretary; what we need is a guy like Fred Quelmalz of PPA. He more than earns his $18,000 annual salary, he brings in many times that amount. I’ve spoken to Ben about this constantly and I think I’ve been swinging him around to that line of thinking. I doubt that the resignations will, in themselves, effect change. That was an act of force and all this can engender is resentment.
“Things are never so bad as they seem to be. Constant repetition makes them seem bad. I hope that I have the chance to talk face-to-face with you, Lou, so I can, as a friend, convince you of things as they really are from this end.
A Truly National Organization
I have another letter from February 11, 1960, from David Lintoll on the subject of the Business Handbook. It seems David and I worked together on a Business Handbook in the early 1960s, and I recall we wrote about five chapters, but we never finished it, and it was never distributed. David, in this letter, was suggesting we run sections from the Business Handbook in the Bulletin month by month, then collect them later and reprint them in Handbook form. It would spread out the editing and break it into smaller pieces. This is a system which is very handy and has been used since then for distributing or for having done ASMP documents.
I’d like to excerpt a few things that David said in his letter, which I think put a little color into the times in the 1960s.
Ray Shorrs has indicated he does not want to run again for Secretary. I think he was miffed when, perhaps, as a result of his bad record with the Bulletin, the Nominating Committee did not put him up for anything else, either. He put a nasty bit in the next Bulletin about the Committee. Outcry from California about non-appearance of the Bulletin was very useful in bringing its importance forcefully to the attention of the Board. More outcry would have been even better. I’m off the subject. The latest events show me, if no one else, that the New York group of ASMP has lost its position of leadership and I think it’s high time that the majority of the membership — which is neither in New York nor in Los Angeles — had a bigger role in running the organization. The New York gang is declining in many ways; attendance at membership meetings is poor. A sizable portion of the members are not interested in internal politics and stay away.
He says that, as a result, they have to have meetings that are designed to attract people. “In recent years, the Board and the Program Committee have had to stand on their heads to stage circuses which would bring out the populace before they could get a quorum to do any business.” Remember, at the time, the Board had to have a quorum to even meet as a Board, let alone as a general membership meeting. There wasn’t a clear separation, as I remember it, between the Board of Governors and the general membership in the New York City area.
Some of these meetings were most entertaining, such as the one with Jayne Mansfield, Henry Fonda and Henry Morgan, who did a striptease, and a psychiatrist whose name escapes me. The best attended in recent years have drawn about 50 members, which is about 20 percent of those in the region. However, they have been induced to come by programs in which editors, art directors and other buyers of photography have told about their needs and exposed themselves to buttonholing by Life photographers with something to sell. The idea of this is a good one, but the idea of tying it to the transaction of Society business is frightening. The last meeting in New York in January was an example of a bunch of art directors from McAdams [the agency William-Douglas McAdams].
“We’re respectable from old age alone.”
Linton said he had two conclusions:
One, we must eliminate the requirement of residence near New York, which is now tacitly enforced.” (In other words, to be an officer or on the Board of Governors of the Society in 1960, you had to have a residence near New York.) “We must do so, not only for moral reasons — it’s unfair to the majority of the membership — but also for practical reasons. New York has run out of candidates.
Two, we must reorganize the administration so that nationally known photographers with prestige, experience and standing will not be scared away from running by the labor and expense involved. This is probably the direction in which we have been going, anyway. We simply cannot expect to get good officers as long as they have to take on menial work and bear most of the expense themselves. The first step in this direction is to get the office operating properly. This, as you know, has been a headache for years.
I think we’ve been making steady progress in this. The latest news is good. I think the new Executive Secretary, Yvonne Freund, is by far the best we have ever seen. She has cleaned up the office, physically and psychologically, and accomplished as much in the last month as most of our past executives did in a year.
It seems to me a somewhat different view than Ben Rose had about the same Secretary.
Despite the doldrums into which the Society seemed to have sunk, the membership continues to grow and big names continue to join, or reinstate. The latest was **Ray Atkinson**. Most of this is probably due to our having been around so long that we’re respectable from old age alone, and to our program of prestige activities — the public relations program which your colleagues in the ‘Land of the Palm Trees’ think we haven’t done yet. In the long run, my prediction may turn out to be right; that our ability to regulate working conditions in the industry will derive from our prestige, rather than from the other way around.
I’m not sure when I was first elected to the Board of Governors on the open slate, which made me the first member of the Board outside of the city area of New York. I think it was between 1960 and ‘65. I do know that I could only go to New York once or twice a year, because none of my expenses were paid to get there to attend meetings, and the Board met once a month in the offices of the Society in New York. So, each month before the meeting, based on talking to people on the Board and on the Board minutes that were sent to me, I wrote a letter to the President and to the Board, with suggestions and observations and comments about the upcoming business or the business that had been discussed in the previous meetings. I was trying to be constructive.
The President’s Year
I enjoyed being President of the Society [in 1984]. I enjoyed the responsibility; I enjoyed the status. But I feel that I could have been a lot more dynamic, and perhaps more effective. Perhaps I’m not cut out to be a dynamic executive. I certainly wasn’t a Larry Fried.
The Board voted in 1984 to hire Ruder, Finn and Rotman as our Public Relations Counsel, and I think they were our Counsel for two years. I think that RF&R did some useful things for ASMP, but I also feel that they were very strong on appearances and not nearly as strong on accomplishments. They came up with grandiose programs, in some ways. But I don’t know if they did us any good. Yet they did gain for us a very fine grant from Polaroid Corporation, which did result in the Polaroid brochures — they are beautiful brochures — and they did a first-class job of everything except some of the writing. Once they passed out the original ones, I don’t know if anybody in the Society bought more of them and passed them out.
Another thing that they did for us was to suggest that we have an ASMP Archive. They did a lot of research at various museums in the United States to see which one would be a good place for the Archive, where they would guarantee that we would have a permanent home for at least 100 photographs that were going to be collected to start with, and in some way we could have an endowment. I worked with them on it, Bill Rivelli worked with them, and Helen Marcus worked with them. In time, they did make a connection for us at George Eastman House in Rochester.
All general members of ASMP were asked to send tear sheets or contact sheets or work prints to the office — which was then on Lexington Avenue in New York — which would be screened. I guess it was Robert Sobieszek who did the screening, as the Curator of Photography at the George Eastman House.
I have a letter here from Robert Sobieszek, dated February 4, 1989. It took two years to make the selection and find a home for them and make the arrangements to support them and so forth. Sobieszek then wrote that he was pleased to inform me that,
The exhibition Professional Visions: Selections from the Archives of the American Society of Magazine Photographers, opened with a reception for the photographic community on Wednesday, January 25, and on January 28 the exhibition opened to the public. It will remain on view until February 26. Both events were part of the grand opening of our new Archives, Study Center and Galleries.
Response to Professional Visions, which is the ASMP Archive, has been absolutely positive, and the gallery in which it is hung has been steadily with attentive spectators. I cannot recall when I have been more satisfied with organizing and arranging a photographic exhibit, or with seeing so many spectacular images at one time. I would like to thank you, Lou, most sincerely for contributing a print or prints to the ASMP Archives, for helping to make it all possible.
The print he’s talking about is a photograph of Edward Weston, taken in his home in Carmel Highlands, California in early 1950. He’s sitting at a table and he’s got a cat at his feet.
Musings on ASMP
I’m dictating this oral history in response to Kay Reese’s letter, in which she has asked the same questions of me that she’s asking all her interview subjects. One is: What do I think ASMP’s most important contribution has been?
It’s definitely been the consolidation of media photographers over the many decades that ASMP existed to speak in one voice to clients and to the industry, in terms of protecting rights and maintaining suitable rates with which ASMP has given guidance, but not direction. If there were no ASMP, the average freelance photographer — 99 percent, I think, of our members are freelancers and not salaried —- would be working as an individual without the feeling of cohesion that one can have as part of an organization. The dissemination of information about rates and rights, copyright, how to buy photographs, and forms that are suitable for photographs — things that were in the Business Practice Guide and in our White Papers — are all very important to the development of media photographers as we know them today.
I think that ASMP has helped to give individual photographers more self-respect and more basis for making a decent living. In addition, ASMP offers photographers the opportunity to meet their peers and exchange views and news at meetings, at Chapters all over the United States. This is an invaluable kind of resource that we cannot assess very precisely; we’d have to survey a lot of members to find out how valuable it’s been. But I know, from my own viewpoint, that I met a number of fine people and got a lot of fine information through ASMP, in going to meetings and being active.
“But there were many times they went their own way.”
I also have been a member of the Board longer than anybody else in the Society and, as such, I’ve gotten more out of being an officer, because I have been through many regimes and through various experiences. By finding friendships with a lot of other Board members, I am working with them and working on the Constitution, which I worked off and on for the last 20 years. And working on Committees, like Membership, I have felt a sense of accomplishment and helped the Society grow, and get some order and get more maturity as time passed. ASMP today is far more organized than it ever was 15 or 10 years ago.
The progress of ASMP, and the status it has and the way that members think about it, comes through a number of things, including the ASMP’s accomplishments, the ASMP’s Bulletin, and the kind of material in the Bulletin. Also, very importantly, according to the leadership that ASMP has had in the past sixteen years.
There are two kinds of important leadership: One is who’s the President of ASMP; how effective is he or she, and how attuned to the ASMP’s needs? The other is the Executive Director.
We had a long series of ineffective, but seemingly effective, Executive Directors in the past. I don’t want to go into names, particularly. But we didn’t know any better, we didn’t have any way of really assessing how well our Executive Directors did, because the President of the Society worked with them, and the President and the Executive Director got along, because the Executive Director wanted to avoid static. But there were many times that Executive Directors said yes and, when the President or the Board was gone, they went their own way and made their own policies.
“In spite of this, we’ve had great support.”
In considering how effective our past Executive Directors have been in running the Society and representing the Society, we need only compare them with our present Director, Dick Weisgrau. Dick was not the choice of the President at the time, Helen Marcus, who voted against him. But I remember the meeting where we also interviewed two other men, both of whom were then Executive Directors of organizations. Neither one had experience in photography or photographers’ problems. Dick won the job because there were enough people on the Board who realized that he had spent a dozen years preparing himself, at his own expense, for the job that he wanted. I voted for him, and I worked with him; he was one of my closest friends when we were on the Board together.
Back in 1979, I went on the road with my wife in a motor home, writing and editing books. Before every Board meeting, I sent a letter, which was more or less ignored. And after the meeting, I would call Stuart Cahan, who was Executive Director, and Stuart would give me a 30-second thumbnail of what happened at the Board meeting. Then I would call Dick to find out what really happened. Dick would keep me informed about meetings I couldn’t go to. I went to Board meetings each year at least once, maybe twice; I planned my trips to be in the East. I remember parking the motor home in Long Island for three or four or five days at an editor’s house, so I could go into New York and go to a meeting.
But, even with Dick’s strong leadership, ASMP has a hell of a time raising enough money to run its programs in the manner in which they should be run. A lot of economies have been set forth in the years that Dick has been Director, and we’ve had some good Presidents who were conscientious. But ASMP does not have a suitable method of soliciting new members, even though new members seem to come along almost unsolicited. It’s amazing that ASMP’s dropout rate is less than the new members that come in every year.
The other thing ASMP doesn’t have is organized ways to raise funds. We need to have, eventually, some way to become an organization that is tax-exempt and is eligible for grants. Now, we’ve talked about it. It’s evidently not feasible, or at least it hasn’t been done, so we cannot get grants from organizations, on account of whatever money they gave us would be not tax-deductible for them. We need 501(c)3 status as a tax-exempt, charitable organization. I’m not sure if or when we’ll ever get it, but at that point we could get grants to maintain a lot of the programs.
In spite of this, we’ve had great support from companies like Eastman Kodak, Nikon and Polaroid, and other leaders in the industry who realized that when they give for our programs, they’re supporting photographers who not only use their film and services and their equipment, but are leaders in the photographic business and whose names are seen everywhere there’s printed materials.
“I tell people I never had a job.”
Another of Kay’s questions is, If I had it to do over again, would I be a photographer?
Of course. I think that being a freelancer is what I used to call “living in permanent insecurity,” but I wouldn’t have any other kind of life. I tell people I never had a job. Well, I never had a job that was salaried, and I don’t really miss it now; I haven’t missed it for years.
I like the independence. I like being able to take time off — although I’ve been very disciplined all of my life and I have got this kind of idea that I have to earn the time off before I can enjoy it. So, being my own boss worked out fine. I would tell anybody who wants to become a freelancer to think about the consequences.
“The image of ASMP is not determined by where its headquarters are.”
Now for a couple of footnotes that are out of time sequence. About 1988 or 1989, the Board voted to move the headquarters of ASMP to Philadelphia. To a number of members who lived in New York, moving the Society out of New York was heresy. Their view was, unless we were in New York, we did not have the prestige that we could have as a New York organization. A referendum was called, the move to Philadelphia was cancelled, and we went on paying $48,000 a year in rent in New York.
In 1992, the Board again made an effort to get the ASMP’s headquarters out of New York. But this time, they first moved to find a place in the New Jersey corridor on the way to New York, and then sent out a referendum. This time the referendum passed. They did the referendum to make sure that they had the support of the membership, although it was not required to do so.
The image of ASMP was not then, and is not now, determined by where its headquarters are. I’m not sure who was dead-set against us going to Philadelphia, but it could be a remnant of the people who remembered that New York had been the center of the publishing universe in years past and felt that we would downgrade ourselves to be anyplace else. But we have 35 chapters, and photography for media is spread over the whole United States. Even though New York is the largest publication center, members exist in ASMP quite profitably without doing any work, or very little work, for clients in the New York area. It was, and is, no longer necessary to have a New York identification. The Professional Photographers of America were in Iowa for years, even though they were all over the country. They’ve since moved to Atlanta, and it doesn’t seem to matter. In this era of very fast communications, you can maintain your identity through telephone, fax and computer networks. Being in the New York area cost us a lot more money. We are saving money by being in Princeton Junction, New Jersey, and the longer we’re there, the more money we will have saved.
“We learned from the terrible failure of Book One.”
As another footnote, I hope somebody discusses Book One. Book One was the self-advertising book which ASMP published to give members an opportunity to promote themselves without paying as much as the Black Book and some others charged. Book One was published in 1981. Overall, our publishing program made some money for ASMP and gave opportunities to the photographers. But Book One was a financial catastrophe, because nobody watched the cash register. I don’t want to point out anybody; the mistakes made on Book One were made by the whole group of people who were involved. They had grandiose ideas of being publishers. So Books Two, Three, Four, Five and Six were published by someone else for us, with a stringent contract that gave the rights to the photographers. By the time Book Six was done, there was a lot more competition in the promotional-book field and there was another deal offered to us, which we turned down. I can’t remember what the details were, but we went out of the ASMP book business.
However, we learned an enormous amount from the terrible failure of Book One: We should never try to do something that would be better done by people who do it for a living — publishing, or accounting, or whatever it is. Farm things out to save money, since we are more or less a volunteer organization.
“I pay my dues through working for the organization.”
ASMP is a unique organization. It has a snooty idea of how good it is — or the people in the organization do. Or they did have; I think now they’re more down to earth. The ASMP has always tried to avoid camera club-ism and has done so effectively. It has its own niche, which no other organization of photographers can fill, because of the type of work and the type of photographers our members are. By type of work, I mean for publications, and it’s also by people who are self-employed. It includes advertising and editorial and corporate and just about any other photographic discipline that eventually gets printed or is seen on television.
I will be interested in the growth of ASMP as it goes along. As a life member now, I don’t have to pay any dues, but I pay my dues through working for the organization. I’m doing some work on membership now, and on the Constitution. It’s probably the fifth or sixth Constitution I have worked on, and it’s interesting. I also got some wonderful plaudits when I left the Board and a lovely notice in the Bulletin about the Iength of time and the work I’ve done. That’s made me feel good.