It only made sense that I started out assisting fashion guys, since I attended the Fashion Institute of Technology. But through a series of fateful events, I ended up assisting the brilliant photographer and lighting master, Ben Somoroff. Ben is one of the photographers whose career and vision blossomed under the tutelage of Alexey Brodovitch of Harper’s Bazaar fame. Brodovitch also influenced the likes of Art Kane, Irving Penn and Richard Avedon, to name just a few of the ground-breaking photographers in that elite circle.
Ben shot fashion. He shot still life. He directed television commercials. He was a master craftsman and I was his apprentice. And while he was inventive and clever, patient and thoughtful, he was also easygoing and immensely likable. Remarkable traits in an incredibly challenging industry (polite words for stressful). During my time with Ben we worked with Milton Glaser, Walter Bernard and Gael Greene from New York Magazine, and Madison Avenue icon David Deutsch, who designed my first business cards because I asked (I didn’t know who he was). I was sponsored into NABET (National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians, a union) by Mel Sokolsky’s studio manager (and former B&W printer for Avedon), Frank Finocchio, so I could work with Ben on TV commercials as a prop man. Ben taught me so very much over those years and I’m still learning today. I owe him a debt of gratitude, but regrettably can not give it. Ben died in ’84.
I never saw Ben loose his temper. Not even when I accidentally ruined a batch of film by washing it in near boiling water. He wasn’t happy, but I didn’t get fired either. I was a pretty lucky kid. Over the years, Ben has increasingly come to mind in my work. I now see and think in ways that allow me to take bigger risks. Ben did that all the time, he went with the flow. Now I find I’m doing that, too, and with a bit of patience as well. Some risks fail, fall short or look routine, while others succeed.
Eventually the risks become technique. Technique becomes style and style becomes vision. I’m taking even more risks these days, because even now, there’s so much more to learn. So why not reach out and explore?
The heydays of photography may be long since gone, but the challenges of reaching for greatness never change. Be complacent or take risks. It’s a choice. I’ll keep walking on that ledge to see what happens.
And if I fail or fall short, I’ll get right back up and try again. Boy, have I been there before.