Photographer and Nice Guy Shelly Katz

Photographer Shelly Katz

To All the Ships at Sea,

Approximately 4 months ago, my friend Sam called me and told me that an old friend Shelly Katz was not feeling well.  I called Shelly and we spoke for about a half hour. I sent him several photos of the Apollo Soyuz launch with all the guys from TIME Magazine.  I followed up with a couple more photos and wished him a Happy Birthday.  Unfortunately, last Friday Shelly went to the Darkroom in the Sky or actually maybe it’s a the Lightroom in the Sky!  Just for the record both JoAnne and I had the utmost respect for Shelly as a very fine photographer. Shelly, also had something else going for him,  everybody loved him.  In a profession that is ego driven Shelly had the goods and treated everybody equally.  At a time when male photographers did not give credence to female photographers he did.  Below is a beautiful letter from  long time good friend Sam Garcia.  Who every said Sam was a hard ass?  Was it me?  Maybe I was wrong.

“I hadn’t talked to Shelly in a couple of years.

It just goes like that sometimes, even when you like someone.

You can’t beat yourself up about it, but you’re going to a little bit anyway.
Couple of months ago a friend had a photo/home accident—they came back from a trip to find a pipe had burst directly over where they stored some of their work in their garage. Images and negatives literally sitting in water.
They called me; I told them what I thought was the best course of action to save/retrieve what was salvageable.
Then, because I don’t know know nearly enough about everything as I want to, I decided to double check what I’d told her by talking to another shooter with deep knowledge about a lot of stuff in the industry.
My first thought was Shelly.
And I was irritated to realize I didn’t have his number at hand it had been so long.
Called a mutual friend who gave it to me.
I called the number, said, basically,  “Hey, Shelly!, want to talk to you more, but will call you back because I’ve got a photo-emergency you might be able to help me with.”
Told him what I knew. What I’d suggested. He offered a couple of additional things.
I drove out and spent the afternoon trying to help my distraught friend save her memories.
(mixed results, but less overall disaster than she had feared.)
In one of the FEW responsible adult/mature moments of my Life, I called Shelly back in a couple of days to thank him for the help. Also, to actually talk about how he’d been, and swap those fill-in-the-blank stories you do with someone when you haven’t kept in touch as often as you’d have liked.
I got the sense he was under the weather health wise. But he was talking about his upcoming 75th birthday, and how well his son was doing, and we both bitched about the state of the industry we both liked probably more than it liked us.
Shelly’s background was certainly professional. Worked under the Time-Life umbrella for a few decades. Was represented in it’s glory days by the late great Black Star agency.
I had met him for the first time when I was traveling with the Nikon School.
We were both in the ‘Day In The Life’ book projects family as photographers.
That was back in…, September…?
I’m sitting at the table this morning, finishing up Xmas cards and thinking about lunch. I look over at one of the multitudinous piles of notes on various scraps of paper and see the one I’d scrawled Shelly’s name and number on.
I hadn’t wished him a happy 75th birthday.
I’d frankly, simply forgotten.
But I picked up the phone to see how he was doing pre-holiday.
But his son, Andrew answered the phone.
It’s not a genius thing to catch that tone in a voice which has only said ‘hello’
.
Shelly had died Friday.
I stumbled through my condolences as one does in that terrible moment, but you keep moving forward even when you’re uncomfortable because it’s not about you, and even if his son is a grown man, he just lost his dad.
I told him what I knew to be true–Shelly was one of the nicer guys I’d met in the industry over the years.
He was smart, and funny, and friendly, and really liked the business, even on those days when it beat him up a bit.
I kept it short, but as bad as I am at this stuff I stayed on, I hope, long enough to let him know other people liked and respected his dad, and the World was going to be a little less kind, a little less fun without Shelly in it.
His son asked me if I would mind letting people know.
So this is me doing that.
Right now he’s at Shelly’s home and answering that phone, but he also asked me to pass along his number if anyone wants to call.
Shelly’s number (in Texas)  972-247-0700
his son Andrew’s number, if you don’t get him at the above: 214-458-4858
I feel bad. I could’a, would’a, should’ a…fill in the blanks.
So I’ll try and do better. I think Shelly would accept that as the only apology worth giving.
Over the years I have come to believe the single worst lie you have heard via literature, and oft quoted, and oft repeated is the famous, ‘no man is an island‘.
It’s simply wrong.
Every single person is an island, and can slip away, slip beneath even calm waters in a moment, in a heartbeat.
 
But I do agree with John Donne a bit further into that piece, that, “Any man’s death diminishes me.”
I should have called him far more recently, and without the excuse to pick his brain, simply because I liked him. And I feel badly. And I’ll try and do better.
And the best thing I can offer Shelly’s spirit is with any luck you’re thinking of some ‘island’ you’ve been out of touch with, and maybe you’ll call them or write them.”  – Sam Garcia

*Article in the New York Times by John Camera Section on Shelly Katz by John Durniak (freelance writer, editor and photography consultant.)

www.nytimes.com/1991/07/21/news/camera.html

 

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