My partner, Joanne Kalish, received an assignment to do a portrait of Will Barnet. The first two sittings were canceled by Will. When JoAnne questioned the artist, he confided in her that he was not comfortable. Most great photographers know everything about shutter speed, aperture, sharpness- all of the things that are not that important in a photograph. JoAnne has the ability to make a total stranger comfortable and gets the best of the best.
They say the third time’s the charm. Will asked that there be no lighting, per se, and no assistant, pomp or ceremony. JoAnne went to Barnet’s studio armed with just one camera and two lenses and came away with the definitive greatest photograph that had ever been taken of Will Barnet. How do I know that? Will Barnet told JoAnne six months after the photo was taken that this was his all time favorite photo and the best photo ever taken of him. He’s not only been photographed by thousands of photographers but also at least fifty of the best photographers in the world.
Today would have been his 105th birthday. No photographer likes to take a backseat to another photographer. I love the photo so much that I actually purchased one from JoAnne and it hangs above my desk. We also now have a framed 40×60 called “Will Barnet at 100” that came from the National Academy Museum and School. Over the years, I’ve collected eight or nine pieces of Will Barnet’s art.
JoAnne introduced me to Will and we had lunch and dinner together a few times. I have to say, he was one of the most amazing people that God put on this planet. At lunch one day we started to talk politics- not a good subject. I said, “What we need now is a new WPA (Works Project Administration)” and Will sipped his tea and said, “What a good idea, I headed the WPA as applicable to imagery.” I was sitting with a man who was at the forefront of the WPA.
To all the ships at sea, I’d like to end this blog. One of the biggest thrills of my life was when Will Barnet looked at my portfolio. He looked at me and said, “You are not a photographer, you are a painter.” That will be one of the things I will always remember when I check into the darkroom in the sky.