I tend to be redundant; I also tend to have a pretty good memory. I also realize the journey I’ve been on for the last 5 decades could not have happened if it wasn’t for some amazing people, great friends, and generous photographers. My dear friend Ron Thompson introduced me to Ralph Morse at an Apollo march. Ralph was one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met. He not only had a great eye and a great passion, he was a true innovator. The old cliché; you think you’ve done something original, but it was done 100 years ago. Guess what, Ralph was a true innovator; he came up with photographs no one ever did. He literally took me under his wing, and with no hesitation, taught me everything I needed to know on how to photograph an Apollo Saturn 5b Rocket. At the time, I had no idea that he went to the same High School that my dad went too, Dewitt Clinton, and they were probably there in the same class. I also had no idea that Ralph generated one of the most famous photographs on the day of Babe Ruth’s farewell at Yankee Stadium, the same day that one of my other heroes Nat Fein won a Pulitzer Prize. I could go on and on and on. I will share one of Ralph’s funniest stories. He was photographing a Gemini launch got back to his hotel to find the director of photography wanted him to go to Moscow Immediately. Ralph packed up all of his gear and his clothes and flew to New York. A messenger, who accepted all of Ralph’s film, gave him new film, and a small suitcase of clothes met him there. He immediately flew to Moscow to find that he had all the film he needed, all the cameras he needed, but he had summer and spring clothes… it was the dead of winter. Ralph was there for over several weeks, he made an executive decision to purchase a fur coat. When he returned to the New York office and submitted his expense account, the bean counters went crazy, rejecting the (I don’t know the exact number, but we’ll call it $1800) coat. They demanded Ralph redo the expense account. The total with the fur coat was $6200. When he redid the expense account, the total came to $6800. He attached a small note to a paper clip for the accounting department that said, “Find the fur coat.” On my return from my recent trip to Cuba, I was actually in Florida when Ralph passed. Unfortunately I didn’t know. Ralph, you will be missed everyday. Thank you so much for being the person that you were. On my next trip to Israel, I will put a prayer in the Western Wall for you.
I remember my mother and father taking me to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Sitting on top of my dad’s shoulders and looking at the giant floats, the beautiful colors, the great music, and here we are a couple of years later spending the day at Coney Island at the Mermaid Parade. My new policy is one camera, one lens, two batteries, two cards. This time, I chose to test a new lens, a 135 f/2. Last year’s parade, I used a 10-22mm. Obviously, a huge change! But, changing it up is a good thing. What I’m about to say is not a scientific fact. It appeared to me for every person in the parade, there were 3 photographers. I could be off, but I’m not that far off.
As a photographer, one of the first things you learn is eye-hand coordination. Your ability to look at 300 people or 7 people – front-lit, back-lit, and see the photo that you want to make. Before you even think about it, you’ve made 3 or 4 different photos, each one a variation of a theme, not just a motor sequence. Making back lit adjustments on the fly, always thing about where the next photograph is going to come. That’s the good news. The bad news can be all of those things that work against you – and you miss the obvious. It’s happened to me before, and I’m pretty sure it’ll happen to me again. You never want to have blinders on. You want to be open to new lighting, new composition, new stories, and new direction. Invariably, you will grow and your work will improve accordingly. While looking at this very beautiful young lady and preparing to do a very shallow, depth of field simple photograph, I look down and to my right and saw one eye and one sideburn and a little bit of a mustache. I said “Oh my god, could that be Melchior DiGiacomo?” I took the photograph, looked down, I tapped him on the shoulder, and he said “Joe D., just a minute”. I guess it’s like two chubby Italians meeting in the daylight, or is that two ships in the night? I can never get it right. The funny thing about it is I haven’t seen Melchoir in 30 years. And my God, nothing’s changed! It’s good that there is some consistency in this universe.
Every once in a while you come across a very special person. One of my student’s Ann Raine, has had an extremely versatile career. Her travels have taken her all over the world. She’s as comfortable in a high level meeting with a Fortune 500 Company as she is making environmental portraits on the streets of NYC. I’ve recently asked Anne to become one of the the new board members for our DiMaggio/Kalish Photographic Retreats, along with Brian Struble and Larry Malang.