In early September, I was in Arizona to be with my father to celebrate his 95th birthday. Although his sharp wit remained as intact as ever, his irrepressible energy was much diminished. Illness and time had taken its toll. I am so glad I was there because one week later, he died peacefully at home.
He was my best friend and I am waiting for his absence to hit me. To me, he remains a force of nature and I can still hear his voice.
My dad was famous. I didn’t realize it when I was a kid and I was skeptical when I was a grown up. I have read interviews with the children of famous people. They are often asked, “what is it like to grow up with a famous parent?” My answer echoes theirs, “I don’t know. I never had it otherwise.”
My father took many iconic photographs of modernist art and architecture which were just part of the interior decoration of my childhood. Meanwhile, his work appeared regularly in books and magazines. I just thought he was suiting up and headed to the city with the rest of the dads. Just doing his job.
My dad was a photographer. I was lucky enough to accompany him on many freelance assignments. He kept his equipment in neatly organized camera cases that I helped him carry from the back of his Mustang convertible to set up on location. He did a lot of his work in his head: calculating the f-stops and the film speeds and adding or removing filters over the lenses. He wore a light meter on a cord around his neck and used the back of his hand as “neutral” for his calculations.
He would snap several exposures of the same shots, write on the film holders with grease pencil, return everything neatly to the cases, and next month it would all be in House & Garden.
In his later years, and he had many, he was able to take the work he had done photographing Frank Lloyd Wright, Alexander Calder and Louise Nevelson and, without taking a single photo, carve out a career as an author, lecturer and all-round colorful, clever, charming — and famous — fellow.
I always wondered, though: was he really famous? He was never mobbed by rabid fans or hounded by paparazzi.
Then a glowing obituary showed up in the The New York Times, and all doubt was removed. The irony for me is, though he read The New York Times from cover to cover every day for the last seven decades, he will never know he made the cut.
Had he read it, I can promise you he would have said, “Man, some people really know how to live!” His wit never failed.
It’s starting to hit me.
Return to normal programming next month.