David Bruce: Anecdotes About Photography

Los Angeles punk photographer Jenny Lens used to be Jenny Stern, but she acquired her new name when Farrah Faucet-Minor, who was drunk and ranting, threw what was meant to be a taunt at her. Ms. Lens writes, “The woman who delighted in tormenting me also gave me the most perfect name. Moral: you never know what good will come from someone trying to destroy you.” Some good deeds did happen in the punk world. Top Jimmy worked at Top Taco, and he gave free food to a lot of punks — with the knowledge of the elderly owners, whose forearms bore tattooed numbers that they had acquired in a concentration camp. Ms. Lens writes, “They knew what it was like to starve, and they kept many punks alive.” As you should expect, Ms. Lens was serious about her photography. On 27 April 1977 Mark A. Martinez saw the Nuns perform at the Starwood in Hollywood. The previous night, he had seen the Nuns perform, and he wanted to see them again. At the Starwood, Ms. Lens came up to him and shouted, “Your nose ruined my Nuns shots last night.” They became friends, and Mr. Martinez designed Ms. Lens’ 2008 book of her punk photographs: Punk Pioneers.

Ron Galella is the most famous of all paparazzi, aka celebrity photographers. Marlon Brando once punched him, knocking out five teeth. After being treated at an emergency room and having his jaw wired, Mr. Galella went back to get more photographs of Mr. Brando. The next time that Mr. Galella wanted to photograph Mr. Brando, Mr. Gallela was wearing a football helmet for protection. While making the movie “Three Days of the Condor,” actor Robert Redford wanted to avoid being photographed by Mr. Galello. While at “The New York Times” building, Mr. Redford — in the words of Roger Ebert, who respects the tenacity of Mr. Galello — “entered one end of the building, raced through its second floor to the other end, slipped into his trailer, disguised his stand-in as a double, and had him run to his car and be driven away.” From a safe distance, Mr. Redford was able to watch Mr. Galello jump onto the trunk of the limo to snap a photograph through the back window.

Photographer Jim Marshall had a terrible temper, but he was capable of kindness. The day after Mimi Fariña, the younger sister of Joan Baez, died, Mr. Marshall, grieving, and wearing for once a coat and tie, distributed photographs that he had taken of her to other mourners at her house. In addition, of course, he was a wonderful photographer, both of the famous and the not famous. He once photographed a group of Italian garbage collectors in San Francisco who sang opera as they worked. A famous photograph of Janice Joplin showed her unhappy and tired backstage with a bottle of Southern Comfort. Looking at the photograph, Ms. Joplin told Mr. Marshall, “Honey, some nights, that’s how it is.” To get a photo of the Allman Brothers laughing, he told them, “I want a laughing shot — or nobody gets any coke.”

Canadian photographer Yousuf Karsh is famous for his portraits, and he has inflexible ideas involving portraits. For example, he believes that anyone who has recently had a haircut is an unsuitable subject for a portrait. Mr. Karsh was once scheduled to take a portrait of Sir Charles Portal, but he was disappointed when he saw that Sir Charles had recently had a haircut. Fortunately, Sir Charles understood and said, “I always believe that if a thing’s worth doing, it’s worth doing properly. Let’s wait until it grows again.” They did wait, and the portrait appears in Mr. Karsh’s book titled Faces of Destiny.

Nancy Miller Elliott was a friend of jazz musician Buck Clayton, who encouraged her to be a photographer. One day, Mr. Clayton gave her a present: a box of cameras and lenses and other photographic materials. He had bought them from a man in the street, and he did NOT ask the man, “Is this merchandise stolen?” Ms. Elliott put the gift to good use. She immediately began taking portraits of jazz musicians. Many of her photographs appear in Chip Deffaw’s book titled Jazz Veterans: A Portrait Gallery.

Being a celebrity photographer has its privileges. Richard Young was so good at his job of shooting stars that ex-Beatle George Harrison invited him to his home to take some photographs of him. Mr. Young drove up to Mr. Harrison’s gate and rang the bell. Seeing this, a couple of school kids said to him, “You’ll never get in there, mate.” With perfect timing, the gate opened and Mr. Young drove up the driveway.

Susan Rotolo was at one time Bob Dylan’s girlfriend, and his and her photograph appears on the cover of his album Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. The relationship didn’t last, and she married another man and had a son with him. One day, at Tower Records she saw the album and for fun she asked her young son, “Do you know who is in that picture?” He looked and said, “That’s you, Mommy.” She says, “It was cute.”

Milt Hinton is an African-American jazz musician who took many, many photographs of fellow jazz musicians, both black and white. Whenever he would print a photograph of one of his white friends and the photograph came out dark enough for someone to comment on it, he would say, “I can’t help it — that’s just the way I see everybody.”

Photographer Nancy Crampton took a series of portraits of famous authors. She wanted to take a portrait of Philip Roth on a rural road, and they went from road from road as she tried to find exactly the right setting. Eventually, Mr. Roth grew tired of this and said to her, “Nancy, the road didn’t write the book.”

© 2015, David Bruce, All Rights Reserved

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