Many people have asked me how and why I became a photographer in the first place, but as far as I can remember, no one has inquired what was the most life-changing day in my photographic life.
It all began on a beautiful day in Virginia, in the spring of 1970. On the long green verdant lawn, a thousand students serpentined their way in true Jeffersonian style to receive their diplomas. Standing in front of me, purely by chance, was my friend Jon Broder.
It was the end of the sixties, and everyone was on a quest to find their true callings. Some were off to Hollywood, far too many to Wall Street or Law School. I was on my way to Graduate School to study theological discourse, and understand this creature called man. At this time I also knew I was vaguely interested in photography as well.
Standing right in front of me was Jon, and as the line was serpentining very slowly, we began to talk about our futures. Why we hadn’t done this before, I do not know, but no time like the present.
I informed Jon about my future and he began to inform me about his. He told me he wanted to be a journalist, and saw no reason not to jump right into the eye of the volcano. The next day he was off to the Middle East to take intensive Arabic and Hebrew classes. I was a little taken back by his courage (or maybe his lack of it) to run to a place that was so dangerous and on the verge of war. We made our way to the table, received our diplomas, shook hands, and went our separate ways.
For the next six years I never heard from Jon. We each pursued our careers and our lives. I had married once, Jon two or three times. It seemed like every girl he kissed, he felt the need to marry, only to learn a few months later what a mistake it was. In the meantime, he learned Hebrew and Arabic, had an interim assignment to cover Richard Nixon at Key Biscayne, Florida, and then ran back to the middle east with a VW bug and Florida license plates.
I received a call six years later; Jon had become the bureau chief of the Middle East for the Chicago Tribune. He had already covered two wars and was a real correspondent. On this fateful morning call, at 4 a.m. EST, Jon informed me that I had won a very special fellowship. As we hadn’t spoken in years I was in shock that he knew where to find me in Connecticut, but he did. He told me that he had been following my career from afar. He told me that I was awarded a special gift from the mayor of Jerusalem to come and live in Jerusalem for up to three months in a special place called Mishkenot Sha’ananim. It was a special artist colony for up to fourteen very well known, highly established people, but on a rare occasion they would take a chance on an unknown, a nobody like me, whom they felt showed promise. Magnum had done the same thing the year before.
It was 4 o’clock in the morning. I had no idea what he was talking about, what I had won, or anything else he had said. What I do remember, he said that I had a few weeks to get my family and myself together. He said that I would be receiving a formal letter soon.
I also remember his saying, “You’re a very lucky man and you don’t even know it. You and I are going to work on a book together, I’ll do the text and you’ll make the photographs.” And with that he hung up.
The next week I received a formal letter from Teddy Kolleck, the Mayor of Jerusalem, inviting me to live at the cities expense for the next three months. My whole life changed, but not in the ways that you might expect.
To be continued…