This is a very difficult and extremely embarrassing story for me to tell. It’s funny that today, this story seems almost comical, but at the time I was totally humiliated and deeply embarrassed. It obviously still bothersome to me, as there is not more than a few people in the world who know what I am about to tell you. I now think it’s good to begin to air all the good and the bad that has permeated my early life. As we are opening up my secrets, and in the interest of being completely open and honest, what is going on at present will be forthcoming in future blogs.
This story that was a large part of me in my early twenties, when I was ravaged by fears and fighting a breakdown in my abilities to function in the world without help. I feared I simply could not do it alone. I always needed someone around me, yet I always felt totally alone.
At meeting Jerry Rosencrantz and Inge Morath, I was quickly and very briefly introduced to Burt Glinn, who was then the president of Magnum. Burt was a Harvard educated photographer, who much to the chagrin of the other members who were strict journalists, Burt did a great deal of corporate and advertising work. Magnum was always broke and it needed additional income to function. He was probably the most financially successful of the group, and at that time you paid a portion of your income (a tithing of sorts) to the cooperative based on your income. The wealthy supported the poor.
He had become a member of Magnum in 1950, and when I met him, he was so busy traveling all around the world on assignment, he felt completely out of reach. But like all things that I truly love, he was very funny and very self-effacing.
I remember calling his apartment in Manhattan on numerous occasions, catching him almost out of breath as he was rushing to catch a plane to some far off place in the world. He would often say to me, I’ll be back on a certain date and you can catch me between 5:00 and 6:00 PM before I leave again. He was a total whirlwind, but he tried very hard to help me. I will always appreciate his generosity.
He told me when I finally would lasso him for a few minute talk whom I had to meet, whom would be the most difficult, and how the whole crazy politics of Magnum worked. You simply had to pay your dues, which could take some time for somebody so young as me, meet all the members, make sure they see your work and remember you and try to be a good guy.
Years later on occasion I would bump into Burt throughout the world. We would be staying at the same hotel, or I would meet him with only enough time to shake hands and have a cup of coffee at some airport.
The last time I saw Burt Glinn, just a year or two before he died, was in my neighborhood, there was a house for sale and he was coming to look at it. We said our hellos and without my knowing it, that hello was really my last goodbye.
So I guess things at Magnum could have potentially worked out for me if the Gods were all in alignment. I am not sure if the other members would have liked my work, or considered me worthy of acceptance, for they never had the chance to even meet me.
Oh by the way, the photographer that Burt told me I would have the most difficulty with and whom he had often tried to hook me up with as they were both good friends, was Elliot Erwitt. It’s ironic that Elliot is almost a relative of mine through marriage. I see him on occasion, yet to this day I do not know if whether on those fateful days in the early 70′s, whether he would have voted yea or nay, but like everyone else he never got the chance.
So this is where my sad but true story comes forth. It is kind of perfect because there was (and still is) a person who foils and on occasion even destroys many things he wants. I am not sure if I even had the metabolism for Magnum, but I never gave myself the chance to find out. I was very isolated and alone, surrounded by people, and yet my fears not only manifested these fears, they perpetuated them. I guess I was my own worst enemy.
Well here goes. In fact I only went up to Magnum a total of five times over a period of a number of months. I never met other members other than the one’s I’ve already described. Nobody except these few people even knew I existed. I never met the other members, as I was never there to meet them. Members would come and go, and disappear for months. It would have been weeks and weeks of work to meet and greet everyone.
You might ask why, what’s so bad about that? What happened? Well this is the sad story. Magnum as a poorly financed organization was in a derelict, old building in the 40′s of Manhattan. The elevator that took you up and down was this disgruntled, tiny space that no matter how hard I tried, I could not get into alone. It was like a small coffin on a track and I would hyperventilate and have fits of fear just being in the space alone. Having the door close slowly behind me would set off an anxiety attack that was beyond my control. I feared I would never get out and no one would come for me. It was my worst nightmare. The stairs were locked and unusable from the ground floor. There was no way I could get up. So in the end it was simply the elevator that destroyed me.
Secretly no matter how much I wanted to ascend to the lofty heights of Magnum, in the end, I withdrew and was left standing on the ground floor.
But don’t cry for me. In my fashion I succeeded. What I had loved most about Magnum was what I was most craving. It was the laughter and the camaraderie of photographers. The pictures were great, but I did not want to learn about photography. I wanted to hear stories of their escapades and be part of these romantic figures, and ravel in the romance of great photography meeting the great unknown.
In my head, I could imagine all their laughing upstairs, but I never participated. As usual I was in a solitary occupation, all alone. I guess the last laugh was on me. There may still be a few old pictures of mine in the Magnum library, but they are probably not even attributed to me. I guess it all came and went and for that I am deeply sorry.