Image copyright Joe McNally. All rights reserved.
Last week America lost one of its greatest statesmen, Senator Howard Baker. He was an amazing contributor to this country, but I don't know how many of you realize his passion for photography and support for our industry. You'd often see him wandering the floor of some of the bigger photo shows just to check out what was new in gear.
I don't want to make it sound like we were such good friends we were about to buy a boat together, but we spent enough time together for me to look back on the friendship as one of the highlights of my career.
I joined Hasselblad in '87 and a year or so later heard the Senator was a Hasselblad shooter and used to buy from one of our best retailers, Penn Camera in D.C. So, I suggested the next time he was due to come in the store I'd fly down and let's take him to lunch. Well, instead he suggested we come to his "house" for lunch...the White House!
He had only been in his new job as White House Chief of Staff for President Reagan a few months and Gorbachev had just been there the week before. I remember him saying, "Skip, I was a senator for a lot of years and have been in this job only a few months...this job has felt longer!"
He sat in a chair with his feet on the edge of the coffee table and just wanted to talk about photography. In the middle of the table was a big basket of Tennessee's favorite candy, GooGoo Clusters next to a couple of photography books. Somewhere in the conversation we talked about the challenge of communicating things in writing and he told me he once sent a letter to another congressman and wrote, "I'd like to make this shorter, but I just don't have the time!" That rolled into a discussion about how hard it is to be concise and the conversation came full circle, because a picture really is worth a thousand words.
A year or two later I talked him into speaking at a PMDA dinner in New York. I was program chairman for that dinner and he flew in, we grabbed a quick drink at his hotel and then headed to one of the function rooms at the UN where this special evening meeting was to be held. He had flown in on his private plane and needed to leave immediately after his presentation.
As I walked him out, he talked about loving the opportunity to talk to so many people from the photo industry and then he thanked me for getting him a private car and made a comment, "I sure hope you didn't get me one of those big obnoxious limos. I hate the things...just love a simple Ford. I like to sit up front and talk to the driver."
As we walked through the door to the outside, all the blood had drained out of my face...not only did I get him a stretch, but because he was Senator Howard Baker, I got him the biggest one I could find. Not only that, but it was white on white and couldn't be more ostentatious. It was huge and a family of twelve could live in it for a lifetime! He gave me a look that most of us only see from our spouses when we're really in trouble...but for some reason, I held my ground, looked back at him and said, "Admit it, you love it!" He cracked, climbed into the front seat next to the driver and headed to the airport.
A year or two later he was in NYC again and called me. He was open for dinner on just one of the nights and I invited him to Gramercy Tavern. Knowing just about nothing about politics, I decided we needed another photographer with us who could talk politics as well as photography. I made a quick call to my buddy, Denis Reggie, who grew up in the political arena. An hour before dinner I had another panic attack, Denis was a diehard Democrat and Baker the leading Republican!
The truth is, it was an amazing dinner and a month later the Senator called me and asked if I thought Denis would photograph his wedding. One call to Denis and an hour later they were on the phone together going over plans.
I'll leave you with one last story...somewhere over the years he told me a story about once being introduced at a political dinner as the third most famous person to ever come out of Tennessee. "I sat there trying to think of who the other two were...turns out it was Dolly Parton!"
Last week we didn't just lose an amazing contributor to our country, but an artist with incredible passion and an unmatched love for life. He loved photography, published several of his own photography books and you couldn't help but enjoy his company, especially when he was in his photo mode!
Check out "Why?" one of the most popular features on the SCU Blog. It's a very simple concept - one image, one artist and one short sound bite. Each artist shares what makes the image one of their most favorite. We're over 100 artists featured since the project started. Click on the link above and you can scroll through all of the episodes to date.