Joe Schneider, photographer and baby handler

The other night at a party I mentioned that I used to photograph babies in New York. (When pushed, I will admit it.) The man I was talking to said that he lived in New York when he was a baby, and that he was photographed for a baby product ad in 1972. I made a wild guess that the photographer was Joe Schneider, which he later confirmed, after texting his mother. (And she remembered! To think, that a baby photographer could make such an impression on a mother as to be remembered more than 40 years later!)

Joe Schneider was the go-to baby photographer from the 1940’s to the 70’s. When he stopped photographing in the 1980’s, he continued to work as a baby handler.  I landed my first big commercial shoot in 1986, which was for Baby Fresh, and having a big advertising budget, I hired Joe Schneider as a baby handler. I learned a few things from him too — most notably, the magic of Cherrios, which forever remained a staple in my studio and was often the secret ingredient to a successful shoot!

I was oblivious then to what Joe Schneider seems now to be most famous for — using Marilyn Chambers as a mother model on the package of Ivory Snow, when right after that, she went on to become a famous porn star!  You have to start somewhere!

Joe Schneider in his studio doing his thing, 1954. Photo by Peter Stackpole for Life Magazine.
Joe Schneider, 1986, on my lightbox posing as a well-behaved baby should.
Joe Schneider directing the baby as I photographed for Baby Fresh, 1986.
One of the Baby Fresh ads we did that day.
Photo by Joe Schneider, on the Ivory Snow box, 1972, with photo of Marilyn Chambers on right. The models in the two ads, his and mine, are kind of similar! Casting for my photo was chosen by the ad agency, J. Walter Thompson. Guess Marilyn Chambers as mother model was still an inspiration 14 years later, in 1986.
Marilyn Chambers, porn star, and the Ivory Snow box on which she was a young mother model, Google Images screenshot, 2019. (click to enlarge)

Winter Solstice

On the day we left for good, it was Winter Solstice, the best light of the year. When I came in that morning, the window light was touching the far wall. I photographed it at about 10:10, when the light from the east just happened to be centered on the well-worn floor. I went outside and photographed the building from every angle as if by doing so I’d take it with me.

“This loft has beautiful light,” my neighbor down the hall commented. I thought back to the first thing he ever said to me. The loft has beautiful light. Every day for ten years, each time I opened that door in the morning and found that empty space flooded by sunlight ready for me to transform it into something great because I was so fortunate to have it, I felt that beautiful light.

I looked around for one last time. The light streamed absolutely parallel down the length of the loft. I left at 2:20, the exact time of the winter solstice, I heard later on the news.

That sun in the studio—stripes of pure bright even light, straight through the south windows and up the 80 foot length of the open loft touching where my desk used to be. I’ll never forget that blazing sun. I could have left after the sun went down, to experience once more the light in its full cycle, reaching and embracing its way around the large empty space, then settling in the strange orange spectrum of sodium vapor street lamps that came on so early that time of year. I could have bathed in golden darkness one last time. But I left at the moment of Winter Solstice. I left my studio glowing at the best moment on the best day of the year.

380 Lafayette St. 5th Floor (corner of Great Jones) NYC