Reenactors

Not our tribe

The Kickapoo Indian Medicine Company, of New Haven, Connecticut (who were white men), employed 300 Native Americans (not the Kickapoo tribe) to put on a “traveling Indian medicine show” while they sold what has been termed “snake oil” in the name of “the Indian way of life.”

The Kickapoo tribe originated in the southern Great Lakes region, mainly the land between Lake Erie and Lake Michigan. During the French and Indian War, the Kickapoo tribe was an ally of the French, and settled in the area of Fort Detroit in the early 1700’s. Eventually they were shipped to Oklahoma.

In 1906, the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 made it illegal for the company to use “Indian” in the name of any product or advertisement.

This image of the Kickapoo Indian Medicine Show is taken from the original glass plate negative made by the photographer, my ancestor, Pierre Gentieu, c. 1900. I photographed the deteriorating original glass plate negative approximately 100 years later.

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)

Defending the Great Lake Erie

It’s a sad day when we the citizens of Toledo have to take it upon ourselves to vote on whether or not we should protect our huge wonderful life-giving nurturing Great Lake Erie from poisonous nitrogen and phosphorus dumping. But that is our task on Tuesday, February 26, 2019. Our elected representatives won’t do it.

Toledo had a national emergency in August 2014 when the city of Toledo admitted that the water was so toxic, we couldn’t drink it for three days. Four and a half years later, we drink water we buy at Aldi’s, hoping we won’t get cancer or some other dreaded disease from the toxic environment that nobody seems to want to take care of.

The Lake Erie Bill of Rights

Believe it or not, Toledoans are voting on whether we have the right to defend our Great Lake Erie from harmful, poisonous dumping. Which is one way of saying enough is enough to the harmful effects of corporate greed, industrial dumping and fertilizer run off into our lake and the water we drink. We are water too. We are the lake, the lake is us.

Corporate Greed: we are but laboratory rats in their experiment
I am the lake, the lake is me. Ouch! They chopped my head off.

Le Monde:  In summer, from space, large portions of Lake Erie take on fluorescent tints. This is not particularly good sign….

https://www.lemonde.fr/planete/article/2019/02/22/les-habitants-de-toledo-dans-l-ohio-appeles-a-donner-un-statut-juridique-au-lac-erie-pour-sa-survie_5426743_3244.html

Happy Birthday, Pierre

Photo by Anonymous: Felix Nadar’s second ascension of Le’ Geant in Paris on October 18, 1863 (my mother’s birthday), shown aside a regular size balloon to contrast its gigantic size, on the ground where the Eiffel Tower now stands, Champ de Mars. Le’ Geant floated all night, but in the morning, it infamously landed (by crashing across the countryside in a high wind for 30 minutes, no one escaped injury) in Hanover, Germany (where King George V took them in). Nadar’s efforts to advance aviation were praised by Jules Verne, who in his next novel, modeled the main character Ardan after Nadar in Journey From The Earth To The Moon, where he was sent to the Moon in a cannon!

A coincidental cannon, Civil War style, c. 1863. So close in the universe; so far across the world.

I’m probably not the only one wishing Pierre Gentieu (1842-1930) a Happy Birthday today, January 26 – as if I knew him personally – he would be 177 years old!  After all, Pierre owned the entire set of Jules Verne’s approximately 30 science fiction novels, translated into English (when you just know he read the books in French!) so it’s no wonder to find him projected in our hearts and our minds one hundred years later.

Consider this 1863 Parisian balloon scene and how different it is from the photo of the firing of the cannon, happening concurrently across the ocean. Imagine Pierre in 1863, age 21, as a carefree bohemian in Paris drawing satirical cartoons for underground papers, writing poetry, hanging out in salons, exploring his creativity, and perhaps he went ballooning.  But instead he sailed to America, fought in the war to abolish slavery, married Binie Weed from New Canaan Connecticut, and Voila! Here we Are!

So Happy Birthday to Pierre, who spoke French (and English), stood up for his principles, fought in nine Civil War battles, and knew quite well that there was a more progressive use for the cannon than as exemplified in the photo above.  At 177, he may or may not have gone to the Moon (who can really say), but astrologically, he is definitely completing his sixth Saturn return. (I checked his chart!) That is one wise old great great grandfather.

Pierre in 1863

9/11 seventeen years ago


Seventeen years ago

It was Tuesday, September 11, 2001, and we were living in Park Slope, Brooklyn. I was working from home that morning, making arrangements for a big shoot scheduled for the next week. Clients would be flying in from San Francisco for the shoot. Tom came in from outside and said that he saw the super, who said that a plane had just flown into the World Trade Center. We lived about five miles east of downtown Manhattan. We ran up to the roof to see it. It was unbelievable to see a tower up in smoke. Later on, we witnessed the actual collapse of one of the towers.

Anna, who was 11 at the time, was safely at school in our neighborhood, so before noon that fateful morning, being in a bit of shock, we walked up to 7th Avenue, to the Rite Aid store. The air on our street was permeated with dust and smelled like burnt metal. At the store, the shelves that had medicine and first aid supplies were completely empty. The clerk said that people had been buying things up to donate to first aid centers.

We then walked to the nearby hospital to see if we could donate blood. They already had more people donate than they could handle, but we could check again later.


It was the worst moment in history that we have ever witnessed. The city was in mourning that week and the week after, and all work stopped.

My photo shoot had been postponed to the week after that. The clients told me that under the circumstances, they would not be flying to the shoot after all. The first day back in the studio, we had the casting for the shoot, and it was a record turn-out. We were all overwhelmed with grief and sadness, but we were all ready to get back to work.

My list of influential photographers and why

Is that guy on the Rogers High School yearbook cover really saying, “SHIT”???

Sam Abell

When I was a lowly sophomore on the Rogers High School yearbook staff, Sam Abell was an English teacher and the yearbook advisor. He was 24 and really funny, smart and had so much energy.

He told us that we were coming out with a 16,080 page Summer Supplement for the yearbook. But how could that possibly be, it would be so big! We had to wait and see.

The Summer Supplement arrived, and it was less than 1/4 inch thick. It was comb-bound with a tab to stick in the front of the yearbook, 25 pages that were cut in thirds, “2x to the third power,” which created the 16,080 different page combinations.

It was a genius example of thinking out of the box. It was a great teaching moment, and the math lesson was the least of it. And what a lot of amazing photographs! Not only the “original” photography of the students, but famous photos from the Sixties.

Smart, clever, creative, cool. Stuff that just settled into my subconscious about photography and what went into it.  Sam Abell was an inspiration to my nebulous self that had no clue, not even for another six or seven years, that I might actually become a photographer.

Sam Abell left the next year to work for National Geographic — to the top of the world, that was his destiny. It was the most coveted photography job for the most iconic publication, through which his beautiful photos are appreciated by, and inspire, millions of people. We were so lucky to have him to ourselves for that one year.


Robert Frank

In college I majored in painting, my painting teacher, John Botts was a great mentor. He was extremely charismatic and philosophical. He had all the answers. Students followed him around like he was the Pied Piper.

When I discovered photography during my last year of college, I found my thing. There was no going back to painting. Perhaps to John Botts’ relief.

But John Botts thought my photos were really good. The mentor that he was, he gave me a first-edition of Robert Frank’s The Americans (in trade for some of my photos) because he wanted me to know about Robert Frank’s unsentimental, poetic, loose, artistic, and truthful black and white photos. So forevermore, Robert Frank became my favorite photographer..

I still say Robert Frank is my favorite photographer, even though I recently sold the book on Ebay for $1,500. (I am so unsentimental!)

Duane Michals looking at Penny Gentieu's portfolio

Duane Michals

I loved Duane Michals and his storytelling photos, and I heard he was pretty nice to young wannabees. So I made a trip to New York to show him my work.  He invited me to his studio, but when I got there, he needed to rush off to the bank to get a deposit in, and said that he’d look at my portfolio there.

He sat on a bench at the bank and looked at my portfolio. I brought way too much stuff, including my camera and tripod to memorialize the event. He very kindly played along.

After he looked at my portfolio, I asked him the burning question that I really needed him to answer for me: “Do you think I can move to New York?”

“Why not?” he said, “I did.”

That’s all I needed to hear! Duane Michals gave me permission to move to New York!

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Bruce Davidson

Bruce Davidson

I was Bruce Davidson’s first female assistant. I just fell into it. A female colleague in my ASMP assistants’ group had been trying to persuade Bruce Davidson for a very long time to hire a woman – to hire her. He finally offered her a freelance job. But how terrible, she was already booked, and she couldn’t do it! So she passed the opportunity on to me. Bruce Davidson apparently had his mind set on hiring a woman, because he hired me, even though I told him I had never worked with strobes before.

He said, no problem, that I could get familiar with the lighting equipment at his apartment while he was in Vancouver. His wife would let me in. I was to pack up 10 cases of lighting gear and fly with them to San Francisco, where he would meet me from Vancouver, and we would start the job. I would be the only assistant.

The job was an annual report for Celanese – a 10-day shoot spanning seven states. Bruce Davidson realized the very first morning just how much I didn’t know about strobes.

I tried, I really tried! But they didn’t have youtube videos back then!

He told me that after work that day I had to take all of the equipment into my room and learn it, by myself, and stay up all night long if I had to, but I’d better know the strobes inside and out by the next day.

But that wasn’t necessary. We worked 10 hours that day (and every day). By early afternoon that first day, I definitely had the hang of the strobes, and I was totally a pro!

Did I mention that Bruce Davidson was a really hard worker? We started at dawn and worked all day and sometimes getting a break for dinner but most times catching a plane for the next location. He shot tons of film. Even when he wasn’t shooting, he was a demanding boss. He always had to play Scrabble on the plane, in the waiting area, in the cab, wherever, using his magnetic Scrabble board. I never caught a break! But he paid well, $125 a day, which was a lot for 1981. He would say, he worked his assistants hard, but paid them well.

I’m not complaining, and I actually worked for him a few more times after that over the next couple of years. So I feel good about myself!

I learned strobe lighting from Bruce Davidson, and unfortunately (maybe) I picked up his work ethic. But I have yet to own a magnetic Scrabble board.

Annie Leibovitz t-shirt

Annie Liebovitz

I had a great gig processing and printing for Annie Liebovitz during my first couple years in New York.

The t-shirt, above, was made by her first assistant, George Lange, as a joke for her birthday, because Annie Liebovitz had a reputation for screaming at her assistants. She never screamed at me, because I rarely assisted her other than the darkroom work, which was done outside her studio. But I did work on the John Belushi shoot. I was sent home early though, because she liked to be alone with her subjects, so she could try to get them naked for the shot. At least that’s what I understood.

After a few years and I was doing more of my own photo shoots (I had just gotten an assignment from Vogue!), Annie Liebovitz called and asked me to be her studio manager. I didn’t even hesitate before answering — my cocky delusional self told her I couldn’t because I was too busy doing my own thing.

Immediately afterwards, I felt like that was the dumbest thing I ever said. What an amazing photographer to have worked for, and think of the connections I could have made! But in retrospect I feel like I did the right thing, because I have managed to have a pretty nice career in spite of it all. (And I named my daughter Anna.)

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The last time I saw Bruce Davidson was in 1985, having run into him at the color lab where I was printing my new baby project — naked floating babies printed life size. I showed him the prints, and he gave me the best compliment ever. “I think you really have something there.”

And I did.

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Copacabana 1981

My first job in New York was photographing at the Copacabana, 1981. The film was quickly processed in the back and sloppy prints were made, full of fix, slapped wet in a folder, and then I’d have to try to sell them. I’d be off work at 2am, taking the subway and walking through Washington Square Park alone to get home!