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 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 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)

Pierre’s Toledo Connection

I loved finding this photo of my great great grandfather, Pierre Gentieu, who worked for DuPont Powder Company in Wilmington, Delaware, and his connection to Toledo.

It’s totally art related, with the renowned dog painter, Edmund H. Osthaus, who, at the invitation of David R. Locke (creator of the Petroleum V. Nasby letters), came to Toledo in 1886 at the age of 28 to head up the Toledo Academy of Fine Arts.

In the 1890’s, at the beginning of Du Pont’s smokeless powder manufacturing, Osthaus was commissioned by DuPont to make paintings of hunting dogs for advertisements and calendars. The affiliation with DuPont lasted over 20 years, until after the first world war, when Du Pont transitioned from making explosives to making chemicals.

This is Pierre at the Sportsmen’s Exposition (an early trade show) at Madison Garden in New York, circa 1899. Osthaus, as an original member of the Tile Club, was one of the artists who started the Toledo Museum of Art.

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 to hedge our bets for living in this cesspool, 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

Photos of the book

Happy Birthday Pierre! (Who would have been  177 years old on January 26!) I made this book, with 113 of Pierre’s photos that I printed from his glass plate negatives, in the order that he had them organized, with the captions in his own words. It includes a 16-page memoir he wrote in 1902 about his work at Du Pont, along with some family photos etc. Original source material and “just the facts, ma’am!” was the mantra for this book.

Photos of Pierre book

SEE ALSO:

Pierre Gentieu Photographs

Auguste Pondarre and Pierre

Pierre Gentieu, Orthez, Basses-Pyrénées, France

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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