Chris and Andrew and Pierre’s bullet

I’m descended from two Civil War Yankee soldiers. Well, that is, one Yankee soldier, Pierre Gentieu, and Binie Weed, the sister of Yankee soldier Frank Weed, who was Pierre’s closest comrade in the 13th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry and his tent mate.  Had it not been for a split second decision made by my great great grandfather, enroute to Vicksburg as a Confederate soldier in April 1862, Pierre and Frank would never have met on such agreeable terms, Pierre would not have been introduced to Binie after the war, and there wouldn’t be me! I suppose that’s why I felt compelled to find out all I could about the inspiring story of courage that he left for us.

While researching my great great grandfather’s Civil War story in Louisiana, March, 2000,  I met two very special Civil War historians, Chris Pena and Andrew Capone, who lived in the area of Pierre’s first battle, an hour up the river from New Orleans in Donaldsonville and Thibodeaux.

They gave us a tour of the area, showing us where Pierre’s camp was, where his first battle was. Later, they treated us to a delicious Louisana home cooked dinner of sauce piquant at Andrew and Judy’s house in Donaldsonville, the town where Pierre Gentieu took his stand.

Site of Pierre Gentieu’s first battle at Georgia Landing, between Donaldsonville and Thibodeaux. The road here separates the two plantations where the battle lines were drawn in the Fall of 1862.

I told them the story of  how in 1861, Pierre initially signed up with a Louisiana militia, but ended up fighting in the 13th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry.

It was April 1862, and Colonel Theard of the New Orleans Guards was leading the militia to Vicksburg from Fort Livingston. Half way to Vicksburg, in the very town of Donaldsonville, he lined up his men and gave them a speech.

Colonel Theard told them of his orders to go to Vicksburg, but explained that he had no right to take them outside the state without their consent. He hoped they would go, but he didn’t want to force anyone. The Colonel then offered any man an opportunity to declare if they were against the cause of the Confederacy. If any man had any scruples about it, that man was free to step out of the ranks.

Pierre Gentieu’s painting of his 13th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry,  Company B encampment at Camp Hubbard in Thibodeaux, La.

In Pierre’s own words, as he recalled the moment 50 years later in a letter to his nephew, Frank Weed’s son:

Then came the time for me when I had to decide at once.  My conscience and pride were struggling; one was saying you ought not accept the cause of slavery; and the shame to appear before my comrades, as if I were afraid because we would have to fight, was a struggle indeed; but I made up my mind now or never whatever happens—I stepped out the first one in my company with cries of coward from the rear.

There I stood for a few long moments until Albert Fest stepped out from the right of the company. A very tall man compared to me, he said, ‘Pierre, I am with you on this!’ Then 30 German men stepped out soon after that. As we were the butt of all insults from behind, the Colonel put a stop to that very quickly, saying ‘None of that, men, it takes more moral courage for those men to step out as they have done than to stay in the ranks’; and closing the few of us near him he spoke kindly, but sadly, saying to leave all our equipments, taking only our personal property—-that New Orleans was so many miles off, in such a direction—-we could get there the best way possible—-that we were free;  and so we left worrying whether or not some of the hot headed ones might shoot at us; but the Colonel kept them in line until we disappeared in the woods.

Back in New Orleans, the trip of which was not without adventure, Pierre signed up with the 13th Connecticut. One reason was that the great looking uniforms appealed to his sense of style, with the dark blue trousers and polished brass buttons. He survived nine battles.

Pierre Gentieu in his uniform of the 13th Connecticut Infantry Volunteers. This regiment featured dark blue pants, as opposed to the common light blue of most of the rest of the Yankees. Because the 13th Connecticut was so well dressed and polished, they were called the “dandy regiment.”

After dinner, Andrew took us into his workroom. He excavated battle grounds, including the site of Pierre’s first battle as a Union soldier. Andrew looked through the baggies of bullets, then handed me a bullet covered in white rust and dust, saying, it was Pierre’s bullet. Pierre dropped it during his first battle. The bullet never hurt anyone, Andrew pointed out, and it was mine now because Pierre wanted me to have it.

I gladly accepted the bullet for all of its poetry and brought it back up north. I arranged it in my studio along with some toy soldiers that I bought in New Orleans, one to represent each of five generations, and a broken brick Chris and Andrew gave me from the ruins of Fort Butler, and some spanish moss.

The soldiers were slightly precarious on the brick, because some mornings I would come in to find that the soldiers had fallen on the floor or into the spanish moss, from the vibrations of the Six train that ran through the basement of the Lafayette St. building. But never Pierre, and never the bullet.

Remember magazines?

Newsstand magazines. On paper.

I did a lot of work for print magazines over the past 30 years. I recently compiled five volumes of my favorite tearsheets. There are about 1,200 pages total in the five volumes, and I put them in chronological order. It makes a pretty good snapshot of my career.

It was the golden age of magazines. I was lucky to have done this work when I did, because many magazines that I worked with are now defunct or published online only — famous magazines such as Child, Parenting, Baby Talk, Newsweek, U.S. News and World Report, USA Weekend, American Health, Mademoiselle, McCall’s, Healthy Kids, Epoca (Italy), Life, Ladies Home Journal, Metropolitan Home and Smart Money. Gone!

I also worked with these magazines that are still on the newsstand: New York, Self, Glamour, Esquire, Fortune, Psychology Today, American Baby, Cosmopolitan, and more.

The books are a snapshot of an era, about child-rearing, the big issues of the day, and how graphics and art direction styles changed over the 30 year period. In 1985, when I started photographing babies, times were changing. My photos of babies were completely different from what had been the norm. They were unsentimental and free of adornment, focused on the personality of the baby itself rather than on adult projections… this shift in approach was all it took to make my photos popular with art directors, and I’m proud to have put a fresh face on the millennial generation.


Here are a few highlights:

Babies in pinstripe suits, and that typeface! Definitely 1988! These were McGraw Hill ads that appeared in the New York Times.

My all-time favorite cloth diaper photo in Metropolitan Home, 1989, and a Whittle publication, Special Report, of a toddler making a peace sign. (a shoot that took three redo castings, each call for a little older baby… now we know that they don’t make peace signs until they are 2 1/2)

Remember photo labs? (Definitely more rare now than magazines.) Duggal was a big one in New York, and I assume it probably still is big, and maybe it’s the only one, but don’t quote me. They gave me the “Image Maker Award” and ran my photo in their ad on the back cover of Photo District News.

I shot covers for Baby Talk and American Baby for a few years. I felt very lucky to be chosen for their cover photographer since they were competing magazines by different publishers.

This spread, American Baby on the left, and New York Magazine on the right, just happened to fall that way chronologically, but it works! Nathan Lane was intensely crazy to photograph — I don’t know why he put his fingers in his ears — the babies went home!

It was easier to get babies to play musical instruments than to get them to make a peace sign…This was for Similac, we rented a baby grand piano, violin, drums, trumpet, saxophone, xylophone, and we had a conductor. My mom made the outfits.

Linocolor gave me their high-end scanner to use, and they never wanted it back! It was the only time I ever asked a company for such a favor. On the opposite page, magazines would sometimes write about me. There I am with Anna, telling the story about the peace sign shoot.

This photo of Tom and Anna was used a lot, upside down, sideways, whatever way they wanted.

Newsweek Japan often picked up U.S. Newsweek stories and I loved collecting those tearsheets.

Another Newsweek Japan spread. They were beautifully designed. They had special editions where they would use 10-20 pages of my photos. Beautiful magazines!
I had to throw in this Amazon webpage from 2000, it’s so strange to see in a book! This is when the board book edition of Baby! Talk! first came out. Ranked 2,100 and 5 stars! Just this February, Random House reissued it.
This Time cover came out at just the right time, during a family reunion (explaining a lot of things…) You and Me Baby is my tenth book.
This was a fun project with the Biography Channel — besides Jimi Hendrix and Donald Trump (that little bugger!), there is Salvador Dali, Imelda Marcos and Josephine Baker.
This is part of one of those slick leave-behinds that pharmaceutical reps leave with the doctors after a lunch or weekend in the Bahamas. As all photographers knew, that was where the money was at!
I didn’t just do babies.