There’s been a lot of news on the Nobel front lately, as the annual rite of recognizing genius has played out. The recipients are extraordinary as always.
One of the beauties of being a photographer is we are often assigned to photograph the extraordinary. If you are fortunate in the assigning process, you are occasionally given a window into amazing lives and intellects, and the curtain is drawn back, just a bit, on the very human, fascinating, underlying components that constitute true genius.
For instance, John Wheeler, above. A confidante and colleague of Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr, he coined the term “black hole,” and was described by M.I.T.cosmologist Max Tegmark, as “the only physics Titan still standing.”
The above is a one light pic, Kodachrome, a simple portrait of a kindly, extraordinary man. Shot for Discover Magazine, at the University of Texas at Austin.
Linus Pauling, two time Nobelist, one for chemistry and one for his peace activism. The winning of two unshared Nobels is rarified air indeed. He is listed by one source as one of the 20 greatest scientists of all time.
Had a wonderful time covering his personality and antics. He was totally pleasant to be with and a tad on the quirky side. I photographed him swimming in his pool at his place in Big Sur, and when he popped out of the pool, and stripped off right in front of me. Maybe he was testing me, to see if I would go paparazzi on him or something. But, I didn’t. Trust me, it was a photograph that didn’t need to be made.
At the last moment, as I was leaving, he opened the gate for me, and a kitty scampered up on his shoulder. I charged the scene and made three of four frames. Last frames of a three day job, and opening double truck of the story. Again, Kodachrome.
I photographed Leonard Bernstein numerous times, and each one was an adventure. The above was made with one light, at his apartment in the Dakota, in NYC. Pain is part of the process of creation, often times, and I think there is the hint of that in his face. Though there was the whimsical, poetic side to this amazing face as well.
Some might say that Edward Teller, below, represented the dark side of genius. He is, after all, commonly referred to as “the father of the hydrogen bomb,” and is the inspiration for Dr. Strangelove, in the movie of the same name. His character was played memorably by Peter Sellers. Sellers also played President Merkin Muffley in the movie, who famously said, “Gentleman, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room.”
Ektachrome, bounce flash on camera. Lawrence Livermore Labs, California.
B. F. Skinner, reading at home, above. To say he was odd and interesting is like saying Mardi Gras is colorful. A psychologist and behaviorist, he is up there with Pavlov in terms of influence. Creator of the Skinner Box for the analysis of animal behavior. Cover subject for TIME magazine.
A found moment in wonderful, available light. Cambridge, Mass. Kodachrome.
The camera is a visa into lives like these, and it is truly daunting, facing off with such formidable intellects. I mean, I didn’t do well in chemistry, never took a psych class, can’t carry a tune or play a chord, and I am at a loss when it comes to space time curvature. All I carry on location is my basic research and a comparatively simple machine governed by f-stops and shutter speeds. But the power of a still photograph is its frozen quality. An easy snap, some might say, compared to convoluted equations and advanced theorems. But, in that deceptively simple snap, there lies a certain and long honored durability which prompts the memory and stirs the emotions. All the folks above are long gone. But the pictures remain.