Man, nothing but the sound of crickets chirping around here, for which I apologize. I'm still quite sick, and there have been some possible complications that are absorbing a lot of my time and concern.
I'm sorry to note two recent deaths. First, I learned recently that my friend and one-time mentor Phil Davis passed away in June. Phil was one of the Contributing Editors of Darkroom & Creative Camera Techniques magazine when I arrived there as Editor. It wasn't long before he had become the de facto Technical Editor of the magazine, although he never accepted the title. He refused it for a typically Davisonian reason—he didn't want to be held accountable, even tangentially, for some of the technically less rigorous articles we published. Experimental rigor was always Phil's middle name. He ran endless experiments in his Ann Arbor studio/darkroom, often testing contentions and assertions that cropped up in the magazine or in online discussions on the old CompuServe Photography Forum. His own articles, most of which centered on aspects of applied sensitometry, were models of decorum and restraint, setting forth his experimental investigations with scholarly probity.
It was behind the scenes that things got more lively. For more than seven years Phil and I kept up a daily correspondence by email, beginning when I was Editor at PT and surviving my tenure there for several years. Phil was a very accomplished man—a pilot, University professor, textbook author, professional photographer serving the automobile industry, scientist—and he had strong opinions about a lot of things. Most fascinating were his accounts of the experiments he ran for his own edification, but wouldn't write up for the magazine. He once worked for weeks to prove to his own satisfaction (and mine, I might add) that the supposed benefits of pyro developers where wholly illusory, but he wouldn't publish the results because he couldn't prove them for more that a few conditions, and he didn't want to get caught up in controversy.
I hadn't heard from Phil much in recent years—he brought our correspondence to a close around the time he got sick with prostate cancer. He was certainly a remarkable individual, who always deserved to be better known in photographic circles than he was, a situation that came about because of his unyielding refusal to compromise or popularize. He was certainly one of the most interesting people I've ever known, and I will always be grateful for our friendship.
The New York Times obituary of former MoMA Photography Director John Szarkowski gets going with a bit of a howler, when it reports the pronunciation of his name as "Shar-COW-ski." That was not how he pronounced it to me. I first received an introduction to Mr. Szarkowski in 1988 from Walter Elisha of Springs Industries, a business school protegé of my grandfather's who was for a time the largest benefactor of the Photography Department, and met him for the first time at the Museum when I was barely out of photography school. From then on, a couple of times a year the phone would ring. "John shar-KOFF-ski here," he'd say, and off we'd go on a sleigh ride over whatever ground was consuming his interest at that moment. Most conversations would end with an assignment: he wanted to know if I could find something or someone for him, or some fact. He never did purchase a print of mine for the Museum or for any of the private collections he curated or helped curate, but I'm happy to say that I was able to bring several photographers to his attention whose work he did purchase.
I saw him for the last time when he spoke at his own show at the Milwaukee Art Museum a year or two ago. He gave a very charming talk, and the show—essentially the retrospective portfolio of a lifetime—gleamed in its burnished presentation. Although he seemed the picture of health at the time, it all had the air of nicely tied-off loose ends. A couple of months ago I heard he had suffered a massive stroke; those close to him expected him to die sooner than he did.
I have written about John Szarkowski several times, most notably in my essay "Photography's Quiet Giant." I hope those of you who haven't read that will take this occasion to do so.