I got to meet John Dominis last Saturday. I had lunch with my friend Art Elkon, who then took me around to the VP Gallery on East Buffalo Street in the Third Ward. VP specializes in the work of LIFE magazine photographers; gallery owner Bill Appleby told me his is one of eight galleries worldwide that does. I think it was eight—maybe it was four. (Numbers mean little to me. I have trouble remembering my own phone number.) The gallery's reception for for the artist was in progress.
I asked John, who was a longtime staffer for LIFE (you can see a picture of him here, taken by Marc Riboud) if his picture of the Black Panther salute by runners Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the Olympic Summer Games in Mexico City in 1968 was his most famous picture. He was quiet, then allowed as how that one "wasn't much, as a photograph." He named his (also well known) Donner Pass picture as one of his own favorites.
There were fifteen or eighteen pictures of John's on view, and he said he could have put up just as strong a show with fifteen or eighteen entirely different ones. I made some sort of assenting noise, and he added that that couldn't go on forever—he said he probably didn't have more than a hundred or so pictures of the same quality, from a whole career.
Most of his pictures, for those who are interested in such things, were taken with a Leica and a 35mm lens. (The Donner pass picture looked like medium format to me, although I didn't ask.)
(note Photoshopping of Ringo's head)
My own favorite of John's was one of the few pictures in the gallery that was new to me, of Mickey Mantle descending into the dugout and flinging his batting helmet aside in disgust after striking out. And not just because I like seeing Yankees frustrated (although there's that). A great classic 35mm shot.
Another picture in the gallery that I'd never seen before—with photo geek interest, even—was a great shot by Bob Gomel of Malcolm X taking a picture of Muhammed Ali (then Cassius Clay) in a club after Clay's victory over Sonny Liston. You can see that one here. There was also a gorgeous large print of Margaret Bourke-White's famous DC-4 shot on sale for a cool $42,000. TOP isn't quite that successful just yet, so I had to leave that one on the wall, but it was nice to see. Bill explained to me that the print takes many hours to spot, because there are lines running through the middle of it, owing to the fact that the negative was once stored folded in half!
After the VP gallery, Art and I went around to Debra Brehmer's Portrait Society Gallery, where Art himself had some pictures up. Debra had asked him to take some general establishing shots for an exhibit of Ringo White's collage assemblies, which are made entirely of detritus Ringo finds on beaches. Art's lakescapes were taken with his trusty Canon G9, and looked great printed big.
As a final note about all this, Bill Appleby thinks that the weighty tome The Great LIFE Photographers (it's the size of a small phone book—despite which, the reproduction quality is quite good) is the single best one-volume book on the subject, and for a limited time he's offering copies signed by John Dominis for $70 each. Contact Bill if you're interested. I believe he said John will be doing the autographing on the tenth, so contact Bill before then if you want one.
(Also, just FYI, the book will be coming out in paperback soon.)
A nice "day off." It's always a good day for me whenever I get to look at real prints.
MikeFeatured Comment by Jim Hart: "I'm of an age where there's not much I look at and say 'If I had the money, I'd have that.' Mostly it's better to want something than to actually have it, I've found.
"Usually it's some type of automobile (which explains the C5 Corvette that was in the garage for awhile; I didn't have money, but it turns out I did have the credit line).
"But Ms. Bourke-White is my all time favorite photographer and if I had the money that print would be on the wall, along with a number of her other works.
"I have no idea why her work hits me where I live, and it's probably better that I don't know—but man, she just rocked.
"Just my 2 cents.
"Which leaves me $41,999.98 short."