By Barry Myers
I first met Dick when I was a student at RIT in 1970. I enrolled at RIT in 1969 but dropped out then weeks later. After two quarters of being a non-degree student, I decided that I wanted to get a degree, but on my own terms, designing my own program of studies, which drifted far from RIT's policies at the time. After several disheartening and heated meetings with the Photography School’s dean and other RIT administrators, I was pointed in the direction of the college's director of educational research, Dr. Richard Zakia.
My only experience with the name was through the Photographic Sensitometry I had taken the previous year, taught by Hollis Todd, using the text he co-authored with Dr. Zakia. I was apprehensive at best.
At our first meeting I was one angry, frustrated, anti-establishment young man, and I recall him as a sympathetic soul who made me feel at ease, who was also interested in furthering educational opportunities at RIT. After additional meetings where I showed Dick some of my work and put together a detailed proposal for a program of study, he scheduled a meeting with the administration. Recognizing that Dick was the diplomatic one, I let him present my case, and watched him convince a skeptical administration that a custom course of study could not only be done, but would benefit them as well.
From that time onward, our relationship became one more of friends than that of research director and student. Dick had me out to his house several times where I met his family, and I also had him and his wife over for dinner as well. Every four or five weeks we would have lunch together in RIT's faculty dining room to talk about our work. By that time I was taking an independent study with him in Visual Perception—an area where he became a noted authority and which I think was his first love, especially as it related to photography.
Generous, facilitator, teacher, innovator, insightful and intuitive are words that I think of as I think of Dick. Many of my life experiences turned on these. While at RIT, he introduced me to Ralph Haber at the University of Rochester, then head of the Center for Visual Science there, and with whom I did two research projects. Dick had a way of visualizing how people with seemingly very different interests might benefit from working with each other.
On one occasion, he introduced me to Jim DeCaro, then a civil engineering teacher at the newly opened National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID) who wanted to make instructional television programs for his students on surveying. As I was taking a television production course at the time, Dick suggested I direct a 10-minute production on surveying as my term project. Jim and I hit it off, and produced the program, and I then went on to write another 15 programs for him. Jim later became the Dean of NTID and is now the director of Pen International, an organization that trains faculty to apply innovative technologies to expand the career opportunities for deaf and hard-of-hearing students. After graduate school at the U of R, I wrote a series of television and audio programs for special needs children which were hosted by Fred Rogers.
After I left Rochester in 1974, Dick and I only saw each other a few more times. He'd call when he was in Washington, and going to the National Gallery with him was a very special treat. He loved to talk about the paintings, how they worked from his point of view, and how much in awe he was of the artist's intuitive vision.
We kept in touch, by letters, phone calls and of course, recently by email. He would tell me about his travels, what new book he was writing or revising, and about his family. I sent him photographs from projects I was working on and occasionally he'd see one he really liked and ask me to send him a print for his collection. He used several of my photographs in his books and I feel honored to have had them included.
My deepest condolences go out to Dick’s family and his many friends, colleagues, and students. We all have been influenced and changed.
Barry Myers has been a professional photographer since 1972, dividing his work between commercial and personal assignments that concentrate on people and their relationships to work, family, and community. His book Del Mar at 75: Where the Turf Meets the Surf comes out in June.
Note: Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site. More...
Original contents copyright 2012 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.