1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16
A SNAP DECISION
Linda's decision to take up photography as a profession proved the pivotal point in her life. In conversation with Eddy Punier, Club Sandwiches picture editor fascinatingly recalls the start of her new career
"I really became a photographer by accident. I always loved art and visual artistic endeavours, especially the work of Goya, Picasso, Matisse, Magritte, Daumier and so on, but I never knew about great photographers. So, when I lived in the southwest of America and a friend of mine, Nina Hill Brown, asked me to accompany her to a photography night course being given at the Tucson Arts Center, I was skeptical.
"In fact it wasn't even a course: it was just three people - older people, not really students - looking at photographs. But until that night I had no idea that there had been so many great photographers, people like Walker Evans, Edward Stcichcn and Ansel Adams, and they were mainly black-and-white shots we were looking at.
"I was particularly struck by the Stein beck-type characters, because Roosevelt, when he was president of America, got all the poets, the photographers, the painters and the writers to go across the dustbowl to make a document of it. Steinbeck was inspired by Walker Evans' and Dorothea Lange's photographs of the dustbowl to help write his novel The Grapes Of Wrath. I was absolutely taken by these people's faces and their hands and the poverty and the spirit, and became very interested in photography because I could suddenly sec that it was Art. Until that night I had always thought it was fashion and 'sell' and commercials, but it was actually Art and it had a great feel to it.
"So after this hour, where everybody was just rifling through photographs, I went up to the teacher, a lovely woman called Hazel Archer, and said, 'I don't have a camera, I've never taken a picture,, thank you very much, goodnight'. And she said, 'So borrow a camera and go take some pictures! And I'll sec you next week.' So I did just that: I borrowed a camera, a Canon, from a friend of mine, Sky Vanness, and shot one roll of black-and-white film, taking some pictures of my daughter, Heather, and others of a horse somebody had given me, the mountains, a puppy, and so on, and I took in the results to Hazel the following week on a contact sheet. She said, 'You have a very good eye, you could be a photographer.' I said, 'But I don't know anything about it!' and she replied, 'Don't worry - just take pictures.* I never went back to her course, although I admired her greatly, but I did started taking pictures, as a hobby and because I loved it.
"You sec, I was always an insecure kid. I came from an academic family and they had always wanted me to do very well in school, but I was a daydreamer and didn't do well at all; I was a disappointment to my parents and was always scared when the report card came. So when I discovered photography I forgot myself; I lost my insecurity because I was looking out. I would look through the lens and see something that inspired me so much that I became happy inside. So this was a new life for me - photography and the southwest of America - and I became what we would now call a 'free spirit' and realised that there was more to the world than the blinkered life of suburbia: that there was a huge, fabulous world of nature and freedom out there.
"I'd always been a music lover, especially of 1950s rhythm and blues, and of course as we got into the 1960s it became the Beatles and everyone else. While living in the south-west I had seen the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show. Fortunately, the little record shop where I got my records had a darkroom in the back, so I used to take my rolls of black-and-white film there and have them developed while I listened to the latest releases! Then one day, my best friend, who worked on the women's page of the local newspaper, said to me, 'The Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts arc doing something called Shakespeare In The Desert, and we're running a story on it. We do have a photographer covering the event but why don't you come along too?' Unlike their photographer, though, I took my pictures without flash, using only natural light - so for example there'd be an actor in a black cape with just one spotlight shining down on him - and when I developed the film at the record shop I was amazed at how artistic the shots turned out.
"I then gave prints to the different actors and actresses and became quite friendly with some of them, as a result of which one of the actors, who became a very good friend, told me about something called Spotlight, a book in Britain that movie and TV casting people look through to see pictures of all the actors and actresses and get details of their agents. So he said, 'I like your photographs, will you take a picture of me for Spotlight? That was my first ever commission. I didn't get paid for it but he did send a copy over to me and I was published!
"Still, though, photography remained a hobby, and because I had my daughter Heather to support I thought I'd better get a job. I didn't know what to do: I even went for an interview as a dentist's assistant, only to be told that I had to study for it. At the same time, in those days on a Wednesday, the Sunday edition of the New York Times would arrive in the southwest. I particularly used to enjoy the Art & Leisure section because I loved art and I loved theatre, and I slowly began to feel that I was missing the intellectual stimulus of the New York City arts scene, having originally come from New York. So I decided to go back there and get a job, and drove back across America. But when I got there, I realised that I hadn't been missing anything. I mean, forget intellect: life is much better than intellect, and 'interesting chat' is a load of rubbish! But, anyway, I was now back in New York and managed to find a tiny little apartment for a low rent in a nice safe area for me and my daughter.
"Next it was time to get a job. When I lived in the south-west my father had always said to me, 'You should take up typing, because if you ever want to get a job you're going to need to know how to do it', so I took a very boring and very hot - it was during the summer - typing course, and actually stuck it out although I was never very good. And, because T bad friends who worked at Mademoiselle and Glamor magazines, I used to go over once a week to the office of the publishers, Conde Nast, to try and get a job. But every week I'd fail the typing test.
"And then one day, as I was walking past the Hearst building, around 58th Street and Madison, I thought that I should go up and sec if I could get a job there instead. Here I met a very nice woman named Jean who happened to be the secretary to Tony Mazola, the publisher and editor-in-chief of Town & Country magazine. My timing was just right: she said that they happened to have an opening for a very flunkey receptionist's job at T&C. I couldn't type well, remember, but they didn't do a typing test! So I got it - it paid $65 a week, after tax; my apartment cost $180 a month so we just about managed. I found a school for Heather and used to take the bus across town to the west side, drop her off there, take a crosstown bus back to the east side and take the subway or another bus downtown to Town & Country. And I was there, every morning, at nine o'clock. Then I'd rush back at five o'clock to pick her up.
"Town & Country used some great photographers, but I never got to go to the fashion shoots because, being the secretary, I was always stuck in the office. I used to open the mail, though, and see all the invitations to this lunch or that lunch. The magazine had once put a photo of the Rolling Stones with a debutante on the cover, taken by David Bailey, and so because the Stones' PR people had an 'in' with Town & Country they sent an invitation to come and meet the group in person on a yacht, over at the boat basin on the Hudson River. I opened that invitation and stuck it in my desk-drawer thinking that none of the editors, since they didn't care for rock , would want to go.
"I went home that night and came down with tonsillitis, and didn't go in the next day. When I called to explain that I was sick one of the editors answered and said, 'By the way, we found an invitation in your drawer for the Rolling Stones. None of us want to go so why don't you?' I thanked her but actually I was going to go anyway! And several days later off I went, taking my camera only because, as a hobby, I enjoyed taking pictures.
"When I got to the yacht basin there was already a lot of fuss: photographers, journalists, PR people and everyone else milling around, and there was the yacht and there were the Stones. My goodness, that was great, because I was a huge Rolling Stones fan. Then a woman came up to me - it turned out to be Betsy Doster, who was Allen Klein's assistant or PR person, Klein being the Stones' then manager - and she said, 'We'd like you to be the only photographer on the boat, OK?' So what should I have said to her -'I'm not a photographer, I just happen to have a camera around my neck'? Not me! I got on the boat with the journalists, and all the other photographers were left on land!
"I had a lot of black-and-white film with me, and a couple of rolls of colour, so I just started taking pictures. And of course being a fairly young American blonde, with a fairly short skirt, people were flirting and chatting and quite loving it. I must have taken at least eight rolls of film, one being colour, and when afterwards I got off the boat all the journalists said to me, 'We don't have any pictures to go with our stories, can we use yours?'. I said, 'Well, I don't even know if they're going to turn out, but if they do then, sure, you can have a look at them'. So they all gave me their cards and I went home very happy.