S. H. Linden
Bewildering Stories biography
In life, sometimes you start out headed for one direction and then you come to a crossroad. Which of the two roads should you take? In my case, after military service, I went to University of Southern California to study fine art and become a painter.
The head of the art department, Francis de Erdely, a Hungarian refugee who could speak many languages, and a well known “fine arts” painter, took a liking to me and gave me some advice that changed my life.
I had loved this big guy, who was an ex-boxer and a war illustrator for European newspapers and magazines during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930’s. He had gone to Spain with his close friend, a photographer who became quite famous during that war, Robert Capa.
In 1957 I went to Europe for the first time on a college tour. I bought my first camera, a 35mm German Exacta, and took snapshots of where I had been and the things that interested me. I showed de Erdely my photographs that had been developed at a drugstore. They were black and white snapshots.
De Erdely looked quietly at the photos and told me that I was wasting my time drawing. He said you have a natural eye for getting the right moment in taking pictures. You should transfer across the street to the Cinema Department and study filmmaking.
I took him at his word and went to the cinema school. I finished USC in 1960. Having one more year left on the GI Bill, I went to Art Center College and studied still photography for one year and learned much from fine teachers.
But I had a problem back then: the movie industry was in dire straits. TV was killing them. Also I knew no one in the film industry. I couldn’t get into the cameraman’s union or the editor’s union.
Then one day I read in a camera magazine that New York City was the place for someone who wanted to be a professional photographer. Also you didn’t need to join a union. So, with that bit of news, at the tail end of 1960, I flew to New York City to try my luck.
I rented a one-room furnished apartment in Greenwich Village, went to a big camera store and bought an Enlarger, some trays, an air drier to dry my photo prints, and a yellow light bulb. I went out during the daylight and discovered the city I had moved to. I took “snapshots” of what I saw. After a couple of months of shooting in daylight and developing film and printing at night, I felt I had about 25 prints worth showing to a picture agency.
I chose the most famous and thought I would work my way down to the least famous. Well, the most famous was Magnum Photos, which had been founded by Henri Cartier Bresson, Robert Capa, David Seymour and George Rogers, all European men. Robert Capa was dead when I got there.
As I entered the Magnum office I was greeted by Cornell Capa, also a fine photographer; Elliott Erwitt, world famous as a photographer, and Erich Hartmann. They agreed to see my photo portfolio. They looked at my pictures and I could tell the three men seemed to enjoy what I shot.
Cornell asked me two questions: Would I like to be a Magnum assistant? And can you drive a car? I said, “yes” to both questions. Then Cornell asked if I had a telephone? I said “no” and Cornell said, get one. And I did.
My first assistant job was with Erich Hartmann, a German-born man with a British accent. He was mainly an industrial photographer, having big clients and making their companies look good. We headed south to a J.P. Stevens woolen mill. At the end of the day, when we were having dinner, Erich asked me if I had learned anything for the day? I said yes. Quite a lot.
When Erich and I got back to NYC, after a three day shoot, Erich put in a good word for me. Pretty soon most of the Magnum guys called and asked if I would assist them? So I was known as a guy with a strong back, a driver’s license, and a pretty good sense of humor. Each day I worked for a Magnum photographer, I was paid $25.00, and all plane fares etc. were paid for. This was a dream for a man just beginning a photo career.
By the end of 1962 I was also doing some advertising photography (through Magnum connection). An art director asked me to photograph two million-dollar-a-year salesmen for Advertising Age.
I shot them on a 2 1/4 camera with a slight distortion to their faces because I was in close. But when the photos were printed out, full page, In Advertising Age, you had to stop and read the ad. The art director loved that. At the time, the AD was working at the hottest Ad agency in the world: Doyle, Dane & Bernbach.
A week later the AD asked me to do a test shot for a liquor campaign that DD&B had just gotten from another Ad agency that had lost the account. The theme was: “For a few pennies more, you can have a Four Roses drink? Of course I said yes and went out and found an interesting glass, added a color jell and put a penny, standing up in this glass, stuck there with chewing gum.
I took a few shots and brought the photos to DD&B and showed it to the art director. He smiled his satisfaction and left it on the light box.
Shortly there after, Bill Bernbach came into the AD’s cubicle, showing some big shots from a Canadian company the kind of stuff DD&B was working on. He asked the AD, “What are you working on Bernie?” Bernie showed him the test shots, and everybody gathered around the light box. Eventually, Bill Bernbach stood up and walked toward the door. On the way out, he said, “Give the kid the campaign.”
From 1962 through 1970, I did some photography for big clients: Pepsi Cola (their new USA Olympic logo poster), NBC television, IBM, and others. Also I was doing photojournalism for the Magnum news service, where I got tear gassed and billy-clubbed, photographing anti-Viet Nam demonstrations.
But it all ended in the tail end of 1970. I lost my shooting eye on the island of Sveti Stefan in Yugoslavia. After two major eye operations in which a sponge and a buckle were placed in the empty space where the doctor had cut out more than half of my retina, I went back to school and got an MFA degree in film from New York University, the Tish School of the Arts.
I no longer could move my eyes quickly, so I decided to try writing screenplays, which I did for a while, with modest success. Out of five scripts and many rewrites, two were optioned but never made it to the big screen.
In the meantime, in 1975, I went to Germany and did a coffee table book on the German Nun, Berta Hummel, which made a gross of seven million dollars for the publisher. It sold for $25.00 a book. And I did the one hundredth anniversary book of Jack London’s Call of the Wild. All shot with my remaining good eye.
Now at the age of seventy-seven I am dabbling in writing. It’s creative and fun, and it keeps me off the streets.
Copyright © 2008 by S. H. Linden