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Best of 2010 - Judith Gefter


Between 1959 and 1975, ASMP Life member Judith Gefter avidly attended the historic ASMP/Wilson Hicks photojournalism conferences held at the University of Miami. Absorbing the legendary programming as a graduate school education in the field, year after year Gefter made portraits of the speakers — established icons like Edward Steichen, Philippe Halsman and Alfred Eisenstadt, and rising stars Eddie Adams, Pete Turner and Jay Maisel, among many others. Having never brought these images to light before now, Gefter recently began scanning her archive of more than 500 conference attendees for public display.

Judith Gefter, Davis, CA

Project: Portraits of photographic legends made at the ASMP/Wilson Hicks photojournalism conferences held at the University of Miami from 1959 through 1975.

© Judith Gefter
All images in this article © Judith Gefter. Above: Alfred Eisenstadt, 1964

ASMP: How long have you been in business?
JG:
I began as a baby photographer in 1950 in Jacksonville, Florida. By 1957 I began working for publications.

ASMP: How long have you been an ASMP member?
JG:
I believe that happened in 1957 or 1958.

ASMP: What are your photographic specialties?
JG:
Editorial photography, architecture and annual reports were among the many subjects I covered. I’ve been retired since 2006.

© Judith Gefter
© Judith Gefter. Eddie Adams, 1973

ASMP: What do you consider your most valuable piece of equipment?
JG:
The digital camera. I am using a Panasonic Lumix with cinematic ability. Also, the iPhone camera. Philosophically, that special something in my head that directs how I see is priceless.

© Judith Gefter
© Judith Gefter. Flip Schulke and Arthur Rothstein, 1972

ASMP: What is unique about your style/approach or what sets you and your work apart from other photographers?
JG:
Art background and graphic ability, I’m told. I see classic portraits in my photojournalistic efforts, an enduring trait from my early days as a portrait photographer.

© Judith Gefter
© Judith Gefter. Ernst Haas, 1967

ASMP: Please describe the processes and techniques central to the making of this work.
JG:
I used Leicas at first and then Nikons. Kodak films were developed in my darkroom.

ASMP: Please describe the overall scope of your collection of negatives and stories from the ASMP conferences.
JG:
From 1957 through 1994, I photographed famous photographers in black and white 35mm, primarily at ASMP conferences. These conferences were renamed the Wilson Hicks conferences and ended in 1975. I did attend a conference at the Maine Photographic Workshops in 1994 and added to the collection. Most images were shot on 400 Kodak stock (before TriX) and then I settled on TriX film. I have scanned about 500 of the negatives at 3200 dpi and have cleaned up almost 400 of the files — a lot of work. Photoshop CS5 was helpful, particularly the new healing brush and the raw controls. I reworked a number of images that I prepared before the emergence of CS5. I am dictating stories about many of these encounters into MacScribe and MacSpeak, a return to a valued nostalgia utilizing a modern method.

© Judith Gefter
© Judith Gefter. Morris Gordon, 1969

ASMP: What led you to attend the ASMP/University of Miami conferences and what were the circumstances behind your initial pictures for this project? Did you attend the first conference presented and make pictures in 1957?
JG:
I was designated as the “greeter” at a Florida Professional Conference in 1957, assigned to meet the keynote speaker, Morris Gordon. During the three days of the Conference we became friends. He insisted, after seeing some of my winning photographs that I needed to come to the Miami Conferences. I did that in 1957 and Morris became my mentor, and his family and mine remained friends through the years.

© Judith Gefter
© Judith Gefter. Phillippe Halsman, 1968

ASMP: Approximately how many portraits did you make per year? Did you have any sense when you began that you would amass such a large collection of images over time?
JG:
Thirty or more each year. I had no idea that I would amass the large collection over time. I thought I was photographing people I admired and at the start I was ‘star struck’.

© Judith Gefter
© Judith Gefter. Jeanloup Sieff, 1969

ASMP: Many participants you photographed at the conferences were already legends, such as Edward Steichen, Ansel Adams and Cornell Capa. Who were some of the emerging photographers you captured at that time, who then went on to become luminaries?
JG:
David Burnett, Fred Ward, Eddie Adams, Jeanloup Sieff, Charles Moore, Jerry Greenburg, Marie Cosindas, Jay Maisel, Flip Shulke, Will McBride.

© Judith Gefter
© Judith Gefter. Jay Maisel, 1970

ASMP: How did you finance your trips to attend these conferences and how did you employ the information and insights you gathered at these events during the rest of the year?
JG:
I was fairly successful as a photojournalist. The Conferences were my graduate school. I absorbed a great deal from seeing the fine work of these legendary photographers. I’m a Pratt Art School graduate. During the last part of WWII I worked as an artist-illustrator for the filmstrip division of the Office of War Information. Much of the collection of the Farm Security Administration was utilized in this propaganda agency. I met many of the famous photographers and painters of that period, including Captain Edward Steichen, who was in the Signal Corps and often arrived in the Office, followed by Gordon Parks, Art Rothstein, John Vachon, Ben Shahn and Russell Lee. I wondered why their images jumped off their prints. I believe this provoked my long search for emulation.

© Judith Gefter
© Judith Gefter. Edward Steichen, 1960

ASMP: Did you keep a journal or make any kind of recordings during the conferences?
JG:
I was too busy to keep a journal. I used the negative envelopes for very curt descriptions.

ASMP: What were some of the presentations made and issues discussed at the conferences? Was there any year that was particularly memorable or a favorite of yours based on the presentations and issues discussed?
JG:
Each year yielded new information. The changing times were ever present. Often there was history, such as the Salomon photographs of WWI and the aftermath. The introduction of the Leica, the new uses for the single lens reflex, the value of more immediate processing such as the Polaroid. Mostly, were the new philosophies regarding image creation.

© Judith Gefter
© Judith Gefter. Yousof Karsh, 1968

ASMP: How was photography itself incorporated into the conference presentations? Were there specific presentations that were image-only slideshows or did most/all presentations have a discursive element?
JG:
Slide shows were invariably provocative and discursive.

ASMP: From your memory of the conferences you attended, can you provide a sense of how the subjects discussed evolved over time? Were the same subjects brought up year after year or were different issues treated annually?
JG:
There sometimes emerged thematic years. Often they burst into rap sessions. The moving of pyramids by National Geographic comes to mind.

© Judith Gefter
© Judith Gefter. Ken Hyman, 1972

ASMP: Please describe interactions between conference presenters and the audience and among the presenters themselves. Was it a highly structured or open forum type atmosphere? Was it a sharing type of environment or did people take sides over particular issues?
JG:
It was generally highly structured, with open forums. Frequent interactions between the presenters and attendees occurred. The University Inn, where we were housed, was accommodating. There was action around the pool and in the many meeting rooms between sessions. The structured sessions took place in the Emily Lowe Gallery of the University of Miami. Photographers had to have valued attending since many came year after year.

© Judith Gefter
© Judith Gefter. Wilson Hicks, 1964

ASMP: Who was your favorite photographic personality from these conferences? Was there any particular subject who was particularly uncooperative or difficult to photograph?
JG:
Oh, so many stars for me: Wilson Hicks, for whom the Conference was renamed, former picture editor of LIFE; Morris Gordon, the co-chair, Ernst Haas, Eliot Elisofon, Djon Mili, Gordon Parks, Fred Ward, John Durniak. No photographer ever objected to being photographed.

© Judith Gefter
© Judith Gefter. Pete Turner, 1964

ASMP: Are there people you photographed year after year, resulting in images that show an interesting progression of appearance and/or attitude over time?
JG:
I noticed that the clean cut and suited photographers of the sixties grew hair and beards and dressed brashly in the late sixties and seventies.

© Judith Gefter
© Judith Gefter. Pete Turner, 1970

ASMP: Are most of your portraits from these conferences shot from a similar vantage point or does your coverage incorporate different types of activities and points of view?
JG:
I tried to find different ways to see them. Mostly, they were involved from the podium, but I would find them in more relaxed moments whenever I could.

© Judith Gefter
© Judith Gefter. George Tames, 1973

ASMP: Have any of your images from this conference been published, licensed or exhibited before now?
JG:
No

ASMP: What effect did shooting these portraits year after year have on your photography in general or other areas of your professional life?
JG:
I believe they improved with the better film and cameras available.

© Judith Gefter
© Judith Gefter. Roman Vishniac, 1962

ASMP: After so many years, what was your primary motivating force in scanning these negatives now? What kind of equipment are you using to scan them?
JG:
A photographer cousin went through these images and insisted that they needed to be seen. I am scanning the negatives on an Epson 3200 scanner using Epson software. Photoshop CS5 is my software.

© Judith Gefter
© Judith Gefter. Gordon Parks, 1966

ASMP: Are you making editing decisions from contact sheets or directly from the scans themselves?
JG:
I don’t use contact sheets since I can examine the negatives better on scanning. Since we never had the luxury of seeing the images at 100 percent, I spend a great deal of time with the improved healing brush spotting each image.

© Judith Gefter
© Judith Gefter. Andre Kertesz, 1965

ASMP: What plans are you considering for publishing the collection of images and stories, or for offering the collection to a university or a photography organization?
JG:
I am planning to have them shown to a museum. If an exhibit emerges, then I’d like to pursue a book.

© Judith Gefter
© Judith Gefter. Thomas Abercrombie, 1962