Executive Portraits

Yeah, I use to love to do executive portraits, and sometimes I got a little carried away in a situation where I really had nothing to lose.

Like when I was in the Army not of my own choosing, by the way I was sent to shoot a portrait of General Waters, commanding officer of the 1st Guided Missile Brigade, who was an irritable old warrior who would rather have been in the Horse Cavalry leading the charge with his saber than in charge of some goddam fancy 4th of July rocketry unit. (The rockets were Nike. Much publicized, but nearly worthless and he knew it.) So did I. I was there when they spent all day firing the things at a drone B 29 until one of them actually scored a hit and blew a wing off it. Before that one of the things had fizzled and nearly wiped out the radar fire control unit by explotding on impact and spraying orange clouds of nitric acid and hydrazine all around.

Anyway, this was waaaay before digital photography I was using a wooden view camera with a Brass housing Graf Variable (adjustable soft focus) lens and a Packard Shutter with a squeeze bulb and rubber air hose. You got the shutter speed by how hard you squoze the bulb. I could get up to maybe a 50th of a second with a hard fast squeeze.

Sgt. Babinski, the Fort Bliss Photo Lab Chief, and the base Public Information Officer, a Bird Colonel, were there to impress the General, I guess. It was godawful important and I suppose they wanted to make it look so. I had a stack of 5 x 7 film holders all loaded with Super Pachro Press, and some old fashioned Victor lights on stands, and was all ready when the General strode in and sat down.

Everybody but me and the Genaral were nervous wrecks by this time. The General's ribbons were crooked so I adjusted them to look better at which he sort of grunted and gave me an impatient look. I made some kind of joke to get a less sour look on his face and he said "Take the fucking picture, private."

So I squeezed the bulb, shoved the dark slide back into the film holder and said, "Thank you sir" and he got up and strode out of the room. I thought Sgt. Babinski and the PIO were going to have strokes. They started in with "You only shot one picture? Are you crazy? What if it doesn't come out right? " and so on. But I assured them we had gotten a good one and the General would like it.

When I got back to the lab I developed the sheet of film and as soon as it was dry, coated the emulsion side with retouching fluid and sharpened my pencil with 400 grit sandpaper. I made his skin nice and took out the blemishes. Then I sort of backward retouched every frown line and angry crease in his face that is to say, I made it look professionally retouched and as ugly and pissed off as I could get it.

In addition to the 8 x 10 glossies for the Army,  he ordered a bunch of 8 x 10 matte prints, some 5 x 7's and even an 11 x 14 for his family. Later he invited me to fly with him up to White Sands in his small plane, to watch a Redstone missile firing and shoot some pictures for him, and was quite friendly.

I guess he really liked that portrait. My retouching must have added the perfect touch.