Saturday, March 6, 2021

History through the camera lens: A Houston man's life work documents some of the biggest moments of the 20th century

 Via KHOU-11

Author: Mia Gradney

Published:  March 5, 2021

Bob Gomel is now 87 years old and describes himself as a travel photographer, but for decades, he documented some historic moments in history.


HOUSTON — A recent movie release, "One Night In Miami," is a fictional account of one incredible evening shared by four icons of the civil rights movement, but a Houston man was actually there that night to capture it all with his camera.

Bob Gomel is a famous and award-winning photographer. Gomel is now 87 years old and describes himself as a travel photographer, but for decades, he documented some historic moments in history.

"The '60s were an iconic decade," Gomel said. "We didn't know it at the time, but look what we had besides Ali. We had the Beatles. We had John Kennedy. My goodness, at the time, this was just normal. But when you look back on it, wow! So much had happened."

Gomel, a photojournalist for the legendary LIFE magazine, took photographs of monumental moments involving icons.

His first cover was in 1964 of a young African-American boxer, Muhammad Ali, then known as Cassius Clay, on the eve of his career defining fight against Sonny Liston. Gomel met up with Ali in Miami for training, the fight and more. He was there to also experience and document the victory celebration that included another iconic figure Malcolm X.

The photograph that captured Ali and Malcolm X together is now part of the Library of Congress. More recently it's been reimagined in a new movie, one Gomel has seen for himself. But who needs to see it when you were there?

Gomel describes part of the excitement of that night, saying, "Malcolm, who was a devoted amateur photographer, was behind the counter taking pictures of Ali. And this prompted me to climb up on top of the counter to get an overview of what was going on. I couldn't be at the same level to do that properly. So I'm standing on top of the counter and photographs. And then what happened is that Ali proceeded to entertain the crowd. He pretended to be a matador with his arm gestures like he was holding a, you know, curtain and he was, of course, his lyrics in his rhyming was superb."

"It was quite a show he put on for his crowd," Gomel said. "At some point, Malcolm came around, of course, from the counter and came behind to converse with Ali, whispered in his ear, and I have that photograph."

Gomel is now retired. Post pandemic he plans to resume his travels and his breathtaking photography from afar.

He's recently been featured in a documentary, "Bob Gomel: Eyewitness to History," available on Amazon's Prime Video.

View Bob Gomel's collection of available fine art prints here.

Friday, March 5, 2021

Ektachrome moments: The color work of Ida Wyman

 Via Pasatiempo

March 5, 2021

By Michael Abatemarco

black and white photograph of young Ida Wyman with 2 of her cameras
Ida Wyman with two of her cameras in an undated photograph

The golden age of street photography, photojournalism, and documentary photography lasted from the 1930s to the 1950s. It was an era that saw the birth of a number of influential photography agencies and collectives, including Magnum, founded in Paris in 1947, and New York’s Photo League, founded in 1936. Many of their number were among the most respected photographers of their day, including Magnum’s Henri Cartier-Bresson and the Photo League’s Paul Strand and Arthur Leipzig.

Most of the images that came out of the era were in black and white, partly because color printing was more expensive and less stable, and most news agencies and magazines only printed in black and white. “Color negates all of photography’s three-dimensional values,” claimed Cartier-Bresson.

color photograph of a Stickball on St. Nicholas Avenue, East Harlem, 1947

Stickball on St. Nicholas Avenue, East Harlem, 1947

Ida Wyman: East Harlem, 1947 in Color is a selection of 14 photographs on exhibit at Monroe Gallery drawn from a series called Lost Ektachromes. The photographer, who was a member of the league, came across the negatives sometime around 2010. They remained undeveloped until then because Wyman, who was proficient at printing in black and white, lacked the expertise to do her own color printing. She needed to find someone she could trust who could print them with fidelity and under her supervision.

“She was already in her 80s,” says Wyman’s granddaughter Heather Garrison, who manages the estate. “She always said she wanted to do an exhibit on this work. And as we catalogued it, we found additional pieces.”

Wyman (1926-2019) was “no slouch,” says Michelle Monroe, co-owner of Monroe Gallery of Photography, adding that she shot more than 100 assignments for Life magazine throughout her career as a freelance photographer. Her work exemplified the cooperative’s focus on capturing the human condition in America’s urban and rural settings at mid-century.

“It was really one of the first movements to use photography as a social documentary tool,” says gallery co-owner Sidney Monroe.

The work in the show includes portraits, street scenes, and candid images of people. Some are street vendors selling their wares. Some sit on stoops engaged in conversation, and some are merely walking or otherwise going about their day. As a whole, it’s a simple snapshot of life in the city.

color photograph of The Key Maker, East Harlem, 1947

The Key Maker, East Harlem, 1947

East Harlem was a neighborhood of immigrants and the working class poor. As a photographer, she had an ethos in line with that of the Photo League, although she was not yet a member at the time the photos were taken. And none of them were shot as an assignment but purely to indulge her own enthusiasm for the medium. Wyman was also experimenting with a new kind of film. Ektachrome was only developed in the early 1940s. The work languished in her archives, in part because Wyman never achieved the notoriety of her contemporaries until late in life, and she was never focused on showing her work publicly in galleries or museums.

“Ms. Wyman — whose work for Life, Look and other magazines went largely unheralded for decades — discovered what she called a ‘special kind of happiness’ in photographing subjects like a little girl wearing curlers, a peddler hauling a block of ice from a horse-drawn cart and four boys holding dolls, pretending to be the plastic girls’ fathers,” wrote Richard Sandomir in Wyman’s New York Times obituary (“Ida Wyman, Whose Camera Captured Ordinary People, Dies at 93”). Perhaps that’s because Wyman, like many of the subjects she photographed, came from a working-class family. Her parents were Jewish immigrants in Malden, Massachusetts, who later owned a small grocery store in the Bronx.

Soon after graduating from high school in 1943, Wyman started working in the mailroom at Acme Newspictures. Eventually, she was promoted to photo printer. Her intention was to spend a year working before starting nursing school. “She was always fascinated by science and medicine,” Garrison says of Wyman, who got her first box camera at 14. But in the interim, her love of photography superseded other ambitions.

Wyman spent her earnings on film and processing. “On her lunch breaks and in her spare time she just loved to walk the city and take pictures,” Garrison says. “Then she would have a body of work that she could show.” Determined to land assignments, she reserved these bodies of work to show to editors.

Wyman had no job security at Acme. When the men came back from the war, Wyman and women like her were out of a job.

However, her career in photography was just beginning.

color photograph of a  Shoe Shine Man, East Harlem, 1947

The Shoe Shine Man, East Harlem, 1947

Over the course of the next six years, she worked as a freelancer, taking assignments for Fortune, Look, Life, and Parade, among other publications. “She had the usual soft assignments, like for the Saturday Evening Post,” Michelle Monroe says. “If there was a grocery store opening, ‘send the woman.’ She wasn’t picky. She wanted the work. I think it was very hardscrabble working as a woman without the affiliation of a publication directly.”

But Wyman was motivated. Garrison says she landed assignments through sheer perseverance. “I give her a lot of credit, a young girl — 18, 19, 20, 21 — especially in a man’s world, walking into these offices and self-advocating,” Garrison says.

Wyman was encouraged to join the Photo League on the advice of her husband, photographer Simon Nathan, but in the early 1950s, the demands of family life temporarily curtailed her career. When she returned to photography in the 1960s, it was as a photographer in medical fields. She was chief photographer at the department of pathology at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons from 1968 until 1983 when she returned to freelancing.

“Her varied assignments always focused on human interest stories, which have become a hallmark of her work,” Garrison says.

That’s what we see in her black-and-white photographs, but also in the Ektachromes. And like her monochromatic work, the contrasts are stark, the shadows deep and rich, befitting, perhaps, the work of one who’s not used to shooting in color. The palette is muted, giving them the appearance of hand-colored photographs, a technique that was common since the early days of photography. And they weave a similar kind of nostalgic spell. But unlike hand-coloring, their ethereal and dreamlike quality, says Michelle Monroe, was due in part to the city’s pollution.

color photogrph of 2 boys with a stringless banjo, East Harlem, 1947

The stringless banjo, East Harlem, 1947

“Most cities in, say, like the 1920s through the 1960s, were powered by coal,” she says. “There’s a lot of diffused light. Coal hung around the lower city so much. There’s such a softening of the air from that particulate. Margaret Bourke-White taught us that — not directly, but in studying her work.”

But it’s the joyous aspects of the familiar and the sense of commonality that also make them captivating.

“She always had an eye for people,” Garrison says. “She loved to connect with people, and I think that’s what made her photos so wonderful.” 


Ida Wyman: East Harlem, 1947 in Color

Through April 11

Monroe Gallery of Photography, 112 Don Gaspar Ave., 505-992-0800,

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Ida Wyman: East Harlem, New York, 1947 in Color featured on The Eye of Photography


screen shot of Ida Wyman exhibit feature on L'Oeil de la Photography website

February 22, 2021

"This series of color Ektachromes Ida Wyman made of East Harlem in 1947 was discovered in her archive only recently, and exist as the only color body of work from that period. Her photographs reveal the extraordinary within the urban landscape.  Reflecting the related practices of documentary photography, photojournalism, and street photography, these images are a testament to Wyman’s abiding curiosity about the human condition and the complexity of human experience, both familiar and unfamiliar."

View the exhibit here

View a short biographical film about the pioneering Ida Wyman here.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Ida Wyman: East Harlem, New York, 1947 in Color


1947 color photograph of boy on steps with hand in pockets
Ida Wyman: Hands in pockets, East Harlem, New York, 1947

Santa Fe, NM -- Monroe Gallery of Photography is honored to announce an exhibition of rare color photographs Ida Wyman made in East Harlem, New York, in 1947. The exhibit opens in the Gallery (no reception)  and on-line at on Friday, February 12 and continues through April 11.

East Harlem in 1947 was a neighborhood of immigrants from poor and working class backgrounds. In the Depression and New Deal era of the 1930s, the Photo League was formed to document poverty and other social problems. Ida’s youthful idealism attracted her to the League, and several League photographers embarked on a mission to document conditions in Harlem.

Her photographs reveal the extraordinary within what, at first glance, might appear to be otherwise unremarkable. Reflecting the related practices of documentary photography, photojournalism, and street photography, these images are a testament to Wyman’s abiding curiosity about the human condition and the complexity of human experience, both familiar and unfamiliar.

This series of color Ektachromes Ida made of East Harlem in 1947 were discovered in her archive only recently, and exist as the only color body of work from that period.

Although not as famous as some of her contemporaries, Ida was one of the defining artists of early street photography that helped shape how we look at our world. Wyman’s photographic vignettes of life in urban centers and small towns in the United States, taken during the mid-twentieth century, illuminate the historical moment while providing a deeply humanist perspective on her subject

Ida strived to capture everyday life of everyday people in all its frustrating, illogical and banal glory.

The daughter of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, Ida Wyman was born March 7, 1926 in Malden, Massachusetts. The family soon moved to New York, where her parents ran a small grocery store in the Bronx. Her parents bought her a box camera when she was 14, and she joined the camera club at Walton High School, honing her skills at taking and printing pictures. By the time Wyman was 16, she know that she wanted to work as a photographer. Opportunities then were few for women photographers, but in 1943 Wyman joined Acme Newspictures as a mail room ‘boy’; pulling prints and captioning them for clients. At lunch hour, she photographed nearby laborers and office workers with her Graflex Speed Graphic camera.

When the war ended, Acme's only female printer was fired so a man could have her job. Wyman set out on her own to begin free-lance work for magazines, and her first photo story was published in LOOK magazine the same year. By 1948 she was in Los Angeles, working on assignments for LIFE magazine. She would eventually cover over 100 assignments for LIFE.

For the next several years, Wyman covered assignments for LIFE, Fortune, Saturday Evening Post, Parade, and many other leading publications of the time. Her varied assignments always focused on human-interest stories, which have become a hallmark of her work.  From 1951 through 1962, Wyman took time to raise a family, as well as handling many corporate assignments.  From 1962 to 1968 she created photographic documentation for speech research projects at Haskins Laboratories in New York City.  From 1968 to 1983, Wyman was the Chief Photographer in the Department of Pathology at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons.  In 1983 she again returned to free-lancing, and handled assignments for The New York Times, Gannett Newspapers, US Magazine, American Lawyer, Inc. Magazine, and other publications.  Throughout her career, Wyman held numerous teaching positions and speaking assignments.  Her photographs are in the collections of the New York Public Library, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Jewish Museum of New York, FundaciĆ³n Municipal de Cultura in Valladolid, Spain, and other collections. She died July 13, 2019 at age 93.

Current Gallery hours are 10 to 3 Monday - Thursday, 10 to 4 Friday and Saturday, admission is free. Covid-19 safety protocols must be followed and face masks are required throughout your gallery visit. Gallery capacity is limited to no more than 10 visitors..


Monday, February 1, 2021

Bob Gomel's work endures from Life magazine to ‘One Night in Miami’

black and white photo of Malcolm X photographing Cassius Clay, in a diner in Miami, 1964

Malcolm X takes a photograph of Cassius Clay -- who was about to announce his conversion to Islam and his new name, Muhammad Ali -- on February 25, 1964 in Miami. Malcolm X was staying at The Hampton House Motel, where he spoke with Ali, singer Sam Cooke and football star Jim Brown. The photo was captured for LIFE magazine by Bob Gomel.

Photo: photo by Bob Gomel used with permission

 Via The Houston Chronicle

By Andrew Dansby

February 1, 2021

Near the end of the film “One Night in Miami,” Cassius Clay — hours after defeating Sonny Liston and declaring himself king of the world … and so pretty — holds shop in a small diner at the Hampton House Motel over a bowl of ice cream.

“I want a picture with Malcolm!” he says, referring to Malcolm X, who had advocated for the boxer’s conversion to Islam, which yielded a new name: Muhammad Ali.

The film follows Malcolm X for a meditative moment. A dangerous power struggle was in place amid the Nation of Islam, and he had only one year to live. But Clay, in that moment, got his photo.

Life magazine photographer Bob Gomel — the only member of the media inside the diner — caught the champ at the counter, a look of feigned surprise with Malcolm X leaning on his shoulder seemingly enjoying the moment of celebration.

Gomel captured several enduring images from the fight and its aftermath. One included Malcolm X behind the counter taking a photo of a tuxedo-clad Ali. That iconic photo has been acquired by the Library of Congress. Both the photo and the evening have taken on significant cultural weight. The fight and the meetings that followed were caught on film by Gomel and have been written about in biographies of Ali, Malcolm X and Cooke. That one night has become almost mythical, as it saw the rise of a cultural icon in Ali, lending itself to a play that would become a film.

As for Gomel, he’d made a fleeting moment permanent, something he’d done before and would do many times later as a storied and celebrated photojournalist whose work covered presidents and presidential funerals, Olympians in action and the Beatles on a beach.

“I’d suggest the challenge is to do something better than had been done before,” Gomel says, “That was something instilled in me early in my career. When I was just starting my career, I had an editor at Life. I came back and said some event didn’t happen. And he said he didn’t ever want to hear that. After that, I never batted an eye about doing what it took to get a photograph.”

Film on film

David Scarbrough, a professional photographer, met Gomel through mutual friends and colleagues. He’s been in Houston for more than 20 years; Gomel moved here in 1977.

Any time the two would meet, Gomel would share his stories about working at Life from 1959 to 1969. Gomel resisted the idea of putting down those stories as text to accompany the photos in a coffee-table book. So Scarbrough pitched the idea of a film.

“I convinced him to do a proof of concept, and if he didn’t like it, we’d drop it,” Scarbrough says.

Using two iPhones and a makeshift sound studio behind his house, Scarbrough got Gomel to tell the tales behind some of his most famous photos.

Those interviews became the basis of “Bob Gomel: Eyewitness,” available to stream on Amazon, in which the photographer narrates his career, a mix of his photographs and his on-camera commentary. Occasionally, Scarbrough throws in an outside image, as from the first Ali/Liston fight. When Scarbrough called up the fight on YouTube, he thought he saw a familiar face in the bedlam that followed Ali’s win.

“I blew it up, and it was grainy, but there’s Bob on the other side of the ring, climbing the ropes to get the shot. I had to work that in.”

That shot becomes part of a theme throughout the film. Gomel discusses his terror shooting Olympic bobsledders from a bobsled. He is photographed in a wetsuit immersed in a pool to capture a swimmer doing the butterfly. Gomel’s photo presents the swimmer as a human wavelength, her body contorted in a way both beautiful and grotesque.

One of the most fascinating passages includes two presidential funerals. From an elevated space, Gomel photographed President John F. Kennedy’s casket in the Capitol rotunda in 1963. His image is haunting for the light beaming across the rotunda. Gomel that day made a mental note that a direct overhead photograph in the rotunda could be striking. When President Dwight D. Eisenhower died six years later, Gomel rigged a camera directly overhead.

“Everybody knows that photo,” Scarbrough says. “It was a significant moment captured by a well-executed photograph. But people don’t know the preparation to get the picture. The hours and hours of testing. This was before our digital age. You had to string the camera out, bring it back, test lenses. The prep work was incredible.”

Gomel had another concern. “I prayed my lights didn’t start flashing before the event.

“I always draw a distinction. I say you can take a picture or you can make a picture. My objective was always to make pictures. To have some idea of what you’re trying to achieve and then figure out the best way to do that.”

Life behind the camera

Gomel grew up in the Bronx, where his interest in photography began when he was still in grade school. He delivered groceries to make money for his first camera and set up a darkroom in his parents’ home. He earned a journalism degree from New York University before spending three years stationed in Japan as an aviator in the Navy. He says landing planes on an aircraft carrier created a certain fearlessness.

“I’ve never considered safe spaces when I’m working,” he says. “I’d stand on the struts of a helicopter and make sure my wide angle lens cleared the blades. But it never occurred to me to be concerned. A safety strap to the cockpit wall was all I needed.”

He was hired by Life magazine in 1959, “a childhood dream,” he says in the film.

Life at the time had a sterling reputation for its photojournalism. Gomel shot heads of state, athletes and celebrities.

The rush of images that passes in “Bob Gomel: Eyewitness” is astounding for both the richness of the individual photographs and the breadth of Gomel’s work. The photographs clearly stand alone, but the narratives that accompany them offer enrichment through context. A bust of a session with President Richard M. Nixon was salvaged a day later when Gomel returned with some brighter neckties. He also discusses his paintinglike photograph of Manhattan at night during a 1965 blackout, thought to be the first double-exposure image published as a news photo.

In the 1970s, Gomel began doing commercial photography, which led him to Houston. He’d worked closely with an advertising executive at Ogilvy who set up an office in Houston in the early 1970s when Shell relocated from New York.

“I came on a lark, and I liked what I saw,” he says.

He has made Houston his home ever since, working here and sometimes dispensing tough love to students. Long ago he hired now famed photographer Mark Seliger — who at the time was about to graduate from the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts — as an assistant.

“A month or two later, I fired him,” Gomel says. “He was too good. I told him to leave Houston and go where the big action was taking place. Fortunately, he took my advice.”

Back to Miami

Seliger is the sort of photographer who might typically appear in a documentary about an old master like Gomel. But Scarbrough had only completed the interviews with his subject when the pandemic shut down his work. So he let Gomel’s stories and his photographs tell the story, which he distributed through Amazon Video Direct.

After a short introduction, the film moves to February 1964, when Life sent Gomel to Miami and assigned him to Clay before he became Ali. Liston was favored 7-1, but Life wanted a Clay cover photo ready should he provide an upset.

Days before the fight, Gomel caught a sweat-soaked Clay smiling. The fight took place Saturday. By Monday, Gomel had a magazine cover.

But the aftermath of the fight proved interesting, too. Because he was assigned to Clay, Gomel traveled with the boxer’s entourage — which included Clay’s brother and Malcolm X — to the Hampton House in Brownsville because no South Beach hotel would accept Black guests.

Playwright Kemp Powers debuted “One Night in Miami” seven years ago. Powers was drawn to a meeting that took place after the fight, when Malcolm X, Clay, singer Sam Cooke and football star Jim Brown gathered in a room at the Hampton. His story, an imagined account of their conversation, springs from four prominent Black men at personal, vocational, cultural and spiritual crossroads. Clay would soon announce his new name and faith; Brown would leave the NFL for film; Malcolm X and Cooke would both become victims of violence.

Late last year, actor and filmmaker Regina King presented a filmed version through Amazon. The film plays with the timeline, flipping the sequence of the diner and the hotel room meeting. It also re-creates that scene from Gomel’s photo: Malcolm X behind the counter, camera in hand.

Gomel expresses frustration that nobody involved with the film reached out to him for licensing or even a credit. He resisted Life’s offers of insurance and equipment allowances to have rights to his photos revert back to him.

Re-creation of photographic moments isn’t unique to “One Night in Miami”; Netflix’s “The Crown” — to name just one TV show — is teeming with shots based on photographs.

Gomel has dealt with the issue before. He’s found the image on T-shirts, throw pillows and earrings.

“It’s new dealing with organizations that don’t do the right thing and contact you,” he says. Gomel recalls the estate of golfer Arnold Palmer securing a photo Gomel took for Palmer’s clothing line.

“That’s the way it was for 50 years,” he says. “People respecting traditions.”

So “Eyewitness” provides the story behind the photo behind the film.

“Just about everybody else in that context is long gone,” Gomel says. “I’m one of very few eye witnesses who was actually there.”

Friday, January 29, 2021

Stephen Wilkes captures Joseph R. Biden's inauguration from sunrise to sunset in one striking picture


color photograph of Presient Biden's inauguration from sunrise to sunset
Stephen Wilkes

Via National Geographic

The inauguration, from sunrise to sunset, captured in one striking picture.

Photographs taken over the course of 15 hours are combined in this historic image. "Sometimes it’s this magical serendipity that I have no control over but I am just present for." --Stephen Wilkes

Read the full article on the making of this historic photograph during unprecedented times here.

See Stephen Wilkes' complete Day To Night collection here.

Monday, January 25, 2021

Hollywood Film Re-creates Bob Gomel's Iconic Photograph


Comparing photographs of scene from movie "One Night in Miami" with original Bob Gomel photo of Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) with Malcolm X

Via Bob Gomel Eyewitness

January 24, 2021

One Night in Miami is a movie streaming on Amazon Prime. The film, directed Regina King, is a fictional account based on a true story of the events after Cassius Clay defeated Sonny Liston in February 1964 in Miami.

As you can see in the images above, the movie is based on an actual photograph taken by Bob Gomel. Amazon Studios photographer Patti Perret painstakingly recreated the iconic photograph that appeared in LIFE Magazine.

In the actual picture Sam Cooke and Jim Brown are not in the image as they are in the picture by Perret. The movie is a fictional account based on actual events.

The picture by Bob is featured in the documentary (also streaming on Amazon Prime) Bob Gomel: Eyewitness, as is the entire story leading up and including the fight, as well as, the post fight celebration at The Hampton House where this image was taken.

Bob Gomel owns the rights to the original image. Signed prints are sold through Monroe Gallery in Santa Fe, NM.

Bob was not consulted, credited, or compensated in any way in the making of the film or the recreation of the image.