Thursday, October 28, 2010


George Silk: Children in Halloween costumes running together, Westport, CT, 1960

George Silk: Halloween, Westport, CT, 1960

George Silk became interested in the aesthetic possibilities of the distortions produced in race-finish cameras when he covered the 1959 Kentucky Derby. Photo-timers had been in use since 1951 for athletics, and at the Olympics in 1952 and 1956. Photographs made in these cameras stretched or foreshortened the figures leaving only a tiny vertical slit of the film in focus at the exact finish line. Silk had a portable version made, using a phonograph motor to drive the film past the slit which replaced a conventional shutter. The image produced by the slit conveyed the intensely private moment of the athlete straining in his endeavour to win. The slit camera pictures were quite abstract — Silk said: 'I was thrilled when the prints showed strength, speed, design — originality.' For the tryouts story in Life, 18 July 1960, Managing Editor, Edward K. Thompson ran the slit-camera images as large illustrations alongside straight shots of the winners.

Silk had first tried out his slit camera by photographing his children and their friends dressed in Halloween costumes. A sequence of these colour images appeared as 'Spectacle of Spooks to be wary of on Halloween' in the October 31, 1960 issue of Life.

George Silk  was lovably cantankerous, a larger than life character who would break into `Waltzing Matilda’ at the slightest excuse,” said Bobbi Baker Burrows, a senior Life photo editor, in his 2004 obituary.

In December, 1972, he was in Nepal, shooting an assignment on Himalayan game parks when he received news that the magazine had folded.

According to the 1977 book “That Was the Life,” Silk replied by saying “your message ... badly garbled. Please send one-half million dollars additional expenses.”

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