Around 10 PM, January 25, 1977, Maria and I entered the RISD Tap room having just attended a special gathering of students and faculty at the school's auditorium. The focus of the assembly that evening was student discontent with a professor not having his contract renewed and the general feeling of students and faculty not having their input listened to when it came to the direction the school was running in.
Over draft beer I was discussing how in the eyes of the student body the chairman of the design department, Tom Sgouros, was one of the key figures in this maelstrom and I was currently in the midst of working with him as poster designer for the visiting lecturer series.
Taking into account how many departments in the school he oversaw one could not downplay his role as "Mr. Big" and most of the student body didn't interface with him directly at all so I felt a sense of privilege in working with him on this ongoing poster project.
Going back two weeks I had been told by Betty, the secretary of the design department that he wanted to see me which sounded ominous at first. He was in his office at the moment she told me this and it turned out I could see him immediately. Tom had one of the best offices on campus with the same beautiful arched windows that we had in the senior class design studio down the hall. I was told I had been picked to design posters for all of the visiting lecturers that were under the auspices of the design department. The project would last until the end of second semester and I'd be paid $25 per poster as a design fee, plus expenses. It was wonderful to be picked from the large group of the graphics department and all of the posters would be a great addition to my portfolio.
Sadly, earlier this January came word that Tom had passed on after a battle with cancer. The RISD web site had this tribute:
In a letter written on January 27th to my family I describe the poster project and also mention that Roman not only has a house in our general area, but both of us had photos in the same art show during the summer of '76:
During the school years I was always receiving far more mail from home than I generated myself. Here are the postage stamps and postmarks from just half a month's correspondence from home for the month of January, 1977. As you can see first class mail was 13 cents back then:
The largest poster I produced for visiting lecturer, Dr. Roman Vishniac is shown below and he told me right away after seeing it how much he liked it which was the best feedback I could receive:
I attended all of his Wednesday informal talks held in the school's nature lab for the several weeks that he was present on campus. Typically, there were no more than eight of us present and he spoke about whatever he wanted with no predetermined list of topics that I was aware of. The informal nature of the discussion reminded me of long talks with my grandfather in which one topic after another would be discussed.
The RISD bookstore had three of Roman Vishniac's books for sale and I purchased all three and had Roman autograph one of them, "Polish Jews." I can still remember standing next to him as he carefully wrote his name in the front of the book as can be seen below:
Friday night, January, 28th, was an impressive presentation in the RISD auditorium of his photographs and film clips. I thought Tom might be there to introduce him and I didn't see him around. As it turned out Roman introduced himself and started the lecture. At the time I thought I should have introduced him since I was involved with designing the posters, but by the time I realized there was no emcee it was too late. In any event the best I could have come up with was: "I'd like to introduce a man who needs no introduction."
In conversation one afternoon it turned out I was correct that Roman and his wife had a country place in upstate New York and his wife, Edith, said we should get together in the summer. Interestingly enough, there are a few photos on Wikipedia from the summer of '77 that show Roman and his wife Edith in the country:
Summer of '77, Roman Vishniac. Photo by Andrew A. Skolnick, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Summer of '77, Edith and Roman Vishniac. Photo by Andrew A. Skolnick, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
In January 22, 1990, Roman passed on as a result of colon cancer.
His obituary in The New York Times gives a wonderful account of his life.
In addtion, a story in The Times' Magazine section can found here. There is a discussion about his photography of pre WWII Eastern European Jewish life and related topics from material that came to light long after his presentations to us in 1977:
One thing that set photography majors apart from many of the other students was their reliance on quality camera equipment. From the time Maria had been a sophomore in the photo department she was using a Nikon F1 Photomic SLR which had been purchased as a used camera. Meanwhile, the Nikon F2 had been out for a few years and had a few more advanced features, plus was easier to load the 35mm film into.
We started talking about how we could swing the purchase of a new camera body for around $500 at that time and still hold onto the Nikon F1.
As a reminder of the value of a dollar the $489 for the Nikon F2SB body is $1852 in 2013 dollars which shows how expensive it was to be a photo major in those days. There were a number of students who used Leicas and they were even more expensive. These days some of the same cameras can be purchased for a song on Ebay, but certain models such as rare Nikon SLR or any type of Leica cameras tend to sell at top dollar.
New York Times camera ads from January, 16th 1977:
It had been just one year before that I traveled down to NYC to replace my broken Minolta SR-7 with a new Minolta SRT-201. That was my first experience with buying cameras in the city and because I only had a personal check they had to ship it to me in upstate just to make sure my check didn't bounce. When the package arrived it had the older SRT-101 model in it and not the 201. Having to leave for Providence in a day or two I accepted that I didn't get the model I paid for and the only consolation was there happened to be very little difference between a 101 and a 201. For that matter I convinced myself that the 101 might be better made since it was the earlier model.
Below is the SRT-101 that served me well for two years at school and later on. The light meter died in the '90s, but by then I was rarely using the camera since the autofocus Maxxum series had come out in 1985 and I jumped on that bandwagon.
In the photo below is the manual for the camera and the macro lens. The receipt is for the macro lens. I found out from a friend at school that you could get NYC prices at Met Photo in downtown Providence so I bought the macro and wide angle lens there during junior and senior years. The technique of getting the low prices involved discussing the purchase with the owner and then walking out of the store when he wouldn't go as low as the NYC prices. He would run out of the store after me saying I could buy it for the lower price and as a result he sold me the two Minolta lenses.
I put the macro lens to immediate use photographing some projects I had completed and wanted to add to my portfolio. The slides and the envelope are still around. Whether the photo lab (Color Lab) is still around I am not sure of. The attractive logo was designed by my teacher, Malcolm, and looks as good today as it did in the '70s when his design office created it.
From the school library I was able to take the Sunday Times from two weeks earlier (January 16th--31 years to today, in fact). It's from this issue that I had the camera ads shown above, plus some other features such as the best seller list from that week. For fiction, "Trinity" was number one and in non-fiction "Roots" was at the top as shown below:
Many readers may remember President Ford's famous Drop Dead to NYC reaction to the city request for loan guarantees. That was the summer of '75 and we were close to two years later as January '77 rolled along. That situation had depressed housing prices a bit at the time and I knew a family years later that made out very, very well in the purchase of a beautiful duplex bought in the depths of the city's 1975 financial problems. Looking ahead to life after graduation we started with the January 16th issue of the real estate section to get an idea of rents in the city. The problem with only seeing the ads was we really had no idea if the descriptions of the apartments had anything to do with reality. Unlike today when photos are easy to come by when it comes to real estate, apartment seekers in those days were working "blind" until they actually saw the apartment in person. Given how the population of the city was around 7 million then as it is close to now there were very few apartments listed in The Times for a city that size.
As another example of the value of the 1977 dollar the $329.25 shown for one apartment in East 38th Street is $1247.16 in 2013 dollars. That is still well below today's NYC market rates, however! The $329 was just a little more than double what the rent on our one bedroom apartment in Providence was at the time.
At this point we were just dipping our toes in the water of the NYC real estate market. The upcoming summer would be the time of very serious apartment hunting.
More stories to come and the previous installments of the series leading up to this point are here:
The winter of our big-content:
Art school senior year chronicles:
Roadkill brought us closer together:
Story, drawings, and photos (except as noted next to photos) are © 2013 by B+Co., Inc.