Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Grasshopper and the Gardner (Part 3)


Ralph and Laurie Cordero have been dear friends for well over a decade. Ralph is a talented photographer, and the two have appreciated the art of E. O. Goldbeck for even longer than myself, so I thought it would be of interest to interview Laurie about her experience of meeting the man and about his art.
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Bill:
Laurie, I've been exploring some of the uniqueness of Goldbeck's art here on the Revealing Light Photography blog . You actually met Goldbeck many years ago– what were the circumstances of your first contact with him?

Laurie:
Around 1985 I was at an art and photography shop near downtown San Antonio, Texas. While I was there this spry old man in his 70s (turns out it was Goldbeck) came into the shop and the owner tells him he needs to sign a pile of photographs. When he was done she told him "Here's another one.." and then "here's another one..." and "here's another one." She kept putting them in front of him and he kept signing them. I don't think either one of them was keeping track of how many he was signing. I don't think she was even paying him for signing them. It was obvious to me that he was really interested in the photography itself, and he wasn't really interested in the money.

When he was finally finished signing the photographs he left the shop and got into his little blue Dodge Dart (or whatever it was) that was parallel-parked in front of the shop. It was obvious that the cars in front and in back of him were way too close for him to get out– but that wasn't a problem for him. He just banged! into the car in front of him and then banged! into the car in back and then banged! into the car in front again, until he had enough space and then he just pulled out and drove off– just as happy-go-lucky as he could be!

Bill:
You mentioned that this took place about 1985- since he was born in 1891 or '92 that would have made Goldbeck about 93 or 94 years old at the time.

Laurie:
Are you serious?! He sure didn't look it...I would have guessed he was in his 70s! That's amazing! He was the fastest moving "grasshopper" you ever saw!

Bill:
So how did you end up meeting him a second time?

Laurie:
Well, it just made me mad that the shop didn't seem to be paying him for his signature, so I thought I'd try to call his studio and buy some photographs directly from him. I looked the phone number up for his studio and called him up. I said I was interested in getting some of his work and he said: "Well just come on over to my house!"

He lived down in the "King William district" (of San Antonio). His house was a big old colonial style place, built pretty high off the ground with a flight of steps going up to the front door. I knocked on the door and he came to the door and said: "Yeah...come on back to my studio and I'll show you a bunch of pictures."

He was just so happy and personable– he was just the sweetest thing! But once he took off from that front door through his house, he was running! I'm telling you what– it was everything I could do just to keep up with him! His studio was behind the house, so he ran down the flight of stairs in back of the house, and then ran up two flights of stairs to the upstairs studio. He was taking those steps two and three at a time, and never slowed down-- he was flying! After the first flight of stairs going up, I was huffin' and puffin,' but he was just all chipper and talking a mile a minute. I've never seen anything like it. He was so full of life!

Goldbeck just loved photography and loved life. He wasn't in it for the money, he was just in it for the photography. He just loved it!

We got up to his studio, which was plain and simple, and it was absolutely filled with piles and piles of photographs. He showed me photos of this and that– he' d been all over the world– you'd think he might have been kind of prideful of all that he'd done, but he was just as personable as you could imagine. He just wanted to take me around the world by showing me his pictures. He was just full of life.

Bill:
So, did you end up buying some of his work?

Laurie:
Yes, I bought a "bathing beauty" shot for my Dad, one of the Alamo for Ralph, and one of the Big Bend area.

ALAMO PLAZA, 1916, San Antonio, Texas, © E. O. Goldbeck, 1916, all rights reserved
(green rectangle highlights detail of gardner shown below)
Bill:
Didn't you once mention to me that Goldbeck told you an interesting story about the Alamo photograph you have?

Laurie:
detail of Goldbeck's ALAMO PLAZA, 1916,
showing gardner in hat tending landscaping
© E. O. Goldbeck, 1916, all rights reserved
Yes he did. He said that he took numerous shots of Alamo Plaza from the building across the street, about once every ten years to record how the Alamo and things around it were changing. But he said that although these photographs spanned several decades, he got to noticing that a gardner, wearing a hat, showed up in every one of them, tending the flower beds and such. He showed me every one of them and there was the gardner in each one. In one of them he was kind of working and moving– and kind of blurred due to his activity. In another one he was down in a corner of the photo. But in each one, there he was!

Bill:
Was this always the same gardner?

Laurie:
That's what he implied.

Bill:
What do you appreciate about Goldbeck's work in general?

Laurie:
It's all about life. And he was all about life– he had a fullness of life, he had a love of life, and it came out in his photography. He loved people, he loved landscape, he loved architecture. He loved the changing scene around the Alamo– he loved the new and the old. He wasn't stuck in one era or one thing. He loved all of it. And he had definitely discovered the "Fountain of Youth!"

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