Monday, August 17, 2009

My Coffee With Bernie

Yesterday, I stopped by my favorite, local, coffee house for a cup or two of Joe.

Walked in, sat down at my usual table near the back (with a good view of everything and everyone) and pulled my laptop out. They have free WiFi there.

I was quickly handed a (real) coffee cup by Chris, one of the kids who works there. (It's one of those joints where you pour your own.) I go in there often enough that there's a chorus of Hi Jimmy! from various mouths, mostly the employees mouths, whenever I walk in. And since I'm a regular, I get great service! (Not that people who aren't regulars don't get really great service. They do. I'm just saying.)

I noticed an old guy leaving the joint as I walked in. I vaguely recalled seeing this old gent there before. He was wearing a tee-shirt with "Old Guys Rule" printed across it's back. "Gotta get one of those," I thought to myself... when I'm old enough to officially qualify as an "Old Guy."

"You should talk to that old guy sometime," Chris advised me, pointing at the man who was just walking out the door.

"Why?" I asked.

"He was some kind of famous photographer or cameraman or something." (All the kids who work at the coffee house know what I do for a living-- I say "kids" cuz they're all about 18-25 years old.)

I looked up and, through the front windows of the coffee house, could see the "old guy" getting into a newish, green, Mustang GT convertible.

"Never too old to be a kid and still drive a high-performance car," I thought to myself.

Then, I noticed the old guy getting back out of his Mustang and coming back into the coffee house. As he walked by, he smiled at me and said, "Forgot to take a piss," with a grin on his face.

I seized the opportunity, ice broken and all that.

"Hi!" A warm, friendly smile on my mug. "Chris says you're a photographer. Me too."

The old guy stopped, regarded me for a moment--sizing me up I suppose--then said, "I haven't had a camera in my hands for a long time."

"Why not?" I asked, kind of challenging him. "You're never too old to shoot a camera."

The old guy stared at me with one of those "looks" that said "What do you know?" then moved on. "I gotta take a piss," he said, rather gruffly, as he headed for the bathroom. "I'll have a word with you when I'm done."

"Uh oh." I thought to myself. I was mildly concerned I might have offended him which certainly wasn't my intent but, you know, sometimes I do that. To say I'm not shy with strangers is an understatement.

So as not to overly milk the set-up for this update, I'll fast-forward a bit to the old guy, post-urinating, sitting and talking with me at my table. Turns out his name is Bernie Abramson, he's 86 years old, and he lives only a few miles from where I live.

If you checked out Bernie's IMDB profile, via the link I provided above, you'll notice he was, indeed, a photographer and cinematographer. And he worked on more than a few notable films. He also, it turns out, knew and shot more than a few very famous people in his career as a shooter, stills as well as motion pictures. And, it turns out, he was friends with some notable and iconic photographers: Guys like George Hurrell and Yousuf Karsh and Edward Steichen. (Yep! Steichen!!!)

For the next three hours I was engrossed (and basically mesmerized) while engaging in a conversation with this man. Bernie regaled me with stories that included names like John Wayne, John Ford, Barbra Streisand, Desi Arnaz, Jerry Lewis, George Lucas and more. Not too mention commentary that included the names of those photographers I listed above. Bernie, BTW, told me he believes he was the first Hollywood star-shooter to adopt 35mm SLRs into his production work flow. I also discovered Bernie was a Nikon guy. But hey! He had nothing negative to say about Canon!



Bernie agreed to let me interview him--officially interview him--in the very near future. He's also going to let me shoot some portraits of him. I'm stoked!

Before leaving, Bernie took me out to his Mustang and retrieved a magazine, I think it was Los Angeles magazine, that included an article about him and some other photographers who were the guys who shot so many stars in the 40's, 50's, 60's and beyond. BTW, Bernie detests the paparazzi.

"They're not photographers," Bernie told me. "They're vultures!" He said with a disgusted look on his face. "Back in my day," Bernie explained, "Hollywood was like a small, tight-knit, family. Today," he added, "It's like a big, ugly, family feud."

I'll share more about Bernie in the near future including this mostly-bald, white-bearded, Mustang GT-driving, octogenarian extolling the virtues of Viagra. Not that those little blue pills have much to do with glamour photography! But, just like with glamour photography, sex sells and makes for interesting copy... and just so ya know, I'm not gonna ask this 86-year-old guy about his sex life. Nope. I'm just, you know, gonna add some color to the text with a few hints that Bernie might drop during our conversations-- like when he leaned in and confessed to me in a low, barely audible, voice, "I still wanna get laid everyday."

Yep. Old guys rule!

Leastwise, some of them do.

I posted a pic I shot of Tera Patrick at the top because, during our conversation, Bernie happened to mention that he, uhh... admires her beauty quite a bit.


Anonymous said...

Thoroughly enjoy your post. :)


george said...

Maybe you could get bernie and tera together for a shoot, you might be able to get a camera (even a Canon) in his hands for that! Make a hell of an interview.

george said...

Almost forgot - ask him if he knew Chick Chandler, old family friend and long time actor...was always the photographer in 40s newspaper films and starred with John Russell in "Soldiers of Fortune" on TV in the 50s

WillT said...

Loved the story... looking forward to the interview!

(I need to change coffee shops...)


Tim said...

Yousuf Karsh's work is truly mind-boggling. The lighting in his pictures and portraits is simply incredible! And that was long before Strobist & Co. ...

Anonymous said...

What a fascinating story Jimmy! I bet it was super cool to hear Bernie´s stories and he will be a heck of a great Interview! I mean from the mini bio in IMDB you know he has a heck of a great life story to tell!

:) We all admire Tera just look at the photo you took of her, she is beautiful!

Can´t wait for the interview :D

Have a great day!


John said...

All I get in my coffee shop is heart-burn.

Looking forward to the interview.

D.L. Wood said...

Looking forward to more Bernie. I love those chance encounters that turn out so great.

Maybe you can get a shoot with him and his granddaughter.

Checked out your coffee shop. Looks like a good place, run by good people. Plus any shop that hangs a big picture of Buddy Guy on the wall would get my business. I've never seen him perform but have several cd's on the iPod and have been to his club a few times. Love the blues.

Oh and you can call yourself an Old Guy when you refer to a 25 year old as a kid. 8-)

D.L. Wood

jimmyd said...

@D.L. Wood,

Yeah, Bernie's grand-daughter, Nicole Abramson, is an actress and you're right, it would be fun to shoot them both. What you might not know is that Larry Fine (The Three Stooges) was Bernie's cousin.