Friday, November 5, 2010

Post #64: Better Homes and Gardens Magazine Story

Sorry for the lack of posts the past few months. I needed a little break from my scanner :)

For this post I want to share one of my Dad's favorite stories about being a photographer.

So in my father's own words:

In 1954, I had just quit my job at Sheffield Steel, and opened my photography business, sharing office space with a new friend, architect Robert Major. Bob had recently finished a remodeling project, a home on Lake Quivira on the outskirts of Kansas City. Bob took me to see his work, and I snapped some quick black and white shots of the front of the home, processed the film, and made a few prints for Bob to show the owner.

On a whim, I decided to see if any magazines might be interested in a story about the remodeling, which had pleased the owner, a real estate salesman. Being young and foolish with unwarranted optimism, I decided to start at the top, and send the story idea to Better Homes and Gardens magazine, which was one of the most popular magazines in the country with millions of subscribers. So thatʼs what I did. I wrote a brief letter describing the project, packaged up several prints, and sent them to the editor.

Shazam! About a week later, I received a telegram from BH&G, telling me that they REALLY liked this project, and wanted to feature it in an upcoming issue . . . not only that, they wanted to use it on the cover! I was so excited . . . couldnʼt believe it . . . my new business was only a month old, and I had made the COVER of Better Homes and Gardens! WOW!

My elation was short-lived, however. Plans were made to shoot the cover in color on a certain date. I showed up with my humble camera, ready to work, but scared because I had never done anything like this before. An art editor from BH&G was there, and he announced that the magazine had hired a photographer from Hedrich-Blessing to shoot the cover, and he would arrive shortly.

I was stunned. The photographer showed up, carried his large view camera from the rental car, and set it up inside the house in a room overlooking the lake. He set up some lights to light the interior, while I watched in disbelief. In an hour or so, he had made several exposures, bundled up his equipment and was on his way back to his base in Chicago.

My golden opportunity had been snatched from my hands, but after thinking it over, I realized that I was in no way ready to handle an assignment like that. I had neither the experience, expertise, or equipment to do it right.

After several weeks, I began to recover my confidence, and determined to improve my skills, keep trying, and upgrade my modest equipment as soon as possible. Months went by, and we kept watching for the magazine issue featuring Bobʼs remodeling . . . but it never happened . . . the project just went away, disappeared.

Much later, we learned from a friend of Bobʼs who worked for BH&G, that magazines at that time were VERY competitive, and actually hired and paid spies to work for their competitors. Their assignment was to let their secret bosses know what topics were about to be published, so their secret bosses could avoid publishing a similar topic at the same time.

It turns out that a competitor, AMERICAN HOME magazine, had scheduled an issue on “lake home remodeling” as their cover story. The editors at BH&G were told, and Bobʼs remodeling design was canceled on the spot, never to be published.

This was the beginning of more than 55 years of photography. Iʼm glad I hung in there.

Larry Nicholson

I love this story because it totally captures the roller coaster ride of being a photographer.

And all the way back from 1954 is one of my Dad's images of the house:

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