A dear friend of mine passed away recently and would like to take a moment to honor is skill and passion for photography, not to mention his friendship, his willingness to teach, and the many hours that we spent over the past 17 years that I knew him. Marty was one of the first people that I meant when I moved to Toledo. I believe we meant somewhere around 1998 at Sufficient Grounds Coffee Shop. Most of our encounters continued to be spent around coffee, wine, or beer and endless lessons on getting the right shot. Thank you for all of your kindness and support over the years. Thank you for being you.
A true artist— with a 50 plus year history in Toledo— getting the right shot is more important than fame or fortune.
Photo by Michael Nemeth
The fact is, Marty Reichenthal isn’t “famous,” per se. He has photographed very famous people, mostly all for promotional purposes. He’s not an Irving Penn, or an Annie Leibowitz – photographers known for getting mixed up in the celebrity world. He’s Marty. He preferred not to hob-knob with famous people; remaining neutral and unbiased was the most important ingredient for him when it came to getting the perfect shot.
Reichenthal was born in Rock Island, IL, and his relationship with Toledo began around age two or three. “I was unceremoniously dropped here against my will to spend summers with relatives,” he said. It was during one of those summers that his uncle, a local dentist, gave him a camera. Mar- ty was nine years old, and became fascinated with the device’s focus mechanism and shutter speeds. “Unfortunately, everyone in my family wanted me to be a dentist,” he chuckled. However, Marty was hooked. There would be no dentistry in his future.
He went on to attend the State University of Iowa (SUI), and transferred to Ohio University, where he earned a Journalism degree. His intention was to earn a master’s degree in photography so he could teach. As it turned out, Marty’s experience outweighed the department head’s, so the school would not admit him to the graduate program. “If I had any brains, I would have gone into TV,” he remarked. “But back then, we never thought it would be a viable news point.”
In 1959, Marty journeyed to Chicago, for what he recalls was an appointment about a job. Along the way, he stopped in Toledo to see his colleague friend, Herral Long, who ran the photography department at The Blade, where he was hired as a freelancer. He soon accepted a job working in the Public Relations department at Ohio Bell in Cleveland as a promotional photographer.
After two years, Marty was called to be a photographer at the 1964 World’s Fair for AT&T. He lived in New York City for a year and a half after that, and got the itch to travel abroad. “I escaped to Europe,” he said. What was the impetus beyond curiosity for his travels? “If you didn’t do a war, you weren’t a journalist,” he remarked. “I was going for six months and I didn’t come back for almost 21 years.”
The right shot
In 1979, he decided to spend more time in the U.S., living in New York. Jerry Mosey, a college friend from SUI and an editor at the Associated Press (AP), offered Marty a job photographing celebrities.
Marty recounted the story of photographing fa- mous author and playwright Tennessee Williams to promote a new biography penned by John Lahr. “We woke him up at noon one day in his apartment; me and the AP guy, Jay Sharbert, who did the Broad- way column at the time. They were fighting over getting his coffee pot going. While they were busy distracting him, I was trying to hide Tennessee’s glasses.” he said, still amused with himself. “You see, I had this dream of getting Tennessee without his dark glasses. In those days, whenever anybody pointed a camera at him, you’d never see his eyes. That bothered me.” Marty located the glasses and quickly began to pile objects on top of them, so Williams couldn’t find them. “He spent about a half hour looking for the glasses, and gave up,” he added, smiling. Marty was thankful to capture this rare side of Tennessee Williams, who shadowed his gentle eyes when he was out in public.
When it came to helping subjects feel comfort- able, he employed a number of tactics to get people to open up. “Usually, I got angry with them.” he said. “I had a reputation. Someone would tell me, ‘Don’t give them a hard time, or they’ll walk out!’ But I did,” he laughed. “I’d shoot a lot of film to get it started. Sessions were seldom longer than 20 minutes. I’d listen through to the interview, if I could. I’d laugh at things they said or make them pay attention to me somehow.”
Though many were cooperative, stars some- times challenged him. Mickey Rooney was meticulous about appearing taller. Ralph Macchio’s PR rep pulled in a favor at the Associated Press to attempt to boost his career. “[Macchio] was 23 years old and he wasn’t exactly making it. He was still the karate kid,” Reichenthal recalled. “We were shooting in a church being used as a the- ater off Broadway’s main drag. The PR rep asked, ‘Who are you?’ I told her and she said, ‘Mr. Macchio wants to be photographed over here.’ And I’m kind of mean and nasty, a real curmudgeon, and I reply, ‘Mr. Reichenthal doesn’t want to shoot Mr. Macchio there,’” he said, laughing. He forced the star on stage during a rehearsal. “I told him, ‘Why don’t you just sit, relax. I’ll do the work.’”
On holding steadfast and not settling for work less than his best, Marty said, “I preferred saying no when I meant no. I had a reputation; my line was, “You don’t want to do it? I’m packing my bags.” Then they’d call and get all huffy and puffy. Jerry Mosey [Editor at AP] would say, ‘Yeah, I know, I hired him.’” Reichenthal walked away from more than one shoot—not because it was worthless, but because the right shot was what mattered most.
Then there were the times that magic hap- pened on set. Marty is proud of his Mikhail Baryshnikov shot. “What happens is, sometimes things are going nowhere until you ask someone to do something that seems normal,” Marty recanted. “[Baryshnikov] was prancing around and someone asked him to jump. I don’t even know if I was the one who asked him to do it, but he did and it was wonderful.” Contemporary cameras all have motor drives, but Marty’s medium format camera didn’t, so he was able to catch Baryshnikov at that precise moment.
Another auspicious moment occurred when he photographed George Burns. The celebrity was sit- ting in an easy chair in his hotel room. He had such tiny, narrow shoulders and donned a white shirt and a tie. He held his ever-present cigar between his fingers. Something was off. “It just didn’t looklike George Burns,” Marty said. “I said to George, ‘Let’s go over toward the window and maybe put your jacket on.’ The PR guy put the jacket on and all of a sudden, he became the George Burns we know.” As Marty photographed him, Burns cracked one of his jokes: “Hey Sonny, you know how to tell when you’re getting older? Your arthritic parts start feeling better than the rest of your parts.”
Other memorable moments included photo- graphing Tony Bennett in his studio wearing ath- letic socks with his suit and tennis shoes, observing the Ching-A-Ling Nomads gang in the subways of New York City, and of course, Ira Levin, author of Rosemary’s Baby.
Marty stopped taking pictures of celebrities shortly after he photographed Diana Ross for a biography promo. He was tired. “You have to shoot new pictures all the time and you need ideas. I found when I came back here that I wasn’t going to do publicity, because nobody gave a damn,” he explained. “Shooting promotional pictures for local institutions didn’t hold the same importance as it did in New York. People didn’t care as much,” he said. “Every one of us out there, we’re only as good as our last picture when you’re freelance, and we were all free- lance. It keeps you on your toes. It makes you work.”
Predictably, the veteran photographer hates the Photoshop culture. He remarked, “Nothing isshooting today. The really skilled photographers in magazines don’t rely on it as much, although there is so much of it. It’s really more of an additive technique. Look at National Geographic. They still do real pictures.”
Counting Irving Penn, Gordon Parks, Richard Avedon, and W. Eugene Smith as influences, Reichenthal still shoots photographs of friends and of his surroundings, most of which he keeps to him- self. He still vastly prefers black and white, though he likes the control of adding color.
There is a naturalness to his celebrity photographs and an irresistible, sometimes haunting departure from American suburbia in his travel photographs. Reichenthal’s work helps to maintain the image, not deconstruct it. Sometimes that image is a star of stage and screen, permanently frozen in our minds in an iconic way. Other times, it’s a location that seems so far away yet accessible at the same time. It is hard not to look at his photographs and think, “I want to meet this person. I want to see this place.” Photography was the vehicle he used to sell us these dreams. And sell us he did.