Artists have biographies. As a photographer I’m leaning in the direction of being an artist. I’m certainly not a photographic tradesman. If I had to make a living at photography I’d be sleeping in the back of my car and eating cans of red beans heated on a hot exhaust manifold.
Since it’s me who is writing this it’s really an autobiography. As a teenager I was amazed when one of Virginia Woolf’s characters wondered aloud how her biographer would react to a particular relationship. In Utah people didn’t assume that they were going to have biographers. (They didn’t generally read Virginia Woolf, either.) This is going to be a do-it-yourself project because I don’t have a biographer yet.
When people say “biography” in a context like photography they usually mean a curriculum vitae, which looks like a summary of terms for a financing, but a CV is a life, not a deal. If I had been serious about photography before now my CV would be lists of group and solo shows, prizes won, publications and teaching gigs. For me these lists are fairly short so I’m writing my biography in narrative format, with full paragraphs with transitions. In other words I’m padding it.
As I review my “biography” it looks a bit like a proposal for a memoir that shouldn’t be written. It’s a well-known fact that memoirs can only be written by self-absorbed 25-year-olds with indulgent editors.
I was born in Salt Lake City, Utah in April, 1944. My mother was raised on a farm outside of Blackfoot, Idaho. For her Salt Lake was Paris.
As a kid I remember being put on a bus to stay with my grandfather in Blackfoot for a month each summer – it was supposed to be good for me to experience the farm. It was remote, buggy and smelled bad. The farm didn’t have inside plumbing. You bathed in a corrugated metal washtub. There were spiders in the outhouse. People got up at 4:00 AM to milk the cows. My grandfather was the one-armed sheriff of Blackfoot. He was an intimidating man.
It’s dry in Salt Lake. Average annual precipitation is 15 inches. That’s not much but it seemed right to me as a child since I didn’t know anything else. The area to the west of Salt Lake is a true desert. To the south lie the desert canyons of Zions, Bryce, Canyonlands, Capital Reef, Monument Valley, Mesa Verde, the Grand Canyon and Arches national parks. The southwestern desert was what “outside” looked like to me. It was familiar and thus prosaic. It’s the landscape that I breathed. A thin line of a horizon and some scraggly cedars – relatives told me we how lucky I was to live there. I trace my interest in landscape to my early days in Utah.
I got my first camera, a Kodak Brownie, at age 11. A friend, Jerry Stephens, and I put together a small darkroom in a space under his basement stairs. We developed the 127 film in a plastic developing tank and made contact prints in a light frame. I was hooked the first time that I saw an image emerge in the developer. Hooked for life. But it’s probably best that I can’t find any negatives from this era. Jerry connected with my via this blog a few years ago – I actually went to a high school reunion and caught up with him.
My next camera was my mother’s Kodak 35, a camera that was made between 1946 and 1949, which I took over at age 15 or so. By the time I started using it it was long obsolete. Here’s a picture – I actually found a working copy of this camera on eBay and bought it for $35. I posted images from it on November 20, 2017. Buying this camera was a “Rosebud” moment for me.
My mother had it from her first marriage – her marriage to my father. After they were divorced (and after she married my stepfather) fancy cameras weren’t in the budget so the Retina was the end of the line for me until I managed to earn a living for myself. The Kodak 35 was primitive and was a challenge to use, having a remarkably poor rangefinder, no exposure meter and a relatively slow lens. I shot Kodachrome exclusively and still have slides from this era. The image below is of Upheaval Dome in Canyonlands – the Kodak 35 didn’t have interchangeable lenses so no wide angle lens – with a normal lens it was impossible to actually capture Upheaval Dome.
I was an introverted, reclusive kid. I liked classical music. In high school I read a good part of the 19th and 20th century literary canon on my own (thus the reference to Virginia Woolf in the second paragraph). I was and still am an autodidact. I’ve since taught myself Photoshop and WordPress.
Salt Lake didn’t seem like the places in the novels that I read. The table settings at Hans Castorp’s uncle’s house in Luebeck were unimaginable. Salt Lake was was more boring than a novel. More homogenous. There was less to do. In Madame Bovary I learned about a particular French style of boredom called ennui, but Bovary was a whiner. At least she lived in a place where you could get a decent meal.
When college time came I went to Yale because it was as far from Salt Lake as I could get and still speak American English, the only language that I’ve ever mastered. (I eliminated Harvard based on this criterion.) The languages that I’ve tried and failed at include Spanish, German, Italian and Portuguese.
I thought that Yale undergraduates would have conversations like those of Hans Castorp, Herr Settembrini and Herr Naphta in The Magic Mountain. They didn’t. Despite my disappointment with the quality of undergraduate discourse I ended up graduating in four years with an intensive economics degree. (I started out as a physics major but my math wasn’t good enough so I switched to economics, where it was more than adequate.) I didn’t take many pictures during this era – just a few from my summer jobs as a Federal land surveyor in Southern Utah.
What to do next? I got some use out of my economics degree with a job as an analyst at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. But it was boring and the draft was bearing down on me (remember Vietnam), so rather than be drafted I joined the Marine Corps. In the Marine Crops you took an intelligence test called the GCT and I scored well. I remember reporting to a duty station and the Commanding Officer, a Colonel, asking “If you’re so smart why are you in the Marine Corps?” The truth is I didn’t know. Probably to fill some gaps in my perception of self: some of the qualities that Marines are supposed to have are qualities that I wasn’t so sure about in my own character. It was and is the most important experience in my life.
I’m a little embarrassed about the sharpshooter marksmanship badges. I got around to shooting the pistol at the expert level next time I qualified.
In the Marine Corps I got back into photography. I bought a Canon Pelix, the worst single lens reflex camera ever made. It had a fixed partially silvered mirror rather than the usual arrangement where the mirror flips up out of the way for the exposure. The half silvered mirror led to complex internal reflections that killed contrast at best and ended up in the picture as part of the image at worst. I was on Okinawa in Marine Corps limbo for a period so I set up a portable darkroom in my bachelor officers’ quarters room and had a productive time struggling against the camera’s limitations.
Frank reached out to me through this website – we’ve reconnected and reestablished our friendship.
In 1968 I was sent to Vietnam where I served as an infantry platoon leader. Read Karl Marlantes’s book Matterhorn if you’re curious about the experience.
10 weeks after arriving I was shot and wounded sufficiently to be sent back to the US, where I served out the balance of my enlistment first as a patient in Oakland Naval Hospital, and then at Marine Barracks, Norfolk Virginia. Here’s a friend decorating my cast. Shot with my Rollei.
While in California I ditched the Pelix and bought a serious camera, a Rolleiflex 2.8F. This was a fabulous camera – one of the best I’ve ever owned. I loved the belt buckle perspective, the large square (6cm x 6cm) format and the ease of accurate focusing and exposure. The Carl Zeiss lens was lovely. This was a major step up from the Canon. I was able to set up my portable darkroom, which just fit in a footlocker. Around San Francisco I shot the same type of urban and traditional landscapes that I continue to shoot today but also some people with protest and counterculture themes.
In Norfolk Virginia I lived in a real apartment and had space to keep my darkroom set up permanently. I continued to work with the Rollei. The thing that I remember most about Norfolk was that there was nothing to eat. The best restaurant in town was a Roy Rogers. When I complained about this to an old college friend she sent me a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which changed my life. I cooked my way through it, starting with stocks and sauces and ending up with desserts (remember le Kilimanjaro), passing through aspics and coq a vin on the way. This was the start of another life-long interest.
The next big entry on my CV is Columbia Law School, but before going there I took half a year off and gave myself the European grand tour, traveling with my Rollei and a lot of rolls of Tri X. I’ve recently scanned some of the negatives from that trip. My work became much more serious during this period – it’s as good as anything that I’ve done since. I was sufficiently self-aware at the time to realize that the solitary, distant characters were a theme, and that this was an exercise in sorting myself out post-Vietnam.
While in Germany a bought a used Leica M3 (for aficionados a two-stroke model with European shutter speed dial) and a Dual Range Summicron lens. I supplemented this later with an M2 and a 35mm Elmarit lens. This was the start of a long relationship with Leica. I now do most of my shooting with a digital Leica Monochrom camera, which shoots only in black and white and provides lovely, nuanced files. I actually have a Dual Range Summicron (modified to fit the Monochrom) – still an outstanding lens after 60 years and in daily use.
In law school I didn’t do much photography and I ended up selling my Rollei to help pay living expenses. My firm biography says that I received my J.D. from Columbia Law School in 1973, where I was a Harlan Fiske Stone Scholar and an editor of the Columbia Law Review; and that I spent a year as a law clerk for judge Paul R. Hays of US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
So after clerking I finally had to get a real job – I ended up at Debevoise & Plimpton. This was actually the first non-government job that I had ever had. This is where I’ve been for my entire legal career. I actually managed to continue my photography (and cooking) with various twists and turns. Fundamentally I’m a compulsive snap shooter. It’s about this time that I got married to Maria Barra (now Maria Campbell).
This is also when we started to collect photographs as well as make them. Our first picture was by Lucien Clergue who is best known (actually almost exclusively known) for his nudes on the beach with goose flesh and very erect nipples (he shoots in black and white so they look like little gray golf balls). We have what is probably his only known work in the landscape genre, a high contrast image of backlit trees in what looks like a swamp. We still have it on the wall – you never forget your first.
On the Debevoise website my legal career is summarized as follows:
- Woodrow Campbell, a legend in the private equity community, is credited with developing many of the techniques that are widely used in the private equity fund industry today. He also serves the mutual fund industry as counsel to the independent directors of the Fidelity funds (having $1.2 trillion in assets under management and touching over 23 million American individuals and institutions) and to the independent directors of the BlackRock closed-end funds (market leading exchange listed funds).
- Under Mr. Campbell’s leadership, Debevoise has built one of the largest private equity fund practices in the world, whether measured by the number of funds, total committed capital or resources devoted to private equity fund formation. Since 1995, Debevoise has acted as counsel for sponsors of or investors in over 850 private equity funds with committed capital of more than $720 billion.
During the time that this private equity stuff was going on I managed to keep up my interest in and practice of photography. I shot film through 2001 or so in every format (including 8×10). I built a studio in a barn in Connecticut. I decided to start this blog ten years ago.