In January 1955, I was in Paso Texas working on a story about a young couple. He was in the army and they lived modestly off base. She was pregnant and in the post-WWII world, an army career seemed secure and stable. I don’t know how I found them, but they were amenable to my tagging along and photographing their life. I was working for a revived SEE Magazine under two excellent editors, Norman Lobsenz and Marvin Albert. The idea was to give LOOK some competition and LIFE a nudge with some excellent photographic essays. I was staying with my friends, Ralph & Bronia Lowenstein. Ralph later became the dean of Journalism at Florida State Univ.
Anyway, I had difficulty concentrating on the shoot because I was thinking about Elaine Sernovitz, an amazing woman writer who was then working at the United Nations. Just before leaving New York, she told me not to bother calling her when I got back. As she has learned subsequently, I don’t listen, and with Ralph’s permission made a long-distance call to New York and asked her to marry me. I was surprised and very happy when she said “yes.”
We decided to rendezvous in New Orleans and have a simple ceremony. Visits to the families in Milwaukee and Boston would come later. To compress the following events, I drove my Volkswagon all the way across Texas, at a steady speed of 58mph (the maximum), picked up my watch at a hock shop in Corpus Christi and arrived in New Orleans where I stayed with my cousin Henry Freidman who was a tourist guide in the Old Quarter.
I had a message waiting for me from Lynn Marret, my agent in New York. Marvin and Norman had been fired, she had rushed over to their office with a bottle of Scotch and managed to get a check cut for money owed. (The good old days!) Then, to modify the pain she told me that she had gotten me an assignment to photograph Bourbon Street New Orleans, for a high-end startup men’s magazine that was going to compete with Esquire.
I called Elaine with the bad news/good news and I think she saw me wobbling on the marriage idea. I assured her that I wasn’t. When the money arrived from Lynn in New York, I bought the wedding rings and film for the Bourbon Street shoot. With the help of my cousin Henry. ”Sure you can shoot the strippers; shoot whatever you want. I know everybody on the street.” I shot for three days and developed the film in the bathroom of the motel where I had moved. Each morning I would cut the negs and put them in a proof printing frame on my doorstep using POP (Printing out paper.) No developer necessary..they were like the red proofs you got from portrait studios in the 1950s. I captioned, quickly got them out of the light and into an evelope and mailed them to New York. Shortly after the last batch arrived in New York, Lynn sent me a telegram saying the shoot was rejected and they were giving me a $100 kill fee. What news!!– just before our wedding!
Years later “Woman at the Bar “ was taken into the collection of MOMA and ICP. Chelo was included in Bill Ewing’s book “The Body.” (Thames & Hudson 1994) The entire essay was the subject of my book “Bourbon Street New Orleans 1955 “ published by Les Editions du Passage, Montreal 2006. Of course, that didn’t help us then. Freelance people are survivors. We survived and after 55years have four children and nine grandchildren.