A. Aubrey Bodine - Legend In His Time - Star of the Brown Section
STAR OF THE BROWN SECTION
In His Introduction to Chesapeake Bay and Tidewater, Watson recalled Bodines visit. I was editing the Baltimore Sunday Sun years ago, he wrote, when a shy youth submitted some strikingly fine photographs for publication. He was then a novice in the Suns commercial-art office, gnawing his knuckles in impatience over the dull daily business of making routine pictures of routine goods for routine sale. The young redhead was so eager to do creative work on the Sunday staff that he might almost have come for nothing at all. But he calmly stated that nobody could want him to provide good pictures at poor pay. His way of putting it startled the editors and almost made the business manager blush (which is quite a feat) and he got the raise.
Watson remembered correctly. Bodine was making $27.50 a week as a commercial photographer. Going upstairs he got a whopping raise to $40. At the same time the shy youth talked the seasoned editor into giving him a flat $25 a month extra for the use of his car in Baltimore, no matter how little or much he traveled.¤ At that time other reporters and photographers were paid travel money in streetcar tokens. When Bodine went outside the city limits he charged extra, too, even if it was only to Towson or Catonsville.
In 1927 the Sunday Sun sold for five cents in the city and suburbs, eight cents elsewhere. It had a circulation of 200,905 and consisted of eight sections, usually about 136 pages. Coolidge was president. Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic on May 21. Frank R. Kents column, The Great Game of Politics, was on page one. Edmund Duffy was the editorial page cartoonist. Grantland Rice was writing about Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth. Ronald Coleman and Vilma Banky were stars of the movie The Night of Love. Morton Downey was singing at the Maryland Theatre. The Sunday comics included the Nebbs, the Bungle Family, Toonerville Folks, Mutt and Jeff and the Gumps.
The most attractive part of the Sunday Sun was the three-part Photogravure section known by everyone as The Brown Section. This was a hodgepodge of international, national and local pictures. Usually the big news scenes of recent weeks were displayed on page one, the pictures coming by mail from such agencies as Underwood and Underwood, Acme and Wide World. In the spring of 1927 Lindbergh was often on page one. On other pages were spreads of Coolidges summer retreat in the Black Hills, the treasures from King Tuts Tomb, tulip fields in Holland, and British sailors rehearsing rope climbing for a royal tournament. Every issue, it seems, had a photograph of a dreadnought firing a salvo or catapulting an airplane, a rags to riches personality (Edith Mae Cummings who in four years moved from a telephone switch board to million dollar fortune is running for mayor of Detroit.) and a rider being thrown in a steeplechase, or from a bucking bronco or a careening motorcycle.
The local pictures were of events that had taken place a week or two earlier-opening day at Pimlico, an air meet at Logan Field, a Worthington Valley horse show, a Memorial Day parade on Frederick avenue, the Queen of Spring pageant at Alexander Hamilton School.
The pictures were not displayed in rectangular form but in circles, ovals, triangles, rhomboids and shapes that defy description. If there was space left between them it was filled with type set in odd measure and with ornaments and filigrees drawn by the layout artist. Inside pages were crowded with ads, usually of silversmiths, bakeries, dairies, a local soft drink company and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad-the railroad advertised its passenger service and often its motor coaches, which carried passengers from trainside in Jersey City across the Hudson River by ferry to coach stations in Manhattan.
¤ The business office tried to abrogate this over the years, claiming he should be paid on a mileage basis, like everyone else. But Bodine resisted, maintaining that it was part of the arrangement when he became Sunday photographer. He was still being reimbursed by this unique arrangement when he died, 43 years after he proposed it.
Although Bodine, as Sunday photographer, had to take pictures for the theater and society pages too, most of his work was for The Brown Section. For a year or more he covered the same subjects as his predecessors - the Maryland Hunt Cup, graduation at the Naval Academy, Fourth of July celebrations - along with the big events of the day, Queen Marie of Romania visiting Baltimore, Lindbergh speaking at the Stadium in the rain, the dirigible Hindenburg cruising over Baltimore. Most of these were news pictures. They differed from those that had appeared earlier in the news columns only in being part of a spread on the subject and, sometimes, but not always, catching the mood of the event.
Though the pictures were credited merely as Sun Staff Photos it is possible to identify some that Bodine produced soon after he began contributing to the Photogravure section. A sweeping view of sheep grazing on the Mansion House slope in Druid Hill Park gave indications of his pictorial talent. So did a small picture titled Steel, Steam and Mist, showing a switching engine shuttling from a trainshed toward the St. Paul street bridge in the background. This was taken with a soft focus lens and had the quality of a French daguerreotype.
Gradually the Bodine style began to evolve and it changed both the quality and the type of local pictures used in the Photogravure section. A layout on the new Western High School indicated that the photographer was trying to stress the architectural aspects of the building. A page of pictures of Baltimore gardens caught their freshness and individuality. On March 28, 1928, a large photograph titled Evening in the Harbor appeared; it was made at dusk and it showed the rigging of oyster boats against a somber sky. It was lovely and it carried the credit line A. Aubrey Bodine. That probably was the first, or one of the first, credit lines he ever received. A few weeks later the layout on the new City College also carried his name. From then on his byline appeared regularly and became one of the best known staff names in Sunpaper history.
More and more Bodine was shooting for pictorial effect. His best picture illustrating a Western Maryland hunting story showed the hunters with their guns and dogs dramatically silhouetted on a hillside. For a ducking story along the Susquehanna River he took not only pictures of gunners in their sink boxes and with their bag, but also a mood photograph of a guide rowing his boat across a pond in early morning light. In the distance was a clump of trees on a crescent of land, and in the foreground the edge of a barn. It was a picturesque scene and Bodine recognized its possibilities years later. He went back to photograph it again with the rowboat coming out of rising mists. This picture was superior to the earlier one; with better composition and heightened mood. Through darkroom magic he had perfected, several distracting pilings had been removed. The picture was titled Ebb Tide and became one of his big prize winners. It was characteristic of Bodine to note striking scenes like this and appreciate when they could best be photographed. Many times he went back after intervals of years, to get pictures he knew were there.
Bodine now was living the full, sweet life. He loved his work and the opportunities it offered, both professionally and socially. As a Sun photographer he had an advantageous spot for anything of interest or significance going on in Baltimore or Maryland. He was using his best pictures from these assignments in exhibitions. Occasionally he was asked to judge a show, not only locally but out of town, and that must have been heady stuff indeed for a young man who was still experimenting to improve his own work.
Only one embarrassing incident was to mar these perfect days. He was assigned to cover a matinee vaudeville performance of Abbott and Costello. He hated such assignments. He was not at his best making interior pictures, had a hard time shooting unpredictable action, and was ill at ease before crowds. But there he was in a box seat adjoining the stage, and so intent on what he was doing that he was caught unaware when the comedians bounded into the box, grabbed his camera and equipment bag and jumped back on the stage. One of the pair tried to coax him up to retrieve the camera while the other pretended to pull outsize purple bloomers and other unlikely objects out of the bag. The audience roared at the stunned and mortified young man sitting in the most prominent seat in the theater. Bodine was wise enough never to tell anyone at the office about the experience. But that night when his mother asked if he were running a fever, because his face was so flushed, he let slip a few details of his horrendous afternoon.
In 1927 or 1928, when he was 21 or 22, Bodine left the family home in Elk Ridge and moved to Baltimore. He and Raleigh Carroll, a reporter on the Sun, and often a third roommate who changed from time to time, had an apartment at Park avenue and Tyson street, above Leons, a popular speakeasy. Many nights their rooms were the scene of bull sessions and parties but more often Bodine used them to take pictures of still life and his friends. He liked the gay life of a bachelor but he enjoyed even more making pictures, either alone or with someone who could teach him. He and Robert F. Kniesche, a bright young news photographer who later directed the Sunpapers news photographic department for years, traveled together. They might drive to Pittsburgh to shoot the steel mills or take a trip on the Baltimore Mail Line to photograph Southern scenes. Kniesche has a picture of Bodine standing on the steps of the Cloisters in Savannah. He was wearing knickers and argyle socks, an outfit that he wore most of the time. Years before they traveled out of town they roamed Baltimore, photographing the railroad yards, the waterfront and harbor and downtown Baltimore at night. One of Bodines favorite spots was the roof of the YMCA building on Franklin street. From there he took several exhibition prints of the Cathedral and its onion-shaped domes looming against the citys skyline.
Bodine, Kniesche, Carroll and Leigh Sanders, who had succeeded Bodine as commercial photographer, lived high and well on their $40 and $50-a-week salaries. They would meet in the lobby of the Rennert Hotel because that was the place to be seen; they ate at Schellhases Restaurant, then on Franklin street, a restaurant H. L. Mencken liked and at which his Saturday Night Club often met. They went with girls at the Maryland Institute, tore around town in their Model Ts and had access to the speakeasies in the Park avenue neighborhood which was their stamping ground. One of the favorite speakeasies was Harry Channels on Biddle street. A popular bootlegger was Lee Turner, known as the society bootlegger because many of his clients were the best people in town. The boys would mix half-pint bottles with 180 proof alcohol and spigot water. They seldom bothered to add juniper berry juice to give the potion a gin flavor. Nelly Moore was another popular bootlegger, particularly with newspapermen. Gordon gin bottles with labels were premium items. Bootleggers liked them for making it look as if they were selling the real thing, right off the boat. Kniesche says that if the group turned in five empty Gordon gin bottles they got six bottles of gin for the price of five, but of course in plain bottles. Newspapermen seldom drank anything but gin. Whisky was hard to get. The only way to get good whisky was to have a friendly doctor who would prescribe it for medicinal purposes.
The event of the year for newspapermen and artists was the Bal des Arts sponsored for many years by the Charcoal Club, which was composed of artists, architects; writers and other free spirits. The members spent weeks discussing their costumes and whom they would take. A day or two before the ball they would get a supply of gin from the busy bootleggers. Bodine and Kniesche carried their gin and orange juice in two suitcases. They would meet in the basement of the Charcoal Club on Preston street to apply their makeup and start to get a package on, an expression in those days for getting drunk. The ball was in Lehmann Hall on Howard street. Tickets cost as much as $12. The affair usually had a theme-robots, Hollywood, East of Suez, Back to Bohemia - and the guests were to dress accordingly. Uniforms of all kinds, tuxedos and spike-tail coats were barred. Even the policemen and firemen assigned to the hall were required to wear fancy dress. The ball started at 9:30 p.m. A 25-piece orchestra played in the main hall, in another room was a 15-man jazz band, and a string quartet played for the midnight supper. One newspaper account read: At about 1 a.m. when the revelry reached its zenith an announcement was made that half a dozen husbands would like to find their wives and rewards were offered. The ball was officially to end at 4 or 5 a.m. but usually went on much of that day and sometimes that night too.
After a few years of Baltimores gay life Bodine decided he should get away for a while. On August 30, 1930, he sailed for Europe on the S.S.Republic. The cost of his round trip, including United States and French taxes, was $207.75. A friend took his picture before he sailed. Despite the summer heat, he wore a heavy overcoat with large plaid stripes and a plaid scarf. He held a large pipe and leaned nonchalantly against the wheel of the ship. His new felt hat seemed too large. No matter how hard he strove to pass as a man of the world embarking on an adventurous trip, he looked about 17. He was 24.
He stopped to see his friend Dick Medford, who was studying at the Sorbonne. Bodine, who did not know a word of French or anything about Paris, walked more than halfway across the city to find Medford, who had no idea that he was coming. When he located the address he walked in without rapping and said Hi in the same tone he would use to someone he saw every day. He also visited with R. P. Harriss, another Baltimore friend, then working for the Paris Herald and writing a book.
Bodine spent most of his three weeks in Germany and Austria taking pictures. A number of those made in Rothenburg, Nurnburg and Wien (the spellings he used as picture titles) were exhibited for years. They were among his favorites and several hung on his living room wall until the late Forties. He was perceptive enough to notice that the German government was encouraging its youth to fly and working hard to build an air force. He was flattered that on several occasions he had been mistaken for a touring Englishman. He returned to Baltimore with his suitcase plastered with stickers.
In the early Thirties he went back to school and he met and married Evelyn LeFevre.
His only schooling after St. Pauls had been a year at the Industrial Boys School on Franklin street in 1922 or 1923; he attended two nights a week, studying eighth grade subjects. But in 1931-32 he enrolled in the YMCA night school, taking English and possibly another subject. The meager records indicate that he had a high school diploma when he started but that would have been impossible. Also, in the summer of 1931 and 1934 he studied commercial photography at the Winona School of Professional Photography at Winona Lake, Ill. The two or three-week courses included such subjects as camera swings and tilts, commercial lighting, film processing, negative printing, laboratory techniques, composition and architectural photography. Both summers he was elected leader of his class.
Most important, he entered the Maryland Institute Evening School in October, 1932. Tuition was $20. He studied general design three nights a week under Hughes Wilson, a graduate of the school who had won its European Traveling Scholarship in 1928. The catalogue described the course as planned to meet the needs of designers and teachers in art structure, composition and fundamentals of general design. The advanced course gives practice in application of design principles to problems in decorative and applied art, as well as self-expression in the fields of design. Photography was not part of the course. Bodine studied there for two years, 1932-33 and 1933-34. He received an A his first year, a B his second. He did not begin the advanced work for the four-year program. He credited the Institute with teaching him what he knew about design and with giving him an appreciation of art. He believed that his two years there greatly influenced and benefited his photography. In Whos Who he listed his attendance as four years.
Evelyn LeFevre had graduated from the Institute in 1927 with a diploma in costume design. She won first prize in that subject and received a $300 scholarship for study in New York. She attended the New York School of Fine and Applied Arts and the Traphagen School. She returned to Baltimore in September, 1928, to teach costume design at the Institute and was there until 1947.
She was beautiful, vivacious, talented and ambitious. She and Aubrey met when he was taking newspaper pictures at the Institute. After a two-year courtship they were married on August 7, 1932, at a church in North East, near Elkton, Md. Bodine wanted to be married there because he thought it was one of the prettiest churches he had photographed. Only the immediate families were present; he had not invited his friends, or even told them about his wedding.
The newlyweds took a four-room apartment on the second floor at 112 West Mulberry street and lived there for four years-until one night at a party, with everyone high on bathtub gin, Bodine bought a house without realizing it. The next day a friend, a real estate salesman, called him. Well, Aubrey, he said, when do you want to make settlement on your house? What house? Bodine demanded. He was told that at the party he had been offered 805 Park avenue for $7,000 and had made a counter offer of $4,000. The real estate man called his client in the morning and the offer was accepted. Bodine thought it over and decided he had made a good buy even if he had been drunk. The century-old three-story brick house had five apartments.
Bodine loved 805 and had only one fault to find with it. When he bought it he did not realize that it had an irredeemable ground rent, which meant that he could not own the land, no matter how long he lived there, unless the owner of the ground chose to sell. Despite many offers and cajolements, the owner would not sell. This infuriated Bodine, particularly when it came time to pay the annual $250 ground rent. Every year he fired off complaints to public officials about the viciousness of the system. In a three-page letter to Governor Preston Lane he described ground rents as tyrannical, barbaric and little short of treason. We fought for our independence 171 years ago for something equally as sacred, he raged. He concluded: I would like to mention for the benefit of this anti-democratic group [evidently those who held irredeemable ground rents] that some years ago Abraham Lincoln issued his famous Emancipation Proclamation, thus depriving thousands of Southerners of slaves overnight with no compensation whatever, and many were shot in the bargain including many of my relatives. Wishing you every success and the minimum of headaches during your tenure, I am, cordially. . .
In this period Bodine was developing a sideline business of selling his prints. This started with the University Repertory Theatre, popularly known as the University Players. The actors were young, mostly from Princeton, Harvard and New England girls colleges. They had opened a summer theater on Cape Cod and then decided to establish a repertory company in Baltimore at the Maryland Theatre. They spent the winters of 1931 and 1932 here. The company included Henry Fonda, Margaret Sullavan, Mildred Natwick, Joshua Logan, Myron McCormick and Bretaigne Windust, all to become famous on Broadway. The Sunday Sun had Bodine take pictures of the company from time to time. When Henry Fonda and Margaret Sullavan were married in the dining room of the Kernan Hotel (later the Congress) on Christmas Day in 1931 Bodine was present as a guest-photographer. Later the company manager wrote him, requesting copies of various pictures. He ordered prints of Mr. and Mrs. Fonda and other players, and shots of scenes from their plays. For six 8 by 10 glossy prints from one negative Bodine charged 50 cents each. For less than six prints his price was 75 cents. On March 19, 1932, the company sent him a check in the full amount due you to date. As you will notice this check is dated April 10, 1932, at which date it may be cashed.
Evelyn was a good business woman and after they were married she convinced Aubrey that he could never get rich, or even make money, by selling his pictures for 50 cents. He made more when he began taking pictures for the Bethlehem Steel Company of its Sparrows Point plant. Officials were so pleased with his work that they asked him to photograph their Western mines. He took a leave of absence from the Sunpapers in the spring of 1935 for six weeks.
Bodine gave an account of this trip in a resume of his career he prepared during World War II for unknown reasons.
He wrote: The largest job that I ever tackled on the outside was when the Assistant Manager of Public Relations came down from Bethlehem and wanted me to go out West for them. I turned the proposition down for it involved about three months travel clear to the west coast up to the Grand Coulee Dam. Later they again approached me with such an attractive offer that I accepted and secured a leave of absence. I drew up a contract which met the approval of their attorneys. One of the stipulations was that they would give me one of their own photographers to set up and carry equipment. The job was arduous and difficult for it involved photographing mining equipment in gold, lead, silver, zinc, copper and molybdenum mines, under conditions just as difficult as one might imagine. One mine, the Argonaut in Grass Valley, Calif. was 6,000 feet deep, and the other extreme was the Climax Molybdenum Mine in Colorado, being 12,000 feet above sea level. Most of the mines were wet, many using 440 volts. As I moved from one town to another I would develop my negatives in the bathroom using the wash basin for developer, the toilet for washing excess developer off and the bathtub for hypo fixing bath. The trip netted me some thousands of dollars and I have had most cordial relations with the company to the present . . .
Bethlehem Steel selected 285 of his prints, paying him $5 for each one and $2 for its negative-the same rate it paid him in Baltimore-and $2 for 34 negatives the company considered unacceptable. He made over $2,000 for the six weeks work. He also got two exhibition prints out of the trip: Continental Divide, Climax, Col. and Leadville, Col.
Commercial pictures were also taken for Appalachian Apples, Inc., of Martinsburg, W.Va., a turkey farm on the Eastern Shore and several small companies that did work for Bethlehem Steel. The apple people wanted, in one days shooting, pictures of the harvesting in nearby orchards, with girls and with men, some balanced precariously out high on a ladder reaching for the top apples; several photographs of boys eating apples in various situations; some packing house pictures and some photos of nicely packed fruit; and such.
The turkey people were upset over what they described as a clothes line shot. Who under the sun, wrote the wife of the turkey farm owner, would want to display the picture with Mr. Baker pushing a wheelbarrow and our ugly little tenant house and a goodly size wash on the line in the prominent background? Without an explanation one might suppose that our business was small enough for Mr. Baker to care for the crop and unprofitable enough for us to live in a tenant house. The picture did no one justice, least of all you who makes such beautiful pictures. Bodines answer was surprisingly mild. After noting that the letter contained many erroneous and intimidating remarks, he concluded: However, in consideration of your feelings, I have destroyed the negative.
One company complained that the cost of the pictures ($5 each) is so extremely high we feel that you no doubt made an error in the billing and would be pleased to have you recheck your figures and advise by return mail. In his reply he was polite but firm. This one particular job was an emergency. The photographs were made in a raging snowstorm from dangerous angles and under adverse circumstances. I gave your company immediate service because Mr. was extremely anxious to have the pictures to submit to the president the next day.
A building products company was not impressed that Bodine was already known in salons across the country for the sensitivity of his work and his ability to use light and shadow to create beauty. In a long letter the district manager complained about his photography. I am very sorry that you have not been able to secure a good exterior view of the Boiler Shop and the Forge Shop, he wrote. The Boiler Shop. view does not show the ventilators, except one at the near end which is badly distorted. You will understand that this need not be a close up view-the idea being to show the entire installation of ventilators on this roof. I trust that you will secure a better picture of this installation. Regarding the exterior view of the Boiler Shop-this picture is all right, except that the line of vision is such that we cannot see the slope of the main roof, therefore it is impossible to determine what is being done on this roof. It should be possible to get a picture of the main roof from some point.
In later years Bodine would not even consider photographing a boiler shop roof, no matter how much money was involved. And if any customer had dared to complain that he had not made an effective view and had better go back and do it the way it was wanted, the confrontation would have been frightful to behold. In the late Forties he was offered $7,000 by an automobile manufacturer, his favorite one at the time, to portray its factory-supervised service installations. He turned it down because, as he put it: Who in the hell in their right mind would want to photograph those phony bastards in white coats peering at engines as if they knew what they were doing?
But those earlier pictures, remember, were made during the Depression. Bodine had taken a ten per cent pay cut. He was buying a house. Extra work was not easy to get. An important factor, too, about the tone of those letters-Evelyn undoubtedly revised them after he dictated them.
Bodine, of course, did exceptional work and even during the Depression the demand for his commercial and industrial photography increased. He had so much to do that he and Leigh Sanders formed a partnership. Sanders had left the Sun in December, 1931, to become a ships photographer but he eventually came back to Baltimore with the idea for the partnership. They consulted a lawyer about drawing up papers but considered his fee too high. Ellen Bodine helped here; she was dating a young lawyer and she prevailed upon him to do the legal work for practically nothing. Bodine-Sanders rented a second floor suite at 105 East Franklin street in November, 1938. They kept a copybook record of all expenditures-which included 95 cents for doormat, 25 cents for phone calls to the gas company before phone was installed, and 10 cents for drinking glass holder. Bodine was to bring in the orders from Bethlehem and other companies and Sanders was to take some of the pictures and do all the darkroom work. But it did not work out. Bodine was too demanding, Sanders too easygoing. Within nine months the partnership was dissolved.
Bodines commercial work ranged from steel mills to portraits. He photographed Mencken and Menckens bride. Mencken wrote him often, ordering extra prints, particularly of his wife. Several times he mentioned that Aubreys was the best portrait ever made of her. Once he thanked the photographer for your very humane bill.
Many others hounded him for pictures or were important enough to receive them as gifts. Organizations were after him for all sorts of favors. Mayor Howard W. Jackson thanked him for the photograph of his little grandson, Billy Sheehan. Albert D. Hutzler wrote a gracious note of thanks for pictures of Pomona, the Hutzler estate. An organist friend turned a thankyou note into a request: The pictures are fine. I had no idea they would be so large. Now that you have the negative would it be possible to get a few small ones of me at the organ in shiny finish to use as cuts? The Irvington Improvement Association asked him to photograph an estate it hoped to have turned into a neighborhood park. Requests for appearances also came. House officers of the Johns Hopkins Hospital asked him to judge their camera contest. The Junior League of Baltimore was sponsoring a Childrens Theater Bureau Conference of the Junior Leagues of America and wanted him to judge the photographs of the sets. So many wanted so much that Bodine took to ignoring both letters and his telephone. One man who had tried to reach him in these ways for weeks in desperation penned a note saying, You are harder to get up with than the ghost of Julius Caesar!
Magazines, small ones and important ones, were now asking for permission to reproduce his pictures. He developed a reply that insured that his name would appear in the credit. When the Philadelphia Electric Company asked for such permission he replied: My price for the photograph of the spillways at Conowingo Dam which you desire to use in Current News is $10 provided a credit line reading `A. Aubrey Bodine appears beneath the reproduction. Carmel Snow, editor of Harpers Bazaar, admired his photograph Two Nuns, which appeared in the 1935 issue of Camera, and offered $25 if she could publish it. His pictures help illustrate Maryland, a Guide to the Old Line State, compiled by the Work Projects Administration. These were credited to Kramer-Bodine, a commercial art studio which was handling some of his pictures. It was owned by Evelyn Bodine and Edward Kramer, a former commercial artist at the Sun who had later toured the Keith vaudeville circuit with the Maryland Collegians as a song and dance man.
Life had asked Bodine to make pictures but he was unhappy over the treatment he received. He was assigned to photograph Gerald W. Johnson, the writer, and he did. The pictures were not used and Life sent Bodine a check for $10. That made him angry. He wrote the magazine: I dont think $10 is adequate. Just to list the various things involved: First, I neglected a job on hand that Sunday in order to help Gerald Johnson whom I know very well; second, the pictures took up the whole day. I spent the morning with him, rearranging the furniture, completely turning his study upside down for the proper setting. Then I took particular care in printing the negatives and getting them off to meet the right train to get them in your hands the first thing Monday morning as promised.
From here he went on to another complaint: You spoke in your letter about the German liners that I made in the Patuxent River back in 1937. How well do I remember this job and the trouble and effort I put into obtaining them for you for the small sum of $20. For example, I first had to get permission from the Maritime Commission in Washington to board the ships. I then drove a total of 70 miles, had to hire a boat to board the ships, spent most of the day going through extremely dark passageways all the way down to the boiler room. After finishing that I managed to get hold of a plane and flew over the ships and gave you an excellent air view of them. Finally after that, with nothing to eat all day long, I wound up in a saloon in Solomons Island and got tangled up with some slot machines. I know I lost at least $5 or $6.
Bodine was putting it on a bit thick. He undoubtedly had submitted the pictures to the Sunpapers too and had been reimbursed by the paper for his expenses. But Life was properly apologetic. It sent him an additional $10 for the Johnson picture and offered to pay his expenses on the liner story except for what you lost on the slot machines.
Despite a heavy schedule, provocations and disappointments, Bodine was generous with his time and his pictures. He made extra prints, free, if he liked an individual or thought it might help an institution such as a school, hospital or orphanage. He donated prints to the Peale Museum as early as 1931. In 1932 he began donating photographs of Baltimore and Maryland scenes to the Enoch Pratt Free Library. Some of these appear in this book. Joseph L. Wheeler, the librarian, thanked him, saying: As you know, we are planning to have a Department of Local History in our new building and the photographs which you have given us will constitute a large portion of the picture collection of this department.
Between 1931 and 1936 he submitted prints to 40 salons sponsored by the Photographic Society of America. For the most part these were the top salons in the country. Later he was to write a consoling letter to a friend who had done poorly in the Pittsburgh show, probably the toughest one of them all. I am not ashamed to mention, he wrote, that I was kicked out of the Pittsburgh show the first two years I submitted prints although I had never been rejected by any other salon. In 1933 I was subjected to the same treatment. Yes, I was burnt up but I did not stop. No! I was more determined than ever to do better the next time. And he did. Soon he was made an associate member of the Pittsburgh club, an honor bestowed for consistent excellency of exhibits.
He judged his first Pittsburgh salon in the early Thirties and was invited back several times, high recognition for a young man. He was also judging other shows in the East and South. When asked for advice in picking a third judge for the Norfolk salon he revealed his shrewdness in such matters. He wrote: The third judge, in my opinion, should be someone of local prominence, such as an editor of your paper, director of your museum or someone who patronizes the arts. Should such a judge make an unwise decision, Mr. Nagel and I will naturally out-vote him. Also, with such a man or woman on your jury, you should be able to obtain more publicity.
His first major one-man show was held at the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts in Hagerstown in January, 1933. It consisted of 37 prints and included seven of his German and Austrian studies, a number of industrial pictures, Fort Macon Beach, A Study in Balance, and two old favorites, Fishing Dories and Symphony in Reflections II The Hagerstown paper commented: The subject matter is extremely diversified . . . A good many industrial photographs are included, which well illustrate the modern geometric spirit, giving striking results in patterns of line and shadow.
In 1934 he had a one-man show at the Baltimore Camera Club. In 1936 and 1938 he won medals at the Maryland Institute Fine Arts Alumni shows; he bragged that these were won in competition against drawings, water colors, oils, lithographs and etchings. Years later he observed: I especially cherish those two medals. I felt I had accomplished something to produce photographs of sufficient merit to overcome the usual prejudice that many people have against photographs in an art institution.
About this time he started a class in photography for young people at the International YMCA in East Baltimore, volunteering his services. Later he taught a class in photography for the Adult Education Program of the Department of Education of Baltimore.
Bodine was driving himself - at the Sun, in his commercial work, on his weekend trips to judge salons, and in his exhibition work - on which he spent hours in his darkroom, sometimes making 20 or 30 prints before he got what he wanted. He seemed obsessed with the idea of proving himself, of becoming somebody. In fifteen years he had pushed himself from messenger boy to one of the best in his business, whose pictorial artistry was admired and studied in salons across the country. It had not been easy. There had not been much time for Evelyn, for fun, for friends or family. Work was his life, success and fame his goal.
In the late Thirties his world began to come apart. His marriage had been going badly for some time, and not only because of his work. He was moody, cantankerous, self-centered. He and Evelyn were artists with different viewpoints and responses. There were frightful and prolonged clashes of artistic temperament. And drinking compounded his problems.
Between 1937 and 1941 he entered only nine exhibitions. Weeks went by without any of his pictures appearing in the Sunday Sun. He and Evelyn separated. Pressures and responsibilities became unbearable. He was away from work for 29 days in the fall of 1937 for observation and rest. In late 1938 and early 1939 he took off three weeks for a rest cure. In 1940 he suffered a nervous collapse, missing three weeks of work. His drinking had become a serious problem.
To bolster his sagging spirits and to show the papers confidence in him, H. Lowrey Cooling, who had succeeded Watson as Sunday editor, in January, 1941, appointed Bodine head of the Sunday Photographic Department. The title was more honorary than anything else; the department consisted of himself and an assistant. His sister and brother were desperately trying to help, too, but were usually turned away. Finally, though, he accepted their advice. Ellen had recently married Charles Walter. They moved into 805 Park avenue to run the apartments. Bodine went back to Elk Ridge to live with his mother and Seeber. He had little to say, but one outburst, a typical one, is remembered. He had been home for only a day when he telephoned Ellen. For Christs sake, he stormed, bring some of my sterling silver down here. Were eating with plated forks.
He and Evelyn were divorced on April 23, 1942. He never referred to the marriage except for one laconic statement years later. One night when he was in an unusually relaxed mood his daughter Jennifer, then about 19, sat at his feet talking in a warm, intimate manner. Tell me about your marriage to Evelyn, she said impulsively. After a reflective pause he replied, I was 26. She was 25. That, he evidently felt, said all there was to say. He made a business of stuffing and lighting his pipe and then he was gone.
A few days after his divorce Bodine received a furlough from the Sunpapers. At the suggestion of his family and doctors he sought professional advice for his drinking and went to a sanatorium near Ellicott City. At the end of six weeks he went back to work, and although he took psychiatric treatment for about two years he was well on his way to a new life. Once again his beautiful photographs of Maryland were adorning The Brown Section and the best of them were being painstakingly printed for the toughest salon competitions.
During World War II Bodine lost his assistant at the Sun. Consequently he had to do all the Sunday work himself, not only the major assignments, but also the routine ones, even the rephotos. Cooling had him doing more traveling than ever before, much of it up and down the East Coast, covering the war effort. He ranged from the defense plants of Baltimore and the beaches of Solomons Island where amphibious craft practiced landings to the vast maneuver grounds of the South. The work was complicated by the necessity of getting military clearance for his pictures. Many times he would carry still-damp prints to Washington to expedite clearance. With the reportorial staff depleted, he became a photographer-reporter. He occasionally produced stories about the war effort but more often he wrote about what he knew best: the strawberry crop of Somerset county, the Baltimore zoo, and, one of his favorite places, the farm on Chestnut Ridge in Baltimore county which the Gartling family still tilled with ancient handmade tools. He never learned to type, so he dictated his articles to Coolings secretary, Mrs. Lydia Jeffers. An unappreciative copyreader removed all of his picturesque expressions and pungent observations, and as a result the stories were dull.
In 1944 Seeber and friends began telling him about Nancy Tait Weaver, a beautiful redhead with personality and style. She was divorced and, with her 8-year-old daughter Stuart, living in Lutherville with friends, Mr. and Mrs. Leonard E. Behrens, Jr. Leonard and Seeber worked for the same company. They raved so much about Nancy that finally Bodines curiosity was aroused. He stopped by about five times before he found her at home. That was a Sunday afternoon when she was washing her hair and also doing the weeks wash. She sent word downstairs that she was sorry but it was impossible to meet him then and there. Bodine was never easily discouraged. He sent word upstairs that this was the fifth time he had called and he insisted on meeting her; if she did not come down, he was going up. In desperation she fled down a back stairway and out the back door. Thankful for her close escape, she began to hang up her wash. Suddenly Bodine materialized at the clothesline. He prided himself on being one of the best-dressed men in town and that day he was in his best attire: Homburg, Tattersall vest, custom-made shirting and suit, English shoes. He introduced himself. Then, without another word, he began picking wash, including undergarments, out of the basket and politely handing them to Nancy. She was doing three things at once: trying to think of something to say, clumsily hanging up the wash with one hand and, with the other, frantically pulling out her curlers and stuffing them in the pocket of her apron. Somehow she made an impression. Aubrey asked for a date but she put him off. Later that week he sent her a telegram: We have date Saturday night for dinner.
They were married nine months later, on November 25, 1944, in a church on Harford road.* That morning he had been on assignment, working with John Stubel of the Sunday staff. Stubel recalls that Bodine hurried his picture-taking and then, after noting the time, said he had to get moving. But, uncommunicative as usual, he said no more. It was not until weeks later that Stubel learned he had rushed off to get married.
The honeymoon was spent in Salisbury. Bodine had an assignment to photograph a wildcat oil well in Wicomico county and he decided to combine assignment and honeymoon. Never one to make reservations, no matter the occasion, he confidently drove to the Wicomico Hotel that night and asked for the bridal suite. He was told that every room was taken. After urgent pleading on his part he and his bride were assigned a room off the lobby, or, to be precise, half of it. A folding partition was brought in to divide the small public room. The other half had been set up as a display space for traveling salesmen.
When the new Mrs. Bodine awoke the next morning the bridegroom had already left to get a dawn shot of the oil derrick. It was a cold, damp day. Rather than walk around Salisbury in the rain to kill time, Nancy stayed in bed listening to necktie salesmen on the other side of the partition enthusiastically push their wares.
It was not an auspicious way to start married life, but it was the beginning of Bodines happiest and most productive years.
*Some husbands might occasionally forget the date of their wedding anniversaries, but Bodine listed the wrong date for his in Whos Who. He gave it as November 24.
All Photographs by A. Aubrey Bodine - Copyright Jennifer B. Bodine