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Matinee: 'Available Light Man' Lou Nemeth Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

16 January 2016

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the 118th in our series of Saturday matinees today: 'Available Light Man' Lou Nemeth.

In the 1950s Louie Nemeth was a photographer for the Mutual Broadcasting System, a radio network. The job was to take publicity shots that would run in newspapers and magazines to draw listeners to their radios. Naturally, he posed his subjects. "I rarely took a picture without giving directions," he admitted. "When I was behind the camera, I was a tyrant."

But before that, he served with the 165th Signal Photo Company in Germany. When the 165th was ordered to Weimar in April 1945 by Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Nemeth spent three days documenting Buchenwald's ovens, barracks, prisoners and corpses.

'Would you mind doing something a little unusual?'

He said it didn't affect him. He was too worried about getting the results he wanted from his 4x5 Graflex Speed Graphic.

That's what he used to get the photo he remembers in this short clip from photographer Marty Katz shot in the lobby of the New York Times building. It took place a year before he died, well into his nineties. So it's something of a memorial.

The shot was a publicity still of Mitch Miller and Louis Armstrong taken on a whim in Central Park. After the usual routine, he asked them, "Would you mind doing something a little unusual?"

They didn't mind.

How did he light it? "Daylight. No flash. No flash. I was the Available Light Man," he explains. Even when he had to use flash, he says, he bounced it to avoid those shadows on the wall.

He can't help from spilling a little inadvertent advice, too.

Read the manual front to back, he says, and learn as much as going to photography school. The camera -- any camera -- can do anything, he says.

To get a great shot, you have to be able to handle more than the camera, though.

When he lined up the shot with Miller and Armstong in the park, he noticed something was wrong. He put the Speed Graphic down and went over to Armstrong to pull up his socks, which had rolled down below his ankles.

"No, no, no, that's my trademark!" Armstrong complained. So the socks stayed rolled down.

The month Nemeth died, David W. Dunlap published a nice story about him in the New York Times. Radio Had a Voice. Louie Gave It a Face.. Don't miss the comments. Several are from people who knew Nemeth very well.

"My Dad told me that one of the best things you can do for your kids is to introduce them to special people," one remembers. Nemeth was one of those special people and we're only sorry this clip introduces him after he's left us.

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