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Remembering Neal Boenzi Share This on LinkedIn   Tweet This   Forward This

6 April 2023

Neal Boenzi, a staff photographer for the New York Times for 40 years, died earlier this week at an elder care facility in Newhall, Calif. He was 97.

Boenzi was born in South Brooklyn, one of five children. His father was a plumber and his mother a homemaker. He studied at Brooklyn College but when the U.S. entered World War II, he enlisted in the Marines.

He served as an aviation mechanic in the South Pacific from 1942 to 1945.

After his discharge, a girlfriend told him that the New York Times was hiring for an office boy in the photography department at $30 a week. He jumped at the opportunity and was hired in 1946.

Not long after, he became a photo lab assistant and soon began taking pictures himself.

'Anyone can take a picture, but are you a journalist?'

He returned to active duty in 1950 during the Korean War, where he was assigned to the photo section of the Second Marine Division at Camp Lejeune, N.C. He returned to the New York Times as a staff photographer when his service ended.

As a staff photographer, he gained a reputation for covering an assignment on a single 36-exposure roll of film. And often, according to one photo editor, he could do it in six frames.

"I'd wonder why he didn't take any more than that," Nancy Lee recalled, "and he'd say, 'Because I didn't need to.' And sure enough, he'd have six frames and five would be usable."

News coverage wasn't his only beat. He also took "day shots," which were assignments "to be creative and find pictures that brightened readers' days." Often he found his subjects on the street, capturing scenes of everyday life in New York City.

His image of Manhattan in the smog on Thanksgiving morning in 1966 made the front page of the paper. And he unavoidable shot celebrities including Winston Churchill, Frank Sinatra, Beth Davis, Marcel Marceau, Jack Nicholson, Ed Koch, Fidel Castro and Nikita Khrushchev.

In 2013, his finest images were exhibited in the show Vintage Boenzi at Jadite Galleries.

But whatever the assignment, he didn't feel it was enough to just snap photos. "Anyone can take a picture, but are you a journalist?" he would say.

Boenzi retired in 1991 at the age of 65 (when they wanted him to use a computer) and moved to Southern California. Married three times, he is survived by his daughter, Jeanette Boenzi, and a son, John.

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