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Remembering Carl Fischer Share This on LinkedIn   Tweet This   Forward This

12 April 2023

Carl Fischer who shot some of the most memorable magazine covers of his time, died last week at his home in Manhattan. He was 98.

He was born in 1924 and raised in Brooklyn, graduating from The Cooper Union before studying at the Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London as a Fulbright Fellow.

He bought a camera to take snapshots in London. "One thing led to another and I ended up spending about a year working in the darkroom, mostly alone, teaching myself how to take pictures," he once recalled.

He began his career as an advertising agency art director in New York working with Paul Rand and Herb Lubalin before starting his own studio. There he continued to develop his photographic skills.

In 1963 that work caught the attention of Harold Hayes, the editor of Esquire, who hired Fischer to shoot covers for the magazine. It became a regular gig with Fischer shooting 60 of them, many for art director George Lois.

While Lois was credited for the concept for a cover, Fischer was the one who had to create the image in an era without Photoshop. That called for some ingenious creativity.

He relied on transparent fishing line, for example, to maintain the right angle on the arrows piercing Muhammad Ali's body posing as a modern Saint Sebastian when they arrows drooped. And he composited a photo of Andy Warhol, arms flailing, with a can of tomato soup into which he'd dropped a marble.

Lois had a tendency to take the credit for the covers, neglecting to mention the photographers who had realized the images. And in 1970, Fischer had a falling out with him over it.

In 2008, the New York Times published a feature on Lois that didn't mention Fischer at all. The photographer Helen Marcus, a former president of the American Society of Media Photographers, wrote a letter to the editor criticizing the omission. "It is akin to publishing pictures of the Sistine Chapel and mentioning the pope who paid for them but not the painter," she wrote.

Fischer shot covers for other magazines as well as Esquire, including dozens for New York. And he continued to photograph work that was the subject of gallery and museum shows.

His work is in the permanent collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art in New York, The Corcoran Gallery of Art, The International Center of Photography, The George Eastman House, The Rose Art Museum, The Spencer Museum of Art, The Victoria and Albert Museum, London, The Tel Aviv Museum of Art, The Metropolitan Opera Archives and the Library of Congress. Selections can be seen on his Web site.

He is also the author of Photographs: 1958 to 1988, Portraits: 1953 to 1984_ and Afterthoughts, a Memoir.

He lectured and taught as an adjunct professor and gave the William A. Reedy Memorial lecture at the Rochester Institute of Technology. A member of the Directors Guild of America, he directed television commercials and served as President of The Art Directors Club.

In 1949 he married Marilyn Wolf, who died in 2017. He is survived by his children Kim, Douglas and Kenneth Fischer, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

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