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From the Vault of Art Shay: Corporate Reports

By Art Shay in News on Aug 31, 2011 4:00PM

We now live under what used to be a stand-up comedian's line: "I like to go to Washington... to see the best government money can buy."

The 40,000 K Street lobbyists don't care about much else than earning their $150,000- $900,000 pay for their business clients.They do this by catching the ears and bank accounts of senators and representatives and the crucial, impressionable congressional aides building their own monetary careers in the shadow of our vaunted Capitol.

"We perform useful services," they defend, and in some cases they do. When poor, seemingly beset Rupert Murdoch had to meet the press, one reporter gossiped admiringly that the PR firm of Dan Edelman - my old Chicago friend and sometimes party host and patron - had fed Rupert the line about that day being "the most humbling day of my life." True or not, it humanized the old, seemingly impervious giant just enough and added to Danny's worldwide reputation for turning the hot water celebrities sometimes drown in to a survivable lukewarm. Artful salvation of corporate reputations has now become his specialty. Early on, Dan's activist wife Ruth asked me to join the firm as Dan's right hand man. Instead I recommended a gifted TV writer and a creative associate at Life, a U.S. Senator's daughter, Helen Douglas, who became a happy long-term Edelmanite.

Danny and his sons have come a long way since I helped him get some of his early clients, the Toni Twins, into Life magazine. And his Brunswick Corporation into Fortune.

I began doing photos for industrial clients in the early 50s, thanks largely to the fact that while Time and Life paid $100 a day, commercial clients shelled out $750-$2500. When the vaunted Magnum photo agency flirted with me to join them in 1953 Cornell Capa, who had come to see me, said, "Vee vill keep you busy so you vill not have to do commershall verk."

Just then the mailman came with a $750 check from Ingersoll-Rand, and negotiations ceased as I gazed at the first three of my five kids on their new bikes.

As it happened, a few months later Magnum reversed its policy and began accepting assignments from industries, companies, and highly placed lobbyists who recognized the value of good pictures and stories placed in magazines like Time, Life and Fortune.

The Magnum code of pure editorial verk was broken by none other than the great Henri Cartier-Bresson, who did the National City Annual Report for a reputed $500 a day. Henri's pictures were fine, but no finer than the work of many another hireling in the exalted halls of industry.

Thus I worked for Ford, 3M, Motorola, Baxter Labs, Blue Cross, Consolidated Paper, Zenith, and ohers - taking great joy in the annual rite of making industry look wonderful. It was a challenge several of us who monopolized the art loved. I did eight one year. For a few of us it augmented the income we made from the big magazines for covering politics, sports, crime and passion.

Paul Berlanga, who runs Stephen Daiter Gallery, attributes my eclectic unwillingness to specialize as the reason for the range of my verk. Hell, my picture of Ray Kroc enjoying a hamburger in front of his first McDonald's in Des Plaines, just brought me three royalty checks this very afternoon. Not great big ones, but pleasant infusions for work done 50 years ago and still in demand by the hard selling Time Inc. picture agency.

Of course it's impossible not to savor working the commercial circuit with the three Ford brothers on their 50th Anniversary book. Or getting the first pictures of the first chemical to cure a strain of hepatitis. Or ascending to the then-highest man made tower - 1500 feet - in a small bucket. But it was more fun doing an African safari for NBC, working with Judy Garland and Liz Taylor. And doing 50 or so Mafia stories. Plus the '48 and '68 Democratic Conventions.

Two photo bug friends of mine, highly successful in business, say they envy the life I've led. Jeff, the big league travel agent and party planner says he'd have killed for the kind of life I've led. Josh, a top trader on LaSalle Street, uses his cameras to relax. pointing them at pictorial targets all over the world. Just as Mike, a world class surgeon, does.

My proudest achievement? Neither in editorial nor commercial shooting designed to change the naughty world into one of peace, logic and political purity? Beating nine other 60-year-old racquetball players to win the 1980 North American Singles Racquetball Championship, Golden Masters Division at Charlie's Club. The most humbling day of my life, as Dan Edelman would say.

If you can't wait until this time every Wednesday to get your Art Shay fix, please check out the photographer's blog, which is updated regularly. Art Shay's book, Nelson Algren's Chicago, is also available at Amazon.