From The Vault Of Art Shay: "Funny Coincidences"

By Art Shay in Arts & Entertainment on Feb 15, 2012 8:00PM

(Legendary Chicago-based photographer Art Shay has taken photos of kings, queens, celebrities and the common man in a 60-year career. In this week's look at his archives, Art reminds us that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.)

The National Portrait Gallery in Washington is a determinedly serious place. In its austere halls, even rubber soles echo. I was there a few years ago to enjoy the hanging of several of my photos their chief buyer had noticed on the walls of several galleries in Chicago. She especially liked my portrait of Hugh Hefner. They had considered 200 photos of affable Hef but she chose mine because, "You captured his spirit without making fun of him." Really?

You don't start out shooting a National Portrait. I was shooting Hef for a Time cover. In its kooky way, Time fixed its attention on a statue of the man done by the brilliant sculptor Marisol Escobar. Marisol had reduced Hef to the elements she enjoyed in him: his red sweater; his love of concupiscent women; his high life; a few of my candid snaps of the guy. He had a circular bed that rotated so that he could view himself in mirrors—and in the super mirrors of TV cameras—and re-enact his wonderful life, piece by piece, as it were. I thought for sure Time would use one of the frames I made from the rotating bed.

The picture of Hef the Gallery bought showed him hard at work in his editing room, loupe and typewriter at the ready, and four or five beauties arrayed on one or two of the beds in the office.

So I was enjoying the Hef picture and one of legendary baseball manager Leo Durocher in full cry on the third base line, exhorting some player or berating an ump. (A typical Life magazine page of the era, when my eye wandered away from my snapshots to the next gallery.) There, in prominent space, was a great Boris Chaliapin. Boris was the son of the famous Russian bass singer Feodor Chaliapin. His talent was making color artwork for Time from errant scraps of Kodachrome provided by journeymen such as I.

I recognized the blown up 1962 Time cover as one of my hasty candids of Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi. I was speechless seeing Chaliapin's bold byline on a picture he'd copied line for line from one of my 2-1/4 inch Rolleiflex ektachromes. I remembered the size because the airline had lost my gear that morning and I had borrowed the Rollei from a camera store owner who knew my name. I marveled at how Boris got every fold of Vince's face and raiment, adding the players and crowd. The only thing missing was my byline for an assist.

Of course I knew how my picture would be employed. But sometimes you don't have a clue.

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, Chicago’s Nelson Algren, is also available at Amazon.