Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Lotte Jacobi in and out of the Jazz Age

Years ago, I went door to door speaking to people about the Bible. It was something I grew up doing. It was on one of these times going door to door in Dearing, New Hampshire that I came upon a little woman that was in her mid seventies. She opened the door and said "come on in look around and I will be right with you."

I was quite surprised that someone up in years, would be so trusting, but I thought maybe I have a friendly face. When she came back and asked "are you ready"
I was surprised, and then she realized that I wasn't there to have my photograph taken. As I could see in the few minutes I was there, she was a wonderful photographer and had pictures on her wall of people that anyone could identify as well as others that just looked important and interesting. I saw before me pictures of Einstein, Eleanor Roosevelt, Robert Frost J. D. Salinger, Paul Robeson and Max Planck.

After laughing at the fact that we both assumed to know who the other was, and were both wrong, she told me a little about herself. Her name was Lotte Jacobi and she had been a photographer since she was a young girl in Germany.

About a month after first meeting Lotte, I asked if I could interview her. I would love to write a story about her for Readers Digest, I told her. I brought her some cut flowers the day of our meeting and she spent about 10 minutes looking all over for a vase that would accommodate them, after which she told me, should I come back again, please don't bring me flowers. She had plenty in her back yard and she even had her own beehives too, as she was a beekeeper.

Lotte told me that she had been a friend of Albert Einstein in Germany and that her friendship continued after they both arrived in America, after fleeing Hitler. You will see Lotte's pictures in many books on Einstein, because he always insisted that her photos be used.

A few years ago, while I was still living in New York City, I had a chance to visit the Jewish Museum. The museum was having a full exhibit of Lotte Jacobi, who has been called by some to be the finest female photographer of the 20th Century. Gracing much of a full wing of the Museum, I was able to view many of the same pictures I had seen back in 1973 on the walls of her studio there in Deering, N.H. Lotte was someone that befriended many of the talented musicians, dancers and scientists of her day. She portrayed them in ways that no one else did prior to her. Lotte was very clear to point out that she didn't wish to have any preconceived ideas about any of her subjects.

Recently I was thinking about the game that is played called "The Six Degrees of Separation Of Kevin Bacon". The idea of the game is that Kevin Bacon as an end point can be linked in Hollywood by six degrees or less to almost any other performer. It made me laugh, because using that premise, having known Lotte Jacobi means that there is only one degree of separation from me to Einstein, Eleanor Roosevelt, J.D. Salinger or Robert Frost as well as other very famous people. Of course, in reality it doesn't mean anything, since I never met any of them. But, what is something I'll always be grateful for is to have met such a gracious artist as the one and only Lotte Jacobi herself!


Carlos said...

Did you have your photo taken by her?...I was looking for that at the end of your fascinating story. Very cool.

Duceyjazz said...

No I never had my picture taken by her, but I came back to her and talked to her - yes, I should have had her take my picture, don't know why I didn't, except to say I'm not that photogenic - LOL!