Saturday, December 16, 2006

In Memorium: Jerry Dantzic

I had a voicemail message on my cell phone from my friend Grayson Dantzic yesterday asking me to call ASAP. Before the message finished playing I got a knot in my stomach and a lump in my throat, I had a feeling that I knew why he was calling. Almost didn't want to call back, thereby delaying the inevitable, but I dialed him anyway.

Grayson's dad, Jerry Dantzic, a photojournalist, was introduced to me by a mutual friend in 1977. Jerry was on hand in the 1950s and 60s to photograph many prominent jazz musicians in their prime and captured the spectacle and grime of the everyday grind in black and white in New York City. While working for the likes of Life Magazine, Twentieth Century Fox and Decca Records, Dantzic photographed the full spectrum of jazz life. Though his work ranged from glamorous celebrities in nightclubs, to boxers and weightlifters in training, to the private moments between lovers on a crowded street; Dantzic, who passed away yesterday at 81, went on to pioneer the use of color panoramic photographs through the 70s and 80s and much of his work from the 50s and 60s was forgotten.

In the late 1990s, Grayson discovered his father's long-forgotten images of the 50s in the studio of his parents' home. Grayson has spent the last eight years working to archive his father's photos. As a result, Jerry is experiencing a renaissance, despite having been confined to bed due to a degenerative nerve disorder for the past few years.

The Dantzics... Jerry, his wife Cynthia (a celebrated artist in her own right) and Grayson... lived around the corner from me in Park Slope when I first moved to Brooklyn as an aspiring photographer thirty years ago. Despite being in the early stages of his affliction and having to rely on crutches to walk, Jerry often climbed the five flights of stairs of the brownstone in which I lived (top floor) to look at my pictures, give encouragement and impart general wisdom in whichever direction our conversations flowed. We'd often walk together through the neighborhood, making slow progress along Park Slope's tree-lined bluestone sidewalks. For the twenty one years I lived in Brooklyn, Jerry was a regular comrade and a distinct influence on my photography. I'm going to miss him.

My heartfelt condolences to Cynthia and Grayson, who can take a measure of comfort in knowing that Jerry was loved by many and in the fond memories of a life well-lived. Indeed, Jerry Dantzic will survive in our memories as a kind, generous, talented artist, and the man with the impish grin who saw humor everywhere.


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