Tuesday, May 27, 2008

David Gahr (1922-2008): Some Personal Memories

Irascible as the day was long, David Gahr was the greatest music photographer of the last 5 decades, I'd say. He was discovered by the gruff and difficult Moses Asch, head of Folkways Records, who taught David to look for the truth behind the performer. David's profane love of his work -- and hatred for phoniness in all its manifestations -- was infectious, and he managed to see the creative spark as it occurred. Compare the photos of others who worked at the same spots and you'll see what I mean -- David's pictures are always superior because both David's and his subject's characters shine through.

David was always ready to tell me I was underpricing myself -- pushing me to value what I did more highly -- as well as to not work for those who failed to share our mutual vision. I was always inclined to compromise, but David never did and although I could not always meet his high standards at least I was inspired to try.

I had the pleasant and difficult task of working with David over the last few months before his death -- he allowed me to come to his home and forage through his 1000s of individual images to find just the right ones for a book that I'm completing on the history of Folkways Records. The work was full of laughter but David was quick to anger if he felt I was shortchanging the task, or settling for second-best. There was always another image to hunt down, to find the very best that could possibly be used, to represent both the spirit of Folkways and David's own contributions to it.

I was pleased that I had the opportunity to take David on one of his last adventures, a trip to his beloved Costco, located under the Brooklyn Queens Expressway. Along with my friend Perry, who was helping me with my research, we took him to enjoy a lunch of $1.50 hotdogs. Although we encouraged him to purchase staples, like eggs and milk, David was more interested in stocking up on large containers of cheeseballs, gifts for his grandchildren, and tube socks. These were the necessities that he missed most in his home-bound later years.

His artistry was intertwined with his character: an earthbound love of all that was human. His eye will sorely be missed.


Emma said...

Vey nice, boss. My condolences.


dyathink said...

Thanks for posting this. Your reflections helped me to learn and appreciate a photographer I would never have known about otherwise. You will miss him greatly and his loss will be felt by musicians who were so fortunate to be photographed by him in their most creative moments. I really love the photo of Lennon that was shown on the TOP blog.

Anonymous said...


Thank you for your heartfelt remembrance of Dave Gahr. I interviewed him for my book about his old friend, the critic Paul Nelson.

I had the opportunity to speak with Dave several times over the last year and a half, and spent one unforgettable afternoon with him (which I wrote about over at my blog..

My condolences on the loss of your friend.