You learn something new every day . . .

2008 November 28
by Josh Brown
Karl Bissinger, 1949

Karl Bissinger, 1949

The November 25th New York Times carried an obituary titled “Karl Bissinger, Portraitist, Dies at 94.” Bissinger’s name may be unfamiliar to many aficionados and scholars of American photography, but the Times reported, “As a photographer for magazines like Flair, Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue and Town & Country, Mr. Bissinger created indelible images of the new generation of writers, actors, dancers and free spirits who were reshaping American culture after World War II.” The photograph here, taken in 1949, was one such visual document, showing ballerina Tanaquil LeClercq, painter Buffie Johnson, and writers Donald Windham, Tennessee Williams, and Gore Vidal in the garden of the Cafe Nicholson in Manhattan (Vidal wrote an evocative essay on Bissinger and the photograph in the October 2007 issue of Smithsonian magazine).

I’m ashamed to say that I count myself among those who were unaware of Bissinger’s contribution to photography and the visual record of the postwar arts scene. But, along with many other people who matured in the late 1960s, I knew him in a very different capacity: as a peace advocate and draft counselor at the Greenwich Village Peace Center. By the spring of 1968 when I spent a number of months in the offices of the Peace Center, located in the Washington Square Methodist Church on West 4th Street, the courtly man with the shock of white hair had (according to the Times) abandoned photography and, along with friends such as the late Grace Paley, committed himself to helping young men confronting the military draft. One evening a week (if my memory serves me right), the red enameled heavy wooden doors of the Peace Center were propped open to offer the confused, weary, and frightened—along with the politically and morally committed—information about and guidance through the Selective Service System’s labyrinth of regulations, laws, and misinformation. I was one of the multitudes who benefited from Karl’s kind and thoughtful counsel, and am now equally thankful to finally learn that he made his mark on our history in yet one other profound way.

Last 5 posts by Josh Brown

1 Comment
2008 November 30
RYErnest permalink

Nice post u have here 😀 Added to my RSS reader

Comments are closed for this entry.