Jeffrey Blankfort – 60 Years Behind the Camera

September 12 – October 25, 2015

 Jeffrey Blankfort- 60 Years Behind the Camera

Harvey Milk Photo Center & Dave Christensen, Director, is proud to present this long awaited photography retrospective of Jeffrey Blankfort’s illustrious career of over 60 years!

“Without this Photo Center, Blankfort readily acknowledges, I would probably have given up my dream of becoming a photographer”.

Jeffrey Blankfort was born in New York City in 1934 and migrated to Los Angeles with his parents and older sister two years later. There, he would spend the better part of his childhood before graduating from UCLA with a BA in History in 1957. Through junior high and high school, his ambition was to be a sports writer. While sports editor of his Fairfax High School paper; he also was learning the trade as part of the Los Angeles Examiner’s Scholastic Sports Association program, which landed him a job there upon his high school graduation and where he continued to work while attending UCLA. 

Although he had learned to develop and print film in the Examiner darkroom and would occasionally take photos with a plastic Kodak Brownie Hawkeye Camera, it was coming across Henri Cartier-Bresson’s incomparable “Decisive Moment,” in 1960, which produced what Blankfort remembers as his decisive moment. He would become a photographer in the style, he hoped, of Cartier-Bresson. Thus, it was with considerable pleasure that he would read the review of his exhibit of Children of Rome at the Focus Gallery, then on Union Street, in 1967, by the San Francisco Chronicle’s widely respected art critic, John Wasserman, who favorably compared Blankfort’s work with that of the great French photographer. Seven years later, Jeffrey would have the pleasure of having lunch with Cartier-Bresson at his apartment in Paris.

After someone stole his Brownie from his car and before he had set eyes on “Decisive Moment,”Blankfort had already purchased a used Rolleiflex which might have been a sign that he was moving in the direction of becoming a photographer, but he quickly switched to the 35 mm format after seeing Cartier-Bresson’s work, but settled for a Canon copy of the Frenchman’s Leica. At the time, Blankfort was the Executive Secretary of the Marin Co. Medical Society, living in Sausalito, and later in Mill Valley. He was so determined to become a photographer that he joined the San Francisco Photo Center (now the Harvey Milk Photo Center), and two or three nights each week he would come here after work and be among the last to leave the darkroom when it closed at 10 PM, teaching himself the craft.

Without this Photo Center, Blankfort readily acknowledges, he would probably have given up his dream of becoming a photographer. At the end of 1965, Blankfort decided he was ready to embark on his new career and chose to do so in Rome where he had friends. He had made arrangements to travel there by freighter and was in New York awaiting the ship’s departure when fate happily intervened and pushed him to trade his Canon for a Leica. An acquaintance from Los Angeles was dating the conductor of the Columbia Studios orchestra which was about to record a work of Igor Stravinsky and she asked Blankfort if he would like to photograph the famed composer since he would be in the studio to supervise it.

Blankfort was not about to turn down such an opportunity but was aware that the only camera with a shutter quiet enough to shoot during a recording session was a Leica. Since the session with Stravinsky was to begin 45 minutes later he had to act quickly. That required running into the streets of Manhattan to stop a taxi to take him to his grandmother’s to pick up his traveler’s checks, then back in the street to stop another taxi to take him to the camera store to trade his Canon for a Leica, then do the same routine with a third taxi with no time to spare.

The photograph of Stravinsky in this exhibit is proof that he made it. In Rome, at the end of a maid’s room that he rented from friends and doubled as his bedroom, he set up a darkroom. Using an enlarger loaned him by a friend of his friend’s and so his adventure began. He fell in love with Rome and in the six months he lived there, he walked everywhere, shooting selectively, waiting for the “decisive moment.” He remains proud that nine of the 34 prints in his Children of Rome exhibit came from one roll. Back in the US at the end at the end of 1966, he resumed taking photos of the growing movements of the period that he had begun doing two years earlier, documenting the sit-ins at Market Street’s Sheraton Palace and at the Cadillac Agency on Van Ness that succeeded in breaking the city’s racist hiring practices. Now it was the expanding anti-Vietnam war movement and the emergence of the Black Panthers that caught his attention.

His photographs began appearing in Ramparts Magazine, as well as in the San Francisco Express-Times, the city’s alternate weekly, and, distributed by Liberation News Service, a pre-internet source for the nation’s many alternative publications, they soon began to appear in those publications, and around the world. In 1968, he was singled out by Esquire as the 60s most important “movement” photographer. A number of his iconic images were among those featured in Rolling Stone’s pictorial review of the Sixties. (1977), the Berkeley Art Center Exhibition, “The Whole World’s Watching”, (2001), and other local national photo exhibits depicting that period. Over the years, these photos have been published in books, magazines, and newspapers throughout the world, but there is another side of Blankfort’s work that, while in museums, is less well known, and which the Harvey Milk Photo Center is featuring in this retrospective from the nearly five decades during which he has been taking pictures. 

Blankfort currently lives in Mendocino County in Northern California. Since January 2001, he has hosted a twice-monthly radio program on international affairs for KZYX, the local public radio station. Among the national and international publications in which his photographs have appeared have been Rolling Stone, TIME, Newsweek, Esquire, the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Saturday Evening Post, Penthouse, Guardian (UK), Times of London, L’Espresso (Italy), Stern (Germany) Panorama (Italy) VSD (France), Via (Portugal), and Student, the first business venture of Virgin Records’ founder Richard Branson who published Blankfort’s photos of the Black Panthers in London in 1969.

Opening Reception: Sept 12, 2015, 1-5 pm

Exhibition Dates: Sept 12 – Oct 25, 2015

Director/Curator: Dave Christensen

Gallery Hours: Tues-Thur, 4-9 pm, Sat-Sun, 12-5 pm

Location: Harvey Milk Photo Center, 50 Scott Street, (415) 554-9522