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Not fade away
USF show spotlights Stephen Perfect’s ‘Stones photos’ for “The Ann Colone Show”
By Michael Summers
Fort Wayne Reader
When The Rolling Stones came to Fort Wayne for a show in November 1964, they had only been around for a little over two years, most members of the band were just in their 20s, and though they had racked up a few hits, “Satisfaction” was still about half-a-year away.
The Rolling Stones were also just one of the many, many guests that photographer Stephen Perfect shot for “The Ann Colone Show” during his stint at WANE TV, Channel 15, in the early to mid 60s. But Perfect remembers the day. Very well. He remembers the young crowd that showed up at the studio, he remembers the show had about an hour of the band’s time before they had to head off somewhere else, and he remembers meeting them — Colone, he says, always introduced Perfect to whomever she was interviewing. “I remember helping setting up chairs in the studio beforehand,” Perfect recalls. “I remember the band slept in their bus behind the building the night before. I remember I didn’t use flash; I was using available light…”
So, November 12, 1964 was a memorable workday for Perfect. But talking to him, you get the impression that it wasn’t particularly more memorable for him than quite a few other days he had working at WANE and on “The Ann Colone Show.” He only took about 100 photographs that day, he says, and afterwards he did what he did with every other show. “Ann always wanted a photo, I always kept one for the scrapbook, and I always gave one to the station,” says Perfect. “So, I found this picture I really liked, the one with Mick Jagger leaning back, laughing, and that’s the one I printed.” (Perfect lent us the photo, which we ran as an Old School Pic last February).
Perfect continues: “The rest of the negatives and photos, I sleeved them and put them away. I never thought much about it. I didn’t do anything with them for years. How could we have known the longevity and stardom of this group?”
This November marks the 50th anniversary of the occasion, and the University of Saint Francis will spotlight Perfect’s photographs from that day with an exhibit in the Spotlight gallery in the School of Creative Arts November 8 through December 21. An opening reception happens be Saturday, November 8 from 6-9 p.m. at the school on Leesburg Road.
Perfect and his work are very well known among Fort Wayne’s arts community. He was in his mid-20s, at the beginning of his career, when he took the photos that are the subject of this exhibit. Like a lot of Perfect’s work for “The Ann Colone Show” and WANE TV, they have a documentary feel — they capture and evoke a particular moment in time, and do it very well.
But as anyone who has followed Perfect’s career over the years, these photos aren’t really characteristic of his work. Or more accurately, they’re characteristic of only a certain facet of his work. “As I said in the artist’s statement I made for this exhibit, I didn’t think of myself as a photojournalist or documentarian,” Perfect says. “If you want to put it into a category… well, I don’t put it into a category.”
Which is all to say that Perfect has done a lot of different kinds of things during his long career as a photographer. When the University of Saint Francis did a retrospective of Perfect’s work a couple years ago, there were some 32 different photographic processes on display, evidence of a wide knowledge of photography and its history, and a desire to keep up with newer developments in the field. “I had never seen them all together like that before,” Perfect says. “A lot of that comes from looking at these old history books, seeing an image and thinking ‘I like the feel of that. How was that done?’ So I do some research, learn the process, try to do something with it. And some of it also comes from having students ask ‘how do you do infra-red photography?’ or ‘how do you achieve this look?’ so I would need to go find out.”
“But I tell my students that I was born at a good time for photography,” he adds. “I grew up with silver, but there were these other, older processes that were still around.”
Perfect was born in Fort Wayne in 1938, and according to him, his interest in photography started pretty early, at about age five. His father gave him a camera when he was in 7th grade, and Perfect started taking pictures for the school paper, then later his high school paper and yearbook. After only a year at IU, he got a job at WANE 15. “I started pulling camera cables,” he says. “This was back before video tape. The station didn’t have a dark room then — the newsroom had a dark room, where film was processed — but I would take photographs, develop them at home, put them on the air the next day.”
WANE eventually hired Perfect full-time as a studio cameraman. He went to the Brooks Institute of Photography for a year, then returned to WANE as a news photographer for a short time before he moved on to other work at the station. To hear Perfect tell it, he did a little bit of everything at the station back then, mostly from necessity — he was familiar with what were then highly specialized equipment and procedures. Perfect recalls going on press junkets and hauling massive wooden tripods and huge cameras that allowed you to record for three-and-a-half minutes before swapping magazines. “Back then, if you worked in TV you were something special,” Perfect laughs. “But I was developing a craft, working both still and motion picture. It was exciting and I loved what I was doing.”
Perfect worked on “The Ann Colone Show” for about three years, but left WANE in ’66 to work for an illustrator, and then a printing company from 1966 through 1972. At the same time, he was starting to build a portfolio of his own work. “I really liked landscape photography,” he says. “Here in Indiana, that became a challenge. We don’t have the grandeur of oceans and mountains. Yet there’re some incredibly beautiful places. So landscape was it for me. That’s what I loved doing. At that time, I was a member of Photography Society of America and Professional Photographers of America, I was exhibiting photographs and felt I had something to say at that time. But all that helped to build a portfolio and get some kind of recognition.”
Sometime in ’72, Perfect took an art class at Saint Francis. “I thought ‘all I have to do is take a class in composition in painting and apply that to photography and then I’ll make these incredible images’,” he says, laughing. “That’s how narrow-minded I was.”
But the art class opened another door for Perfect. The instructors were very interested in his photography, and asked him to start a photography program at the school. Perfect did, teaching at Saint Francis and opening his own commercial photography studio. He taught at Saint Francis until 1987, and has been an instructor in some capacity ever since. “In high school, I always thought I wanted to be a photographer for National Geographic,” he says. “I realized early on I was probably not cut out for that. But if at any time in my career you would have told me I was going to teach… No way. I would have thought I was way too introverted for that.”
Currently teaching at Canterbury High School, Perfect says he’s challenged and inspired working with his students. “If I would look back and tried to have written a script about what I wanted my photography career to be, it wouldn’t be nearly as good as what it really is,” Perfect says. “I think I’m at another peak in my career.”
And, as someone who grew up with darkrooms and silver-based photography, Perfect seems to have “adapted” to the digital age without any trouble. “I have what I call this retrograde technology — silver and other processes — and I can bring it into digital,” he says. “It’s a great combination. I can do more on the computer than I can in the dark room. It just works marvelously.”
Then again, he points out that there are some things you can’t do — or do as well — on computer. “Yes, digital can do a lot, but then maybe I want a particular feeling, maybe I want to print on canvas. Working with silver… yes, it’s more time-consuming, but there’s a… ‘tactileness’ that I love. And it forces you to slow down, to really take a look at your image and what you have, to see things a little different.”
Over the years, a lot of people have asked him about the photos he took of The Rolling Stones on the Ann Colone show, though one of the strangest experiences he’s had happened a few years ago. Someone walked into Perfect’s room after class and asked if the photographer remembered him. “The he answered his own question. He said ‘of course you don’t. But I was in the studio that day, when you were taking pictures’.” Perfect laughs. “And since then, I’ve heard from a few people who were there that day.”
And Perfect, of course, doesn’t remember the people in the audience. For years, Perfect says he didn’t remember a lot of details about that day, only that it happened, and he got asked about it sometimes. “But last year, we started talking about this show, doing something like this,” he says. “I started looking at some of these photos I had ‘sleeved’ back then, and I can remember it exactly.”
Stephen Perfect and the 50th Anniversary Rolling Stones Exhibition runs from November 8 – December 21 in the Spotlight Gallery. The opening reception will be Saturday, Nov. 8 from 6-9 p.m. at the school on Leesburg Road.