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A. Aubrey Bodine - Legend In His Time - Foreward


Shortly after I joined the new Sunday Sun Magazine as a writer I was sent on my first out-of-town assignment with Aubrey Bodine, then only a name to me. Since we were working in the Frederick-Hagerstown area I planned to stay in Frederick with my in-laws, Dr. and Mrs. W. Meredith Smith. They invited Aubrey to stay too. He enjoyed their hospitality and the nightly bridge games, which always ended chaotically because of his unorthodox bidding.

At the end of the three-day assignment my wife and I returned to Baltimore with him. In addition to luggage, we were loaded with Frederick county bounty: fresh vegetables, eggs, several house plants and enough topsoil for a window box. We arrived in town about 10:30 p.m. He stopped the car without warning at North and Mount Royal avenues and announced, “I live down that way, you and Billie get out here.” We got out with our baggage, bags and plants. This was shortly after World War II and not many taxis prowled the streets at that hour. We had to take a streetcar and a bus to reach our apartment, about two miles from where he had dumped us. That was my first experience with Bodine and his inclination to do the unexpected.

About a year later Holiday offered him the lucrative assignment of making all the pictures for an issue devoted to Maryland. Most photographers would have jumped at such an opportunity. Not Bodine. He said he would take the job on one condition. While the startled editors were raising eyebrows he told them he would do it if a friend of his, a young reporter, could write the story on Baltimore. They said they had a New York writer in mind. Bodine was adamant and they wanted him badly enough to agree to his terms. That's how I got to write the piece for Holiday.

You never knew what he would do, or why. But it was usually different from what anyone else would do. He was an uncommon man.

I was fortunate to have him as a friend and colleague for 25 years. Much of that time I was his editor. He could be maddening on occasion, often a puzzle, but 95 per cent of the time he was a joy to work with, both as a man, and as a photographer.

I am fortunate too in the writing of this book. Nancy Bodine made his personal papers available, answered my questions, imposed no conditions and exercised no censorship. He made an ideal subject-he was unique, accomplished and colorful. He proved a challenge, too. At different times, his wife, daughter and physician all said much the same thing-they never really knew him. The doctor's words were, “I was terribly fond of him but I never understood the man. And I'm not sure that anyone else did either.” How do you make such a man believable?

I was thinking of these things as we loaded two dollies with personal belongings from his darkroom: the Telefunken radio he listened to while developing and printing; his hand vacuum cleaner; the cloud file kept in what looked like a fishing tackle box; a Kodak photographic paper box containing personal pictures and old press cards; and, making up most of the load, box after box of negatives, including glass plates from his earliest days. It is not often that the life work of a man can be packed upon two hand carts.

In that collection were the negatives he took in 1947 of the Pocomoke River. He had heard that it was the deepest river for its width in America, perhaps in the world. He thought this the most important thing to say about it, and he pestered me to include it in my story.

I checked his statements and found them wrong. Then, to needle him more than anything else, I wrote, “The United States Coast and Geodetic Survey says there is no basis for the claim. It will not even concede that the Pocomoke is one of the deepest rivers in America.” I quoted its experts at length on other Eastern rivers which were about the same width, and much deeper. This did not make Bodine change his mind. He was convinced that the Coast and Geodetic Survey did not know what it was talking about, and that he was right.

When he published his first book, “My Maryland,” he saw to it that his cherished belief appeared in the caption for the Pocomoke River picture on page 11.

To make sure that I did not miss it, he inscribed the copy of the book he presented us, “To Billie and Hal Williams, real friends. In order to have the last say I had to publish a book. I refer to page 11. Your turn now.”

This is my turn.

Harold A. Williams


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