Keith Bernard, the Photographer I Forgot

February 29, 2016 at 10:03 pm | Posted in Memoir -- Non-fiction Stories, Modelling Stories | 1 Comment

Soon after I stopped modelling, I forgot the names of several photographers who hired me. After 45 years, however, I could still recall facts about the sessions – the approximate ages and general appearance of those taking my pictures and, usually, a few short conversations. I remembered shooting styles: some worked slowly, setting up equipment with care, aiming for perfect lighting and composition; others wore several cameras around their necks, clicking quickly, striving for a carefree, spontaneous effect. Certain photographers were more sharply etched in my memory than others, but I remembered at least a few details about each.

Except Keith Bernard. I forgot him completely.

I worked with Bernard when I had black hair. I had started modelling in January 1962 and from then until August of that year, my hair was light blonde. Then, an eight-month break. When I started modelling again, my hair was black. After three months, I lightened it to strawberry blonde and modeled for one more month, finally ending my career in August 1963.

Top-tier magazines usually published their pictorials about eight months after the pictures had been taken. In 1962 and 1963, I purchased a number that contained layouts of me as a blonde and stored these copies along with photos I received from photographers. I left North America before any brunette photographs were published and so didn’t see these layouts until I started collecting vintage magazines in 2006.

In 2008, I discovered a pictorial of me with black hair in a 1964 issue of Ace, a New York publication. Ace called me “Susan Norman” and didn’t identify the photographer. I assumed this was another layout by Michael LeRoy. LeRoy had called me “Suzy” in a 1964 feature that appeared in Monsieur. Like most New York publications, Monsieur didn’t identify its photographers but I knew LeRoy had taken that layout because it included two pictures he had given me. As LeRoy had taken photos in several rooms of a large house, I thought he had used separate rooms for the two different magazines.

The Ace and Monsieur photos differed in style but I ignored this because I was sure I had worked with only five photographers when I had black hair. These were, in order, (1) the guy who didn’t pay me (whose name, I discovered later, was Bill Crespinel); (2) Gaylord Davis (an amateur who took photos for my portfolio – only one nude, the remainder being photos of my face or full-length shots in various dresses); (3) Michael LeRoy; (4) Mario Casilli (who shot photos of me wearing a blonde wig – the session is described here); and (5) Elmer Batters (the session is described here). While modelling as a brunette I never cut my bangs and so, with each new assignment, they increased in length until, in the set shot by Elmer Batters, they fell over my eyebrows.

As I accumulated more magazines, I came across additional black-haired photos in which I was called “Susan Norman.” Several were shot among trees and, as LeRoy had photographed me outside in a treed lot as well as inside the large house, I continued to believe all were taken by him.

LeRoy contacted me in 2012. During the course of our email communication he stated that he had not taken the Susan Norman photos I attributed to him. Upon close examination of my bangs, I could see that LeRoy took his pictures prior to those published under the Susan Norman name.

A mystery. If LeRoy hadn’t taken those Susan Norman photos, who had?

LeRoy had difficulty finding his negatives of our shooting session. He wrote that initially they had been filed under “Gloria Dawn,” my true modelling name, but Keith Bernard had told him to file then under the name Susan Norman and LeRoy complied, leaving only a note in the Gloria Dawn file. When he hired me, LeRoy explained, he had just completed his apprenticeship under Bernard.

Eureka, I thought when I read this. The forgotten photographer most probably was Keith Bernard. I must have merged my memories of working with LeRoy with those of working for Bernard. Any facts I retained about working with Bernard were stored as part of the LeRoy assignment.

For example, I always had retained a memory of shooting pictures beside a pool. The photographer and I heard voices coming from the other side of a nearby fence, realized the area was too open to take nude photographs, and reluctantly retreated behind some trees. When we heard the voices, we both sighed a sad “ooh.” We had been enjoying the photo opportunities offered in this setting and were downcast when we had to leave it. I never forgot this feeling of disappointment when we had to depart from the pool deck but “remembered” it as being part of the LeRoy session. Only after seeing all of LeRoy’s photos did I realize that it couldn’t have happened then because LeRoy took his photos in a yard that didn’t contain a pool.

When I suggested to LeRoy, during our back-and-forth emails, that Keith Bernard must have been the photographer who shot the Susan Norman photos, LeRoy wrote, “Impossible.” From the length of my bangs, we had established that LeRoy had taken his photos first. “I never got to use a model before Keith,” LeRoy wrote. “I was the apprentice. I got the ones he didn’t want.” LeRoy remembered that my agent had left a four-picture sheet at Bernard’s studio, a sheet that Bernard had handed to LeRoy with the comment, “You might be interested in this one.” So initially Keith Bernard had not been keen about employing me as a model.

Why would Bernard change his mind? Maybe, after seeing LeRoy’s photos, Bernard decided I was a good model and that he could take different, better pictures.

LeRoy never believed that Bernard was the Susan Norman photographer. We stopped corresponding when LeRoy entered a hospital. One year later he died. Soon after that, I found one Susan Norman photo with Keith Bernard identified as the photographer. Then, in 2014, I purchased a 1963 issue of Adam that contained a Susan Norman layout, and again Keith Bernard was identified as the photographer. After examining settings and analyzing the photographic style, it was easy to see that Bernard had taken all the Susan Norman photos.

Other than the pool deck episode, I don’t remember anything about working with Bernard, nor did I experience a sense of recognition after seeing a picture of him. Yet I know I was enjoying my session with him from my feelings of disappointment when we were obliged to leave the pool area. So why did I forget him? Possibly because both Bernard and LeRoy took their photos in similar types of houses with similar treed yards (except that the one Bernard used had a pool). Also, they both worked at the same studio. From examining my hair, I can surmise that the job with Bernard took place about two weeks after the one with LeRoy. It is easy to understand why my memory merged those two sessions into one. As I had more interactions with LeRoy – he hired me first, gave me prints with his name stamped on the back, and phoned me twice in the month following our shoot – the merged memory was stored as an ongoing sequence of events involving LeRoy.

I might have forgotten Keith Bernard but he didn’t forget me. He continued to sell my photos until 1968.

Gloria Dawn by Keith Bernard, published in Ace magazine.

Gloria Dawn by Keith Bernard, published in Ace magazine.

 

Gloria Dawn by Keith Bernard, published in Carnival magazine.

Gloria Dawn by Keith Bernard, published in Carnival magazine.

1 Comment »

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  1. A fascinating journey into “photographic forensics!” (Will try to write soon.)


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