AN AMERICAN MASTER
By Elan Barnehama
Morris Warman was a master storyteller. His archive of prize-winning photos captures a history of the 20th Century’s most prominent figures and iconic moments. Warman’s camera lens allows viewers to see the world through his eyes during a career that spanned the golden age of photojournalism, and he became one of its greatest artists as well and one of its most prominent influencers.
Awards came early and often to Warman, who sold his first picture to the Bayonne Times at the age of 10. His photograph captured the heartbreaking moment of a family being evicted from their home during the Depression.
Morris Warman had a special affection for portraiture and during his tenure as a photographer for the New York Herald Tribune – which spanned from 1943 to 1966 – he was asked to photograph all the speakers at the Trib’s Annual Forum at the Waldorf Astoria in New York. His subjects included: Winston Churchill, Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Marian Anderson, Lyndon Johnson, Edith Piaf, Nelson Rockefeller, Carl Sandburg, David Ben Gurion, Robert Frost, William Faulkner, James Baldwin, Charles Atlas, Ernest Hemingway, Douglas MacArthur, Bertrand Russell, John Steinbeck, Ingrid Bergman, among many others.
His assignments had him shoot many of the most celebrated musicians and athletes of his time, including Jackie Robinson, The Beatles, Mohammad Ali (Cassius Clay) The Rolling Stones, Johnny Cash, Frank Sinatra, Rocky Graziano, Phil Rizzuto, Tom Seaver, Casey Stengel, Joe Lewis, and others.
But, Warman’s favorite prize-winning picture was a profile of his three-year-old son Ritchard.
Shortly after Morris Warman was born in 1918, he and his family fled Poland for the US. The family landed in Manhattan and settled in Bayonne, New Jersey, where Warman’s father established a photographic studio that operated for half a century. A young and curious Morris Warman was instantly drawn to every aspect of taking and developing pictures, and he decided to make photography his life’s work.
After graduating from Bayonne High School, Warman moved to New York City and worked as a freelance photographer until he entered the United States Army in 1942 where he was assigned to the Signal Corps to take pictures for the post newspaper at Fort Meade, Maryland. Upon discharge from the service, Warman returned to New York City and resumed freelancing. It didn’t take long before the New York Herald Tribune offered Warman a position as a staff photographer. Many of his images graced the Trib’s cover and inside pages before the paper folded in 1966.
In Warman’s early days, the Speed Graphic was the camera of choice. It was heavy and had a large negative, but it only gave the photographer one or two shots. Warman preferred to use natural or ambient light to create an image with contrasting areas that give his pictures the effect of sculpture. To employ ambient light, Warman pioneered the use of a small 35 mm camera that could be held steady long enough for a time exposure. His push to replace the Speed Graphic with 35mm photos was met with resistance by his editor, but his pictures produced esthetic images that had rarely beern seen in daily newspapers previously, and his editor relented.
As other photographers emulated Warman’s technique, the 35 mm camera replaced the bulky Speed Graphic in photojournalism. Armed with the 35mm camera, Warman avoided using a flash unless absolutely necessary and preferred the soft hues created by time exposures over the harsh tones from flash lighting. He became known for his disdain for the flash and was often called “No Bulb” Warman.
Today, his images continue to resonate as both a chronicle of the 20th Century and a history of photojournalism.
Warman won multiple awards from the New York Press Photographers Association.
Warman was awarded the Society of Silurians first lifetime achievement award in photojournalism.
The “Karsh of Queens” as he is called - made riveting photographs of world leaders and artists, but ask him his all-time favorite black-and-white photo, he doesn’t lose a beat. “That’s the one I took of my (3 years old) son Ritchie just after he had a double hernia operation at Mount Sinai...The lighting in his hospital room was terrific that day.”
During the 1960’s Warman took pictures of many musicians including photo series of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.
In October 1960 he took photos of Audrey Hepburn on the set of Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
In 1973 Warman provided illustrations of musicians with their instruments for a book titled ‘A Rainbow of Sound: The Instruments of the Orchestra and Their Music,’ written by his best friend, the musicologist Herbert Kupferberg.
In his celebrated 1986 book on the New York Herald Tribune, “The Paper,” Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Richard Kluger wrote that “Morris Warman is the best portraitist in US daily journalism... That’s telling it like it is. His work has been shown in galleries around the country. One show, «Portraits of our Time», was shown at the last World’s Fair in Queens, and even his colleagues agreed that the man who was also known as «No Bulb» Warman, for his refusal to use a flash in order to get a more dramatic picture, was a master at the art of portrait photography.”
“A few years ago I went with Warman to a Manhattan gallery to view about two dozen of his photos taken between 1940 and 1960. It was history frozen in time by a master, who was, and still is, a great talent and a good friend.” as Dennis Duggan, former Newsday Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter has written.