hand-signed b&w photograph of Dwight D Eisenhower, with accompanying plaque
The Berkeley family of photographers -- Berkeley's grandfather, the late Peter Berkeley, his father Robert Berkeley (now retired) and Roy Berkeley -- began preserving history nearly 75 years ago in what originally was the Lainson photography studio anchored in the lobby of the Brown Palace Hotel. Renamed Berkeley Lainson Photography in 1973 when Roy joined the family business, the studio moved to its present location in LoDo at 1730 Wazee some eight years ago.
During the 67-year tenure at the historic hotel, the photography studio saw a countless stream of famous faces from behind the camera lens. What became the official presidential portrait of Dwight D. Eisenhower is probably the single most renowned picture taken by the elder Berkeley in 1952; four million copies were distributed.
In fact, Berkeley says, "one way or another," he and his predecessors have captured on film every U. S. president since Harry S. Truman.
Almost an ironic understatement, Berkeley notes, "We specialize in people pictures."
Indeed they do -- and people who read like a who's who listing, from Presidents Truman and Clinton and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Byron White to the Richard Lamm family, Wellington Webb and Wilma Webb, American Furniture's Jake Jabs (complete with lion) and many others in Denver's world of movers and shakers, and just plain ol' wealthy folks.
It's great work if you can get it, according to Berkeley, not just for the prestige, he says, of having so many renowned people in your portfolio. It's great for getting even more business from the rich and famous.
"If you're a photographer for the presidents ... [customers] like that. They want someone to take their picture who's important and who's taken other important people's pictures. Plus, they know you're not cheap."
Preserving the moment:
Perhaps it's having grown up surrounded by the opulence of the Brown Palace Hotel with all its famous guests coming and going that has helped to give Berkeley his easy-going attitude about shooting the governor's portrait -- a task that most would find daunting at best. After all, his vision, his composition, his photographic artistry will hang forever on the walls of the State Capitol, facing the scrutiny and stares of millions of pairs of eyes.
But to Berkeley, Owen's upcoming portrait seems like just another job. Well, almost. There is the slight matter of capturing not only his personality but doing it in a way that he comes out "looking powerful, like a governor."
As his father and grandfather before him, Berkeley prides himself on his trademark style of portraits expressing the exact persona in his portraits. Everything must be totally scrutinized and perfectly suited to properly convey the subject's personality -- from what Berkeley calls ensuring "lighting like the masters" to the tilt of the head, the fold in the shirt sleeve, the gleam in the eye and, of course, the just-so-so setting.
It's all in the talk
In fact, Berkeley won't even click the shutter without first getting to know the person a little. And the thought of being intimidated by their famous profile never even crosses his mind. "They don't intimidate or scare me. Ninety percent of them, when you get them in the studio, they start talking to you just like you were a bartender," says Berkeley.
"When you photograph a person, you deal with their emotions, their feelings, their personality," says Berkeley, whose degree in psychology hasn't gone to waste despite his chosen field. "When you get people talking about themselves, they come alive."
In fact, he says he will wait until "probably April or May," to shoot Owens to allow him to settle in; appearing comfortable in his surroundings will be paramount to getting just the right shot.
What that right scene will end up being is sure to be a combination of Berkeley's interaction with him personally and keen observance of Owens' personality. Berkeley already knows enough about Owens from seeing him in the media spotlight that he knows how he won't pose him: "Bill Owens sitting behind his desk with his hands folded -- that's not Bill Owens."
Still, Berkeley won't be surprised if Owens doesn't like the finished product. After all, he says, it's a known fact that "most people hate their photograph ... because it's a reverse image of what they're used to seeing, what they see in the mirror."'
(From the article "History-making portraits: Berkeley family has been photographing governors for 75 years" written by Sharon Gillen on December 13, 1998 on bizjournals.com)