This is the late Senator Barry Morris Goldwater (January 2, 1909 – May 29, 1998). This photograph is currently housed in the National Archives of the Smithsonian Institutions, National Portrait Gallery Washington, D.C. It is featured prominently as the closing photograph to the HBO documentary film Mr. Conservative and has been published in several publications including Arizona Highways, and Phoenix Magazine. This is the last formal portrait of the Senator prior to his death in 1998.
This is the back story to the portrait.
I posed him in a profile position because his face is completely defined by the strength of his bone structure. On previous occasions, I’ve seen the Sen. with his walking cane that featured the head of a bulldog on the handle. I asked the Senator if he would sit with the cane since it was a tribute to his many years of companionship with his Bulldogs.
I used an 8 X 10 Deardorff field camera to make this portrait. Since the portrait was made in his living room, I needed a lot of light for the view camera’s lens. I had two assistants with me that day, so I planned on using three lights. Once everything was ready to go the first assistant Michelle Conway, was responsible for re-cocking the lens. The second assistant Phil Timper, was handing me film holders as I was shooting and reloading. In total, I made 8 exposures.
I explained to the Senator I would be photographing him from three different views loose, medium, and tight. The Sen. was an avid photographer in his own right so when he was informed I would be using an 8 X 10 view camera he knew the importance of the shoot.
He was so curious about my beautiful Dierdorff camera made from deep colored Mahogany wood. On every occasion I’ve photographed the Senator he’s always wanted to talk about photography and my gear. He would reminded me that when he shot photographs camera’s didn’t have motor drives. So when I walked into the house with this old film camera he belted out “where in the hell did you get that dam camera”. I replied, Sen. I would love to tell you the story behind the camera but I’ve been given very little time with you.
I was given 25 minutes with him. When I pulled up to his house in Paradise Valley the lights where already set-up lying down in the back of the truck. The camera was opened up, the lens mounted with cable release already attached and ready to go. It was a speed-set. To be honest this is when my experience as a photojournalist comes in. You learn to work efficiently because you do thousands of photo assignments over the years.
The Senator never said another word other than “You Done Yet”! He gave me a slight heart attack since that was my first exposure. We laughed and I gently coaxed him back into position. I was able to stretch the entire appointment out to about 40 minutes. We loaded up the truck, I thanked the Senator for his time and service.
When I opened the processed film envelope for the first time I started looking for the best shot. When I came across the medium range shot my jaw dropped onto the table. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The exposure, composition, light, depth of field and sharpness all came together perfectly. I knew I had hit a home run! I also knew this was an important portrait from a historical perspective.
A week after making the portrait I’m listening to the radio and there’s breaking news reporting that Sen. Barry Goldwater suffered a major stroke. The Goldwater family circled the wagons and kept the media away until his death on May 29, 1998.
After his death the photograph has been published in several publications like Arizona Highways, Phoenix Magazine (cover of the year 1998) and HBO, but for the most part publications where more interested in archival photographs from 1964 when his was running for President and lost against Lyndon Johnson.
I tried donating the image or selling it to places like The City of Phoenix and The Barry M Goldwater Terminal #4 at Sky Harbor International Airport. But I couldn’t get anyone interested in even looking at it. The only person that wanted prints was Barry Goldwater Jr. who give them away as gifts.
Several years after his death the transparency was sitting in a drawer when I saw a piece on the CBS Sunday Morning Show. They did a report on the 14 million dollar expansion and remodel of the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC. CBS had an insiders tour of the new facility by its curator. I watched and thought my portrait of Sen. Barry Goldwater needs to there! I looked up their web site and searched for someone to write to. I sent an email and said I have the last portrait ever taken of Sen Barry Goldwater. I think you may be interested in seeing it please let me know.
To my surprise, I got an email back and they said they would like to see what I have. I emailed a low res file to them and informed them of the image provenance. The review process took close to a year and the image had to pass through several curatorial reviews before being accepted.
Once it was accepted they requested a 20 X 24 print for the archives. The Associate Curator wrote; “This is the definitive portrait of an elder statesman”.