Love at First Exposure — Frank Van Riper and Judith Goodman Share a Life of Photography, Writing, and Art
Interviewees: Frank Van Riper and Judith Goodman
Date: Jan. 4, 2019
Interviewed and transcribed (from audio recording) by: Carl Lankowski
Location: Van Riper/Goodman residence in Chevy Chase DC
Frank, let’s start with you. Tell us about your family and your beginnings. When and where were you born?
FVR: I am a native New Yorker. I was born in Manhattan in 1946 and raised in the Bronx. At this point and for a long time I have spent more of my time in Washington than in New York. I came down to Washington in 1967 right out of college. I had joined the New York Daily News. I had been a journalist for all my college years, actually even in high school—I was editor of my college paper at City College of New York [CCNY] and joined the New York Daily News about a week after graduation. Within five months of that, I was sent down to Washington for what was supposed to have been a three-month try-out that extended to 21 years.
Judy and I were married in 1984; she moved in with me to a condo apartment that I had in Bethesda. It was during that time, back in 1983, that we were looking for a house. Or, I should say Judy was looking for a house, because in 1983 I spent the better part of five months writing my first book, a biography of John Glenn [Glenn: The Astronaut who Would be President], working pretty much twelve hours a day, seven days a week, while Judy was out with a real estate agent, who became a dear friend. Finally, after much looking, she found a house she liked and wanted me to see. So, she made the appointment. At that time it looked nothing like what you are seeing now. We knew immediately that it was the perfect location. We pinch ourselves for having discovered this neighborhood. We have been here ever since. We have done a ton of work on the house. We really love it—it’s our haven.
Your family origins?
FVR: Van Riper is an old Dutch name; it goes back 350 years, at least. My father’s ancestor came over from the Old World in 1663. On my mother’s side it’s almost the opposite. They are Italian. My mother was born in the United States in 1907, but just barely. Her parents and at least two of her siblings were born in Italy in a little town called Monteleone di Puglia. They settled in New York, on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. My parents met when both of them were working at a bank, the Public National Bank, I think. They married and I grew up in the Bronx. So I’m a mix of almost newly immigrant Italian and long-term old Dutch. That doesn’t mean old Dutch and rich, just old Dutch. I have always liked to say that if I were going to be an artist, my Dutch and Italian background would serve me well.
Where in the Bronx was that?
FVR: Right by Yankee Stadium, near 166 th Street and Sheridan Avenue. You could walk to Yankee Stadium. My father and I would go to a lot of baseball games. He used to play in the American Legion league on Long Island in Flushing, where he grew up. He taught me how to play baseball; we were big baseball fans. I also became an avid Brooklyn Dodger fan, because my father during WWII was in the same army division as the great Brooklyn Dodger right-fielder, Carl Furillo. They didn’t know each other, but he saw a bunch of exhibition games, so he came back with this affection for the Dodgers, and he passed that on to me. Back when I was growing up in New York, we had riches: we had three major league baseball teams, the Yankees, the Dodgers, and the Giants—Willie Mays, for goodness sake. My father and I would divide most of our time between the Yankees and the Dodgers. We would go up to Ebbets Field and Yankee Stadium, It was marvelous. To me, that was a great way to grow up. We lived in a walk-up tenement in a Jewish neighborhood in the Bronx. It was across the street from my school, PS-90. Until I entered high school, I pretty much walked to school. Taft High School was also in the Bronx, two subway stops up. I didn’t learn to drive until I came down to Washington in 1967 for the New York Daily News. My parents didn’t drive. You could get everywhere by public transportation.
JG: You should mention your cousins in New Jersey.
FVR: Oh yeah! I’m really closer to my Italian relatives than to my Dutch relatives. I haven’t seen any of my father’s family for years. On my mother’s side, I had a whole bunch of aunts and uncles. They all moved from New York to New Jersey, mainly to the towns of Asbury Park and Neptune. We would go down there when I was a kid for Easter, Christmas and during the summer during my father’s two weeks off. We spent a lot of time down there and so I was very much immersed in Italian culture.
JG: You also went to camp.
FVR: That’s right. It was in Hackettstown, New Jersey. It was called a progressive Catholic camp for boys. I loved it. Run by Xaverian Brothers. The brothers were generally terrific—regular guys who cared about us, but who also didn’t take any shit. In between full days of softball, basketball, soccer and camping, we got the full does of religion: daily mass, daily rosary, prayers before and after each meal, First Friday devotions.
Somehow, it all seemed to work. In later years when I became at best a non-practicing Catholic, at least I knew what I was giving up. The kindness of the brothers stayed with me. It’s no surprise that in later years I admired such liberal clergy as anti-Vietnam war priest Fr. Robert Drinan, elected to congress from Massachusetts, and “liberation theology” priests like the Berrigan brothers, as well as the nuns and priests who risked (and sometimes gave) their lives advocating for the poor in Latin America and elsewhere.
JG: Your father converted to Catholicism…
FVR: That’s right. Dutch is Protestant. He always felt that a family should be one faith. My mother was the world’s worst Catholic, Italian Catholics. We’re terrible Catholics. I think it’s probably familiarity breeding contempt, having the Vatican in the same country; you see clerics all the time. My father and I were actually confirmed on the same day. Confirmation is like a Christian bar mitzvah. I remember that. He would be the one to go to mass every Sunday. So that’s roughly my background.
Talk about your experience at CCNY.
FVR: CCNY was just remarkable, a great experience. Once again, I got a great education with no financial outlay, basically. This didn’t stop me from being kicked out at the end of my freshman year. The story is that I was already working on the college paper, paying scant attention to my college career. My grades suffered and I got a note in the mail at the end of the first year saying this is to inform you that you have been dropped from the rolls of City College of New York. There was no way I was going to show the note to my mother without some kind of resolution; she would kill me. Both parents told me “we can’t afford to send you to anything but a free institution of higher learning.” So, I went to the college newspaper where I was hanging my hat all the time and said “well, what do I do?! What do I do?” They told me “we get those all the time—just tell them your mother died…” Maybe tongue in check. But I sent them a note saying “please, please, please.” They let me return under academic probation that summer.
And that dictated my entire college career. At the end of every regular school year, I would have to go to summer school to undo the damage done during the previous term. And it worked out! I graduated on time in four years with a straight C average, just by the skin of my teeth, because I was working on the college paper and holding down two other newspaper jobs. I was on the New York Post and the New York Herald Tribune as a copy-boy and stringer—occasionally I would write something. A big reason why I had to get out at the end of the four years was that I already had waiting for me a job on the Daily News. There was an ad in the Yale Daily News—we used to get all the different college newspapers sent to us—that asked “are you good enough to write for the largest paper in the country?” “Oh, OK, yeah.” The ad referred to the New York News. I wondered: was that the Daily News? It was an elegant ad and there was a picture of the News building, a real landmark in New York at 220 East 42 nd Street (the paper is not there anymore). It was the News and I went down there, Even though no one was going to mistake me for a Phi Beta Kappa, I, for them, was just what they wanted. I was a college graduate; I was editor of the college paper; I was a photographer on the yearbook—I guess they liked what they saw in me. I was able to write. “Fine,” they said, “we’re going to offer you a job.” So, I had to finish on time. It meant that I had to take 21½ credits during my final term at CCNY; I was taking classes day and night, just so I could get out on time. But I did and I loved my time at CCNY.
By the same token, when many years later I applied for a Nieman Fellowship, it was basically to have the college experience, the real academic experience I hadn’t had at CCNY. I had been too busy being a college newspaper reporter and editor. But I wouldn’t have changed a thing.
What kind of material did you write for the college paper?
FVR: Everything, really. Never sports, though. I was always writing news and features. That probably informed my career as a documentarian, as a photographer. For me, photography and journalism is all story-telling. One’s visual, the other with words. But they are closely related and that’s one of the reasons that I love doing the books that I do. I write the text of what I photograph and photograph what I write.
What kind of camera did you use?
FVR: Let me think—it was a Dejur Dekon. That was the first real camera I had. Dejur was an outfit that used to make projectors. “Dekon” was trying desperately to play on the name, Nikon.
It was not a bad camera, nothing special. But I remember I used my first New York State scholarship check to buy my first good camera, which was a Nikon F. I still have it. I have always gravitated towards Nikons and now I love my Nikon D750, which is a fantastic camera, though I can work in almost any format. the book on Maine, and the book on the Eastern Shore were all done in medium format.
What was your major in CCNY?
FVR: I was an English major, no surprise, and also a Political Science minor. I had a minor in Philosophy as well. I’m not sure what drew me to that, but I’m very glad that for it; it really taught you more about structured thinking. That’s helped a lot in terms of having to write to a deadline. You had to get rid of all the crap and concentrate on what was happening. With this major and minor it was easier to cover politics and government.
Do you remember any of your professors?
FVR: Let me see. Leonard Kriegel was a wonderful and well-known English professor and author at CCNY. Edgar Johnson was the chairman of the department. He published a very well received biography of Charles Dickens. They had first rate people at CCNY. CCNY was known as the proletarian Harvard. As for Philosophy there was the wonderful Willard Hutcheon. In my book that just came out on New York and Paris, there is a segment on bars and cafes featuring McSorley’s Ale House on 7 th Street near Cooper Union. I remember being at McSorley’s during my college years—we would go down there regularly. When I entered on one occasion and casting a glance at the bar, there was Hutcheon, very natty in his three-piece suit engrossed in an intense conversation with a guy in greasy coveralls. To me, that typified what that bar was like. So there are a few that come immediately to mind, every bit as stellar as some of the stars I met at Harvard.
Judy, let’s talk about you. Would you provide a picture of your family and your beginnings?
JG: I was born in 1934 in Mount Vernon, New York, a suburb of the City. My father took the train in every day and walked over to his office on Fifth Avenue, right near the NY Public Library. He was at that time something called a skip tracer. Every once in a while he would take me to see his dermatologist in his office on Park Avenue and then we would continue on to his office—I was with him for the day. We would eat in the automat down stairs. I would watch what went on in that office. There was a reception area and three rooms. One associate was a lawyer; there was my father; and then there was Bernie, who was a woman from the Bronx who spent the day in a room full of phone books. This was in the 1940s during the war. She would make believe she was someone’s relative: they were trying to find people who hadn’t paid their bills. My father did that job until the 1950s, when we moved to Richmond, Virginia.
What made the family move?
JG: Let me go back further, first. As far as we know, all of my grandparents came from Russia. They were all Jewish.
What is your maiden name?
JG: My father’s name was Hecht. My mother’s name was Rubin. I just spoke to my 95-year-old cousin on my father’s side, who said they always talked about Odessa. That’s where we think our grandfather is from. My parents died ten days apart in 1985. I had an older brother, nine years my senior, who was a physician in Richmond. He died in 2001. I have a nephew who has just retired as a doctor in Virginia.
When did your ancestors arrive from Odessa?
JG: I know that my father was born in New Britain, Connecticut in 1898. My mother was born in Boston in 1900.
How did the family come to live in Mount Vernon?
JG: I guess because of my father’s job. We lived in an apartment until we moved to Richmond.
How old were you when you moved?
JG: I was 15. I had my 16 th birthday in Richmond.
What do you remember about your first 15 years?
JG: When I was very young, my brother had to walk me to school. He didn’t like that. I had to walk behind him. I was only in high school for one year in Mount Vernon. I remember being in the drama club and I was vice-president of my class. Then we moved. My father had a good friend who somehow lost his business in New York. My father was always an entrepreneur. He figured out that the wave of the future was television and the next place to produce television stations was going to need television sets. And that was Richmond, Virginia. So, they opened a store featuring TV sets and white goods—washing machines, dryers, etc.—which ultimately grew into Circuit City.
JG: But the end of the story was not pleasant, as his partner of long standing decided that his son should take over the business. Unfortunately, the relationship ended when the stock valuation was very low. My father came out of it with some money and from which my brother and I benefitted, and is how we ended up with two houses, the other of which is in Maine.
We simply decided we wanted to be in Maine during the summer. We had been developing our wedding photography business here, but people who marry in the summer usually have a ceremony and party outside, mostly not optimal conditions.
My interest in photography developed during the last stage of my first marriage of 25 years. I met my first husband, Barry in Richmond; his father was a wholesaler to my father. My father’s partner invited me to dinner with Barry and we were married three months later, two weeks after I turned 21. We have two sons and three grandchildren. We lived in the countryside outside the city in Maryland for 15 years. He hated his work in wholesale and my father bought us a property on which he a kennel could be built—Rivermist Kennels.
I went to Maine to learn photography. I started here at Montgomery college and then went to Maine Photographic Workshops in Rockport. At first, I photographed children; later, I tried out wedding photography. I then met Frank.
Let’s back up for a moment. Did you attend college?
JG: Yes, I attended the University of Richmond. I lived at home because my brother was in St. Louis in medical school. I was asked to stay home until he graduated. My father bought me an old car and I commuted. But I got married before I graduated. I went back to school and graduated a month before my first child was born.
What was your college major?
JG: I was majoring in early childhood education. I did practice teaching in Richmond. Then I had my own children and never went to work. In college I worked in the summer in department stores. I did some modeling and some selling.
You are both internal migrants, so to speak, originating in New York, moving to DC and Virginia. Have you developed a regional identity? Do you, Judy, feel like you are from the south?
JG: Not at all. I only lived there for a short time. We left Richmond after a few years, relocating in the outer DC suburbs. First in Bethesda off of River Road and then out to the country to launch the kennel.
FVR: And I’m always going to be a New Yorker. As long as I talk like this. It’s really kind of bred in the bone. By the same token, I really love living here. I don’t really know if I would be all that comfortable living in New York. To me, it was the best of both worlds: working for a New York paper and living down here.
JG: There were a few minutes when we contemplated moving “back” to New York.
FVR: Right. At one point the Daily News dangled the editorship of the Sunday Daily News Magazine in front of me. I had years before been on the magazine. That would mean that we would have to move from here back up to New York. I remember thinking: I want to be able to walk to work if we do this—we would have to be in Manhattan. So I remember giving them a figure of what I needed for a salary. Their response: “It’s not that we don’t love ya, but we’re going to promote in-house.” Upon hearing that, Judy and I went out to dinner to celebrate NOT becoming the editor of the magazine.
Coming down originally in 1967, I observed the metamorphosis of DC from a sleepy southern town into a world class metropolis…with a subway to boot. I did a full-page feature for the Daily News entitled “DC’s Toy Train,” implicitly comparing it to the huge New York Subway system.
So, nobody’s ever gonna say “he’s a Washingtonian.” Fuggeddabahdit. I love the Nationals, but I’m always going to be a Yankee fan.
Shall we open a new chapter? Let’s talk about your métiers: journalist, photographers, artist.
FVR: Not much mystery there. I have always been a writer. As for photography, my mother was an influence. My father influenced me as a writer. My mother loved to take pictures, even if she was a crummy photographer. She loved the idea of documenting things. There were pictures at every holiday. The film didn’t stay in the camera from one holiday to the next. That rubbed off on me. The photography was largely self-taught, until I met Judy. She told me about the Maine Photographic Workshops; it sounded like Xanadu. We went up there several times together, taking different classes. It was very helpful as a photographer.
Where were the classes?
FVR: In Rockport, Maine, on the mid-coast. By contrast our summer house is in Lubec, the easternmost point in the United States. The workshops firmed up a desire to become a better photographer. It was my Nieman year at Harvard, though, in 1978-1979, that really moved me from writing into photography. I was coming from the Washington bureau of the largest paper in the country, I’m taking these wonderful courses in government, for example on Roosevelt and the New Deal—great courses—but it was pivotal getting back into the darkroom. Until then, I couldn’t have a darkroom. Because of that I become a color photographer. Now I am known for my black and white work. At Harvard, I was able to use their facilities. I loved it there. Back in DC from Harvard, I am in the midst of a divorce anyway, I meet Judy, and she has a darkroom in her apartment—it was love at first exposure. The heavens were aligned. We were simpatico from the get-go.
Then we went up to Maine together: “Wow, isn’t Maine beautiful—let’s buy a property.” Everything came together. In love, I could also both write and photograph. It’s marvelous. When I was working for the Daily News you could not do that. Very strict union rules defined what you could and could not do. I discovered that very early in my career. In 1968 I was trailing presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey travelling across the country in the run-up to the Democratic convention. I was all of 21 at the time. I always had a camera with me. I made a picture of Hubert in the press plane that ran with a huge piece that I had written summarizing this entire week on the road. There was a huge by-line and a tiny-weeny credit line. I was prouder of the credit line, because it was my picture in the Daily News. When I appeared in the office the day the piece runs the bureau chief called me in. “What’s up?” “Don’t ever do that again.” The photographers in New York had threatened to file a union grievance because I had done that. It was so liberating to me in later years to be able to photograph and write. For most of my career as a photographer that was verboten.
What kind of operation was that in Rockport?
JG: It was wonderful. I was there several years before I met Frank. At that time, I was doing black and white and darkroom work and the Maine Photographic Workshops had everything set up for that. They owned several buildings—there was a gallery; there was a big auditorium.
Famous photographers came and showed their work and taught. It was a week-long workshop with a photographer who did something that you wanted to learn how to do. I studied with Arnold Newman, who was a great portrait photographer. Not a great teacher. In the evening, different teachers would show and talk about their work.
FVR: I would only add that they really insisted that you cut yourself off from family and the rest of the world. Of course, it was easier to do then, because you didn’t have cell phones or beepers.
I can remember going up there, still a newspaper reporter, having the experience of not having to answer the phone. It was marvelous to immerse yourself into something you absolutely loved, without having to check in to see what was happening. That ability to cut yourself off was formative for me. It’s the way I like to work now, when I can. That’s one of the reasons I like being my own boss. Maine Photographic Workshops was for me and probably for Judy was just one of the best learning experiences of our lives. There were such good people. Judy studied under Arnold Newman, maybe the best portraitist of the century, and I studied under Neil Selkirk, who does all the printing for the Diane Arbus estate. He taught Diane Arbus how to use a twin lens camera; he is a brilliant photographer and a wonderful teacher, too. We really had first rate talent. Moreover, Rockport is an idyllic coastal Maine town.
Rockport and the MPW constituted a pivotal moment, then.
FVR: Oh yeah. Certainly. It was there that I started seriously thinking about changing careers, leaving the Daily News—not to go to another paper, but for us to be in business together.
JG: From there we just kind of slid into a wedding photography business.
FVR: That’s right—our first wedding was a date.
JG: Because younger friends of mine were getting married in the Maryland countryside. I had been living in Brinklow, between here and Baltimore. I did a couple of weddings by myself and then after I moved, more weddings with Frank. It started to turn into a little business…
FVR: Even though I was still working on the paper. There was a five year period during which I was the Washington bureau news editor for the Daily News as our business evolved. I was pretty much working seven days a week—Monday through Friday at the paper and weddings on the weekend. I was always concerned that some crisis would demand my presence, but somehow that never happened.
What five years was that?
FVR: I left the News in 1987, so it would have had to have been from about 1982-1987.
JG: I remember doing one wedding by myself, because Frank was on the road.
FVR: Mostly we were able to finesse the scheduling. I remember the agita I felt. I couldn’t wait to get out of there. In 1987 I had my 20 years in and I was able to negotiate my own buy-out, something you could never do today. That worked out very well to our advantage. Once accomplished, for me, personally, the pressure was off in some ways. I didn’t have to go into the office and we could grow our business. Ultimately, we became pretty popular and successful wedding photographers for almost 20 years.
If we can return to the Nieman year for a moment: do you remember any of your professors at Harvard?
FVR: Frank Freidel was one of them. He wrote the book on Roosevelt and the New Deal, Rendezvous with Destiny, among others. I took a seminar with him on the New Deal. There was also Samuel Beer, an expert on the American federal system. I took his course—a delightful guy.
In Freidel’s graduate seminar I remember thinking I was the dumbest guy in the room. These were first rate kids. So my course work was mainly in Political Science. But since I am in this transition, working in the darkroom—Harvard’s river houses had several darkrooms—the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts had this gorgeous darkroom—so I was able to take advantage of all that and on top of that I was able to take a creative writing seminar taught very informally, one of the best courses I have taken anywhere in my life. It really got me thinking about different ways of writing. It got me into long form journalism. Beyond writing for a New York tabloid—six or seven paragraphs and lucky if five make it into the paper—this was very different, narrative stuff, fiction writing, you could feel your brain being stretched. Then I took Music 101, Music for Idiots and I loved it. An incredible year; you had the pick of anything at Harvard. You had both faculty and student privileges. It was one of the best years of my life. It really helped me enter another creative path.
Judy, how did you arrive at the point where you launched yourself into wedding photography?
JG: First of all, it was a matter of figuring out how to earn a living. I actually started photographing little kids.
When did you first pick up a camera?
JG: My father had an influence; he liked photography. He always took pictures and at one point he gave me a camera.
What was your first camera?
JG: It was a Nikon. After that, my father-in-law gave me a twin lens, a half-frame camera. People were giving me cameras. I went to Montgomery College to learn typing and shorthand, which was not a big success. I thought if I was going to strike out on my own, I had to earn a living. Shorthand lasted maybe two weeks. My mother had been a court stenographer at one point in her life and I figured I could do that. It was horrible. I learned to type when I got my first computer, about ten years ago. Then it was a cinch. The attempt 40 years ago was a disaster. My reasoning: if I was going to have a computer, I was not going to hunt and peck.
FVR: That’s how I type. I only know one journalist who is a touch typist. Everybody else is hunt and peck.
JG: Once I got organized, the work just seemed to flow. It was word of mouth. People called.
FVR: We never really advertised. Judy started out in the country and then was asked to do one in town. I volunteered to assist in one. It bloomed from there.
JG: There was a list of wedding photographers in the Washingtonian magazine, but there were few of us. That was a big help. People would call and say you were triangulated. That means that two friends and the magazine had all recommended us.
When did you get onto the Washingtonian’s list?
FVR: We were on the first or one of their first lists of the best wedding photographers in town. We had already been in business for a while. We started shooting weddings seriously in 1982. The Washingtonian started publishing their list around 1985/1986. By then, we were doing up to 50 weddings a year. We have done over 600 weddings together. So, we were also happy to hang it up after a while.
JG: Well, we really aged out of the business. The business changed and we got older and couldn’t do the hours anymore—you know, running around, standing on your feet for eight hours. So, about ten years ago we were done.
FVR: We moved into teaching, organizing workshops. Not to mention the books. And I was doing a photography column in the Post.
Sounds like you did this for around 25 years.
FVR/JG: That’s right! We did it for a long time!
JG: There was a division of labor. I did all the preliminary talking to clients, generating lists, figuring out the details. Frank didn’t fancy that part of the business. And once I photographed something, I was done with it. I cared what it looked like in the camera, but not what it looked like after that. Frank, on the other hand, looked at every photograph. He focused more on the editing and dealt with people when they came to get what we produced for them.
FVR: It was a nice system. And we really pioneered a way of wedding photography that was more journalistic. There was also a professional gloss to it. I can remember colleagues of mine, photojournalists, who jumped on the wedding bandwagon when newspaper jobs dwindled. They had the knack to be able to cover an event, but they were less adept at serving the clientele. We realized that there was more to it than just turning over rolls of film when the wedding was over.
JG: What they neglected was to develop a sense of who among the wedding guests was important. I was really good at making sure I knew who everybody was. Even though we didn’t love doing family groups, we did them anyway. We also did everything else that was going on. It was a good combination. Nowadays, there is just so much more drama. You engage four or five photographers and you get video and all sorts of things that we did not want to do. So, we decided we had had enough. But it was a really good way to earn a living while being able to do our own work. We have always done a certain amount of art work, much more fun than doing weddings. But not easy to sell.
How did your art originate?
JG: I took painting in college when my children were in school. I went to the Corcoran and studied drawing with Frank Wright. Later (around the mid-1970s) I went to Montgomery College and took sculpture and photography.
I used to do black and white printing in the darkroom. For weddings, I did black and white; Frank did color. That was a selling point, because not many people could offer two types of film.
Then I got tired of doing the darkroom work. When the option to go digital presented itself, we had an opportunity. At first, we declined. But we finally learned that was coming and had to jump on that bandwagon.
When did that transition take place?
JG: I can remember being in Venice working on our book and getting an email message suggesting digital coverage. Frank will know what year that was.
On the artistic side—it sounds like you were doing this—for example the Venice book—and the weddings in tandem.
JG: Yes. I was getting really tired of working in black and white in the darkroom. It got to be too demanding. A tiny imperfection would ruin a sheet. Then a painter friend, Regina, said “you put things together all the time. Why don’t you do something three-dimensional?” That’s how I started; it was about 15 years ago, give or take.
What medium did you work in?
JG: Found objects. Everything is found.
FVR: Look at this one [pointing to a piece mounted on the wall closest to us]: I am very proud of it. It won a $1,000 juror’s prize just a couple months ago at a big exhibition at the Athenaeum in Old Town, Alexandria. As our friend proclaimed—it’s the best of both worlds: she’s gets the money and she gets to keep the piece.
JG: I have a website, so there are lots of things to look at www.judithgoodmansculpture.com I would like to show you my studio, also for its architectural merit. It was designed by our neighbor, Michael Callison.
FVR: Michael and his wife live on our block. He designed Judy’s studio and his wife, Caity Callison, owns Secondi, which is one of the most successful consignment high-end women’s clothing shops—on Connecticut Avenue downtown. A dear and wonderful couple. Every year they have a Christmas party on Christmas Eve and I appear as Santa Claus. Fully suited and with a proper curly beard.
JG: While we’re on the subject of the neighborhood, this is a unique block.
A preliminary about the house, if you please…
JG: We bought the house in 1983 before we were married.
FVR: Right. We were married in 1984. We undertook a major renovation of the house right away. It didn’t have air conditioning when we bought it.
JG: We chopped off the back of the house, an old breakfast room and an old porch and an old bathroom.
When was it built?
JG: It was in the mid-1920s. We have not really looked into the history of the house. The architect did the part in which we are sitting. When we wanted to bump out the front of the bedroom, a chain was found connecting the two walls, holding the house together. An engineer was brought in to look at this feature, who pronounced that it was very unusual.
FVR: Is it still there?
JG: uh huh. As for the block, there are seven cottages in a row, including ours, originally built as summer homes.
FVR: At that time this was considered the country.
JG: We were lucky to find the house, because someone else had bought it. It was a young couple, whose father was putting up the down payment. After one look, he said no. It came back on the market without getting advertised. Our agent heard it on the grape vine and we came over and snatched it up.
Who were you working with?
JG: Our realtor was Patty Webb.
When did you have the studio built?
JG: Four years ago. Prior to that, I had studios in different places. I had studios in two different locations in the same building in Takoma Park for many years, a building full of artists studios. I had one out in the country near the kennel for a while in a friend’s barn, until the property was sold. We also repurposed Frank’s old apartment in Bethesda as studios for a time. Then I returned to Takoma Park to a studio that was quite small, though the rental price kept going up.
Then I put everything in storage for two years before building the studio that you can see when looking out this window. Technically, the structure is a garage. It abuts the alley and has a garage door.
I’d like to finish with two topics: your book projects and the neighborhood. Which would you like to discuss first?
FVR: Let’s talk about the books first. Judy and I had worked together on one major book: Serenissima. Venice in Winter (2008). The other is Recovered Memory: New York & Paris 1960-1980 (2018). That one is, for me, a documentary piece cum memoir with a lot of first person narrative. That has done very well.
We had a huge standing-room-only event at Politics & Prose Bookstore in November and I did an event in New York. There is a show open now at PhotoWorks in Glen Echo. And I am hoping that it will have a nice review in the Washington Post either today or next week. In terms of photography, those are the things I have loved to do. Regarding our fine art work, I want to feature more from Italy. We have amazing photographs from Umbria, where I teach photography workshops.
JG: We also teach in the summer in Maine.
FVR: Right! We teach workshops and master classes up in Lubec, Maine, where we have a house. We do a lot of teaching. Of course, I teach at Glen Echo. I have been there for about twelve years.
How do you call the Maine workshops?
FVR: It’s the Lubec Photo Workshops at Summer Keys. Summer Keys is a music school through which we do our photo workshops. In Umbria it’s called the Umbria Photo Workshop. That is a week-long photo workshop that occurs every October.
For about seven or eight years we did a workshop in January in Venice. That was called Unseen Serenissima—The Venice in Winter Photo Workshops. That was always a tough sell. It was difficult to motivate people to go in the winter, even though for us it was always a magical time to be in Venice.
JG: It’s the only time to go to Venice, because it’s not crowded.
Where is your Umbrian outpost?
FVR: Umbria is in the middle of Italy, just below Tuscany. We are headquartered in a town called Todi. It’s a magnificent hill town, the perfect scale. That’s our headquarters. We have a van and a driver who takes us to various other towns in and around Umbria.
JG: Every day a different town. It’s meant as a vacation, not a boot camp. We want people to enjoy themselves. They are mostly our age.
FVR: There is no entrance requirement. All you need is a camera. Nowadays, people will show up wanting to take pictures with their phones. Our attitude is “go for it; knock yourself out.” It’s not quite the same, but if they want to come, then fine. They are still going to have a great experience.
JG: In Maine, we spend more time teaching people how to use their cameras. Umbria just evolved into a slightly different concept. People can come with different cameras and that gets to be a problem, because they often don’t know how to operate what can be quite complex machines. Frank then has to decipher the owner’s manual.
FVR: Judy doesn’t do that.
JG: No. I handle people who have a basic familiarity with their cameras and come to learn basic operations.
FVR: We have been doing those classes for over ten years. I now do master classes as well, whose participants I must approve in advance. They need to know their way around their cameras, know how to use a flash, and so forth. Those classes are much more intense and the logical next step for people who have taken our regular workshop.
JG: Some have become regular participants. There are a few people who will go anywhere.
And what direction is the sculpture taking, Judy?
JG: When we are in Maine for three months, it’s harder for me to get back into the studio. So, winter is when I am in there. But I am also a gardener, so when it’s gardening time, even though I can’t do as much as I used to, I have a wonderful Guatemalan helper who comes occasionally and together we get a huge amount done. In Maine, we have seven acres of woods with a big garden and I have a helper there.
Where did you get your interest in gardening?
JG: My mother was a gardener. It seemed like a natural vocation. The first time I owned a house I knew I could not ignore what was outside.
FVR: Judy has gorgeous gardens on this property, but she is also involved with Lafayette Park just a stone’s throw from where we are now sitting. She is associated with the Friends of Lafayette Park organization.
JG: Yes, I was drawn to the group. Some gardening had been undertaken at the park, but it got ruined, and so I started another garden group about 20 years ago. I became a member of the board of Friends of Lafayette Park. Luckily we have a president, now a co-president, Jeff Stoiber, who deals with the city. No one else wants to do that. The city does nothing but mow, so any gardens in the park are maintained by volunteers.
FVR: They have done a terrific job and have received some recognition, too, proclamations from the mayor and that sort of thing.
JG: Eventually, the gardeners age out and are no longer present.
Did you start the pruning classes whose members develop their skills at the park?
JG: I didn’t launch the classes. It was Nancy Slade, who went back to school to become a landscape architect. She is not interested in residential work; her interest is historic gardens. She attended one of those pruning workshops and said the workshop principal, Elizabeth, was looking for places to prune with a variety of plant material and encouraged me to call her and volunteer the park. So, I’m not the pruner—I just got Elizabeth to come with her people [from the Yankee Clippers business].
FVR: It’s a real laboratory up there, thanks to that program.
Do you recall when it started?
JG: We have hosted the first phase of the pruning workshop for the past few years. I also have employed them to sculpt the Japanese Maple in our front yard. I have been hoping through pruning it to create more space, but it cannot be aggressively pruned and therefore never gets any smaller.
How did you decide to work with Lafayette Park?
JG: We used to have a dog and I would take the dog for a walk, almost always to the park, and was appalled by its condition in the 1990s. It was horrible. I just couldn’t handle that. So, with some friends with a similar view of the situation, we started gardens there. I had extra plants from our own garden at home. There had been others before us that put in banks or ugly red azaleas near the corner of Broad Branch Road and Quesada Street. Kids had run through them, trampling them to extinction, with nothing to take their place. There was nothing but dirt left. I could not abide living in a neighborhood that looked like that.
Were you aware that the corner in question had been the location of a settlement of African-American freedmen before their land was taken to built Lafayette school and park?
JG: I was not until just recently, when two representatives from HCCDC, I think, came to a board meeting of Friends of Lafayette Park.
One of them was very likely Tim Hannapel, who grew up in this neighborhood and worked on the U.S. Bicentennial project on local history as a student at Wilson High School in 1975- 1976. HCCDC is now hoping to mobilize support for putting up signage to commemorate that facet of our history and its link to C&O Canal engineer, George Pointer, the ancestor of the Broad Branch/Quesada families.
JG: That’s what I remember from the presentation and we think the idea is a great one.
Would you like to say anything further about the photo book projects before we move on?
FVR: Venice in Winter was a six-year project that Judy and I worked on together. In that book, half the pictures are hers, half mine. And I wrote the text.
JG: It had an Italian publisher.
FVR: That’s right, VianelloLibri. A beautifully printed book. We would go over there anywhere from six weeks to two months at a time over the course of six years, shooting roughly 300 rolls of film and 10,000 images.
You must love Venice.
FVR: Yeah. When we went there, particularly in the winter, it was enchanting, mainly because it was not crowded. As a New Yorker, my idea of hell would be Times Square on New Year’s Eve.
In Venice you could walk around at 2:00 in the morning and not worry about it, as crime is very low there. There’s no traffic; all you hear is water and footsteps. It’s magical. In the winter with the fog rolling in, its possible but unlikely to take a bad picture.
JG: We made a friend there by accident, who was very interested in photography and took us to places we never would have gotten. We worked with her for six years. She served as a guide for our workshops. That made a huge difference.
FVR: It’s a small place…
In which of the Sestieri were you living?
FVR: In San Paolo and Santa Croce. We rented an apartment. Judith Martin, who used to be Miss Manners columnist in the Washington Post, is a big Veneziophile. I remember asking her about finding a place to stay, since hotels were too expensive. She suggested taking out an ad in the New York Review of Books. We did that and got three or four responses—back in the day when people mailed you pictures. Finally, we found a two-story apartment, modern but very narrow.
JG: It was perfect for us. We got to be friends with the owner, who would visit occasionally. He was a professor of Economics at Trento who studied in Michigan, was Dutch and married to an Italian. When they decided to sell the apartment, they asked us if we wanted to buy.
FVR: It was a lovely place, far enough away from Piazza San Marco, beautifully residential, quiet.
JG: We have a lot of pictures that weren’t selected for the book, many of them color. The book is all black and white images.
What will happen with all of them?
FVR: We’ll have to sell them.
JG: We need to get them out in the world.
FVR: Probably the next phase for us is trying to sell portfolios of pictures or individual images.
JG: You wanted us to talk about the neighborhood, right?
JG: The neighborhood is phenomenal. We have a block where people know each other. There are block parties. Unfortunately for us, they happen on Labor Day weekend, when we are still in Maine. People in this block do not move. They die here. Many of our block neighbors had children who grew up and moved away; the parents have remained.
FVR: Speaking as Santa Claus and with the experience at Caity and Michael’s Christmas Eve parties, I have noticed the presence of at least a couple of teeny weeny kids every year.
JG: We used to have a lot more little kids. We have new neighbors and they invariably have babies. Dusty’s house became available after she died. Same with the Forsyths. Sarah is still here. Next door to her is a family that had a two year old and had a baby right after they moved in.
FVR: So there is considerable turnover and that keeps us from becoming a geriatric enclave.
JG: Lafayette School is a major attraction for young families. Home values will never decline here also for that reason. Supposedly it’s the best elementary school in the city.
Yes, there is much local pride in Lafayette. We have had a similar experience, living about as close to the school as you, but in the other direction. About half our block has turned over since 2010, older people replaced by the young, most of them with babies or very young kids.
JG: We are very happy that we are in a thoroughly residential section, away from commercial zoning, on the east side of Connecticut Avenue.
FVR: But we also cherish our commercial section. We love the Avalon Theater. For years we were their photographers. Pro bono service.
Yes indeed—you are still featured in the pre-screening credits at the Avalon.
JG: It reflects well on our community that they embrace and support an institution like the Avalon.
FVR: Chance brought us here. I was working on my first book, the biography of John Glenn, Glenn: The Astronaut who Would be President, and putting in 12-hour days, seven days a week against a very tight deadline.
JG: I looked at houses for us. The only other section of town that we found appealing was the Palisades between McArthur Boulevard and the Potomac. But we wanted a darkroom in the basement and the house we looked at there could not accommodate one.
What occupations do your block neighbors have?
FVR: I like to call our block the Boulevard of Free Enterprise. Many of the neighbors work for themselves.
JG: We also have Carol Leonnig across the street, two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting, with the Washington Post. Her husband John Reeder was a high-ranking official at the Environmental Protection Agency, who left shortly after the 2016 election.
FVR: Now he is teaching at American University.
JG: We also have Frank Clemente.
FVR: Right—Executive Director of Americans for Tax Fairness.
JG: His wife, Wendy Adler, is a person who finds homes for the homeless.
FVR: And our next door neighbor Lou Slade is involved with the Dumbarton Oaks Park Conservancy.
JG: There is also a Swedish family, one of whom works for the International Monetary Fund and at least two of their three girls were born here. All have red hair. One is now in college.
JG: Speaking of artistic spaces and workrooms, I would love to show you the studio.
I would love to see it.
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