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Remembering the man behind the lens

By James Jackson
Chronicle Staff
Published Jan. 21, 2016

The career of prolific Canadian photographer Stan Rosenthall will be featured at the second annual FlashWR photo show next week in Kitchener. Mark Walton photo.Making a living as a professional photographer was like a child getting paid to play in a sandbox, according to Stan Rosenthall.

“It was never, ever work. Challenging, but never work,” said Stan in an interview posted on his YouTube channel in September 2014.

“I don’t like what I do. I love what I do.”

Stan built a career as one of Canada’s most prolific photographers of the 1950s, ’60s and early ’70s, and his work could be found in some of the world’s most recognizable publications. You couldn’t pick up an issue of Forbes, Fortune, Popular Mechanics or Car and Driver magazine during that time without seeing Stan’s photographs.

He died this past September at the age of 84, and his life’s work is now in the hands of Waterloo photographer Mark Walton, who fondly remembers Stan as a mentor and a close friend.

“Stan was always full of stories,” Walton recalled. “He certainly had strong opinions of people, and of photography.”

Stan’s work will be featured at the upcoming Flash Waterloo Region photo exhibit at the Tannery on Jan. 29, along with photographers Alioscia Hamma and Sean Puckett. Stan died just four days after Walton asked him to participate. The event is a celebration of local photographers and their work.

“It sort of put a spring in his step and he was very happy about it,” said Walton.

Thanks to digital technology, anyone can take a photo but not everyone knows what a good photo is, Walton said.

“I think we’ve lost the ability a little bit to discern that,” he noted.

Stan was born in Montreal on July 7, 1931 and took to photography quite naturally, said his second wife, Carol. Stan’s mother was a sculptor and a painter, and her eye for art was passed on to Stan, Carol said. Even Stan’s son from his first marriage, David, shares the same love for photography.

“There’s definitely something in the genes,” Carol said.

Among Stan’s work, which now occupies half of Walton’s basement, are his earliest photographs — football games, track meets, teachers and cheerleaders from his time at West Hill high school from 1945 to 1949. They were shot on his first camera, an Argus Argoflex E.

Stan moved to New York City to pursue his love of photography soon after high school, and he became a darkroom assistant at the United Nations in 1957. In 1958, he was a darkroom assistant at Life magazine, said Walton.

From there, Stan went on to build a successful career as a freelance editorial photographer for some of the biggest publications in the world, and became known as a highly skilled car-racing photographer. He was even featured in an ad for Minolta cameras in a December 1965 issue of Modern Photography.

“The interesting thing about this is he never owned a Minolta,” said Walton with a laugh.

Stan moved back to Toronto in 1968, where he continued to work in photography until the early 1990s.

Over his career, Stan took tens of thousands of photographs, ranging from inside a uranium mine deep below the Earth’s surface, to construction sites high above the streets of New York City.

Very few subjects eluded Stan’s viewfinder. There are steel workers building Madison Square Garden, Vietnam War protesters marching with signs, Tonight Show host Steve Allen sitting on stage and speaking into a microphone, and a young Mario Andretti preparing for a race.

From New York to London and Paris — Stan’s camera allowed him to see the world.

He even relished shooting the simpler things in life, and always had his camera with him wherever he went.

“A doorknob. A manhole. He just saw things in a way that other people didn’t,” said Carol. “I used to always say I went out with my purse and Stan went out with his camera. It was attached to him.”

His prolific career is made even more remarkable by the fact he had a lazy eye.

“He really took his pictures with one-and-a-half eyes,” Carol said. She also believes her husband may have been dyslexic.

While Walton is thankful for the opportunity to go through his mentor’s photos, it’s clear just how much work is ahead of him.

“I’ve got a collection of I’m figuring between 50,000 to 70,000 images,” said Walton, who first met Stan about 20 years ago through mutual friends.

One of his biggest tasks will be cataloging the collection and trying to make some sense of it all. There are no notes, very few dates and fewer details about where the shots are from, when they were taken, or who many of the people in the photos are.

“Even to go through each and every one of these negatives and just write down what they are, that will take me about three years,” said Walton. “You have to describe them, you have to number them, you have to give them context — it’s a huge job.”

He plans to contact collectors and galleries across North America and sell some of the more interesting or rare photos, passing the money along to Stan’s family.

In the last few years of his life, Stan made the switch from film to digital photography, but he never quite got the hang of it.

“He saw computers as more of a nemesis than a tool,” said Walton, smiling.

More information about Stan and examples of his work are available on his website, www.stanrosenthallphotography.com.

For more information about the upcoming Flash Waterloo Region photo show in Kitchener, visit flashwr.ca.

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