Weitman Gallery honors longtime head of Photo Services

A photographic homecoming

A young couple huddles beneath an umbrella along the steps to Brookings Hall. A muddy quarterback, ball in hand, cocks his arm and prepares to pass. A small white mouse stares calmly into the camera.

For more than four decades, photographer Herb Weitman played a vital role in presenting images of WUSTL to the nation and the world. Last week Weitman, who retired as head of Photographic Services in 1994, returned to campus for the opening of a new exhibition showcasing more than three dozen photographs spanning the length and breadth of his career.

Photo by Whitney Curtis

Chancellor Emeritus William H. Danforth, M.D., enjoys a laugh with longtime WUSTL photographer Herb Weitman (center) at the dedication of the Sam Fox School’s Weitman Gallery Jan. 16. Weitman retired as head of Photographic Services in 1994, but for more than four decades, his pictures played a vital role in showcasing the University to a national audience. Edward S. Macias, Ph.D., dean of Arts & Sciences and the Barbara and David Thomas Distinguished Professor in Arts & Sciences, looks on.

Curated by Richard Krueger, associate professor of photography, and Jennifer Colten, senior lecturer, both in the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts, the retrospective also marked the dedication of new facilities for the Sam Fox School’s Weitman Gallery.

Established in 1995, the Weitman Gallery was originally located off campus in the Lewis Center building in University City. The new space is on the lower level of recently renovated Steinberg Hall, immediately adjacent to offices and studios for the Digital Imaging & Photography major area. In the late 1960s, Weitman helped to found the photography program, which moved from Lewis Center to Steinberg last summer.

The inaugural exhibition, which opened Jan. 16 and remains on view through mid-March, includes a number of iconic portraits and campus scenes that originally appeared in the University’s alumni magazine. Also included are a variety of landscapes, travel photographs and examples from Weitman’s “weekend job” of 25 years: official NFL photographer for the St. Louis football Cardinals.

“I’ve been very lucky,” said Weitman at the opening, which drew a crowd of more than 250 friends, colleagues and former students. “I feel that I truly don’t know how to do anything else.”

The earliest images on view date from 1960 and include a portrait of the novelist Fannie Hurst (B.A. 1909) holding a dog in her New York apartment, next to a large statue of the Madonna and child. “RENTO,” shot for the guidebook “Seeing St. Louis,” is an almost cubist city landscape of brick buildings next to the Anheuser-Busch brewery.

Weitman’s travel photographs crisscross the globe, from France to China to Ireland to Peru. Campus scenes include the lighthearted “Dogs in the Quadrangle” (1967), the melancholy “Rainy Day Looking East” (1980) and the aforementioned “Mouse” (1963), one of Weitman’s most reproduced images.

Three photographs depict the artist Alexander Calder at home in Roxbury, N.Y, preparing for an exhibition at the Washington University Gallery of Art (now the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum).

Another grouping offers unguarded shots of four Cardinals stars, including quarterback Charley Johnson, who would go on to earn a doctorate in chemical engineering from the University in 1971. Weitman was one of the first photographers allowed to shoot inside an NFL locker room, at the time considered an almost inviolate private sanctum.

“There’s a knack to knowing how to behave,” Weitman said. “You don’t talk, you don’t make a lot of noise, you just find yourself a corner. That’s the only way you can do it.”

Weitman began his career as a business major in 1947 following service in the Army during World War II. He started taking pictures as a student photographer for the Hatchet yearbook and the campus newspaper, Student Life. After graduating in 1950, Weitman was immediately hired to begin what would become a 44-year tenure as the head of Photographic Services.

Over the years Weitman’s ability to capture University life brought him acclaim both nationally and on campus. In the 1960s, the American Alumni Council named him “Photographer of the Decade” for all of U.S. higher education — an honor he again received for the 1980s from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE).

No other university photographer has yet achieved such high praise.

“Herb is an amazing person who mastered photography as a largely self-taught professional,” said M. Fredric Volkmann, vice chancellor for Public Affairs and Weitman’s colleague for more than 30 years. “I became a huge fan of his work in the 1960s while working for another college — never realizing that one day I would have the honor to work with him at the University.

“His good nature, magnetic warmth and unfailing ability to visualize how a picture will work best are a rare combination that captures the hearts, minds and eyes of those around him,” he said.

Weitman began teaching photography classes in 1968, introducing countless art students to the role of the camera in the creative process and launching what would become a full major area. He also photographed 22 Super Bowls and has displayed work at numerous St. Louis galleries as well as in exhibitions in San Diego and Washington, D.C.

In 1994, the University presented a major retrospective of his work in the Gallery of Art.

The Weitman Gallery is open during regular business hours. For more information, call 935-6500.