Obituary: Herbert Weitman, photographic services director for more than four decades, 89

Herbert Weitman at work
Herb Weitman at work. (Photo by Joe Angeles)

Herbert (Herb) Weitman, who served as director of photographic services at Washington University in St. Louis for more than four decades, died Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016, at Missouri Baptist Medical Center in St. Louis. He was 89.

Considered the ‘dean’ of America’s university photographers, Weitman played a vital role in presenting images of Washington University to the nation and the world.

His work brought him international acclaim. In the 1960s, the American Alumni Council (AAC) named him “Photographer of the Decade” for all of U.S. higher education — an honor he again received for the 1980s from CASE (Council for Advancement and Support of Education), AAC’s successor organization. No other university photographer has achieved such high praise.

He founded the photography program at Washington University’s Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts. For CASE and AAC he volunteered to teach dozens of national seminars on excellence in campus photography throughout the 1960s to the 1990s.

“Herb did more to shape the views of many of us about Washington University and its people,” said Chancellor Emeritus William H. Danforth. “He loved the institution and the people in it. He was a great human being. I was lucky to know him.”

Weitman also served on weekends as the official photographer for the football Cardinals for the 28 years (1960-1987) they were in St. Louis. Weitman traveled to every St. Louis Cardinals football game in both the U.S. and Europe to capture action images still used today by the National Football League. He also was invited to photograph Super Bowl Games V to XXVIII for the NFL.

Numerous national publications, including Time, Sports Illustrated, Newsweek, Picture Magazine and CASE Currents, as well as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, published his images.

Born in Vienna, Austria, in 1926, he emigrated to the United States in 1938 with his parents to escape the Nazi persecution of Jews. He entered Washington University as a business major in 1947, following service in the U.S. Army during World War II.

He started taking pictures as a student photographer for the Hatchet yearbook and the student newspaper, Student Life.

When he graduated in 1950, Weitman was immediately hired to begin what would become a 44-year tenure as head of photographic services in the university’s public affairs office.

Herb Weitman captures the late Stanley Elkin, award-winning author and the Merle Kling Professor of Modern Letters at Washington University, in a jovial mood at his University City, Mo., home in 1984. (Photo: Herb Weitman/Washington University Archives)

Seeing a need for a photography component in the undergraduate curriculum, he volunteered in the late 1960s to teach classes to introduce countless students to the role of the camera in the creative process.

Today, photography is now a concentration in the Sam Fox School’s Bachelor of Fine Arts program, a testament to his pioneering work.
He served as associate editor for Washington University Magazine, contributing award-winning images, including a CASE Grand Gold Medal winner.

Ron Wolk, founding editor of Education Week and Teacher Magazine, once said: “Herb Weitman has done more to raise the standards of photography in college and university publishing than any other single photographer.”

The late George McCue, former art editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, said of Weitman’s work: “The significant fact about Weitman’s photographs is that they constantly reflect not just a collegiate environment, but the quality of life on the campus of a big university. They search beneath the surface of the casually dressed students and tweedy faculty members in a neo-Gothic setting for the concerns and revelations that they share.”

Weitman’s photos have been displayed in exhibitions in San Diego and Washington, D.C., as well as in several St. Louis art galleries.

Washington University exhibited a major retrospective of his work in 1994 when he retired from full-time work, and again in 2008 when the Sam Fox School named its photo exhibit gallery for him.

“Herb was a beloved artist who mastered photography as a largely self-taught professional,” said Max Fredric Volkmann, emeritus vice chancellor for public affairs at Washington University and Weitman’s colleague for 35 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 Washington University,” Volkmann said. “His good nature, magnetic warmth and unfailing ability to visualize how a picture will work best were a rare combination that captured the hearts, minds and eyes of those around him.”

Weitman is survived by his wife, Diane; a son, Gary Weitman (Chris); a stepdaughter, Gail Armstrong; a stepson, Bill Greenblatt (Karin); five grandchildren; and four step grandchildren. His first wife, Fanchon, and their daughter, Susan, predeceased him.

Services will be at 3 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 17, at Temple Emanuel, 12166 Conway Road in St. Louis. A reception and celebration of Weitman’s life will immediately follow at Temple Emanuel. Interment will be for family only.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests gifts be made to Temple Emanuel or to the Fanchon and Herbert Weitman Scholarship Fund at Washington University in St. Louis.

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