I had the esteemed pleasure of sharing an hour of my Friday afternoon with Harold Krieger and his lovely wife Roberta Russell at their home in Lake Placid. Overlooking parts of majestic Lake Placid, we settled into our soft living room chairs and my journey began.
Harold at 88 years young is more witty and spry than many people I know half his age. Thirty-five years; this is how long Harold was a professional photographer, and during that time he has lived a very eventful life full of travel, high and lows, love and excitement. He succeeded in shooting celebrities in their homes to lingerie models in Paris.
Harold started out as a photographer's assistant at 25 year of age, but it would not be until he was 35 before he truly hit it big. However, being a photographer's assistant would have benefits that he would later appreciate; like the ability to set up and break down photography sets in record time. As an assistant Harold recalled, "I looked into one of the equipment bags full of lighting and went home and lifted weights for two weeks so that I could show them I could do the job."
Harold's first photography job was landed when his wife's uncle wanted some shots of his children taken. The uncle ordered 100 copies; Harold took the money and went to Europe on vacation. Upon his return as an assistant, the uncle came to him and offered to go into a 50/50 partnership and loaned Harold $6,500.00, roughly three times less than he needed to get the business up and running. Harold managed to do with what he was offered and was successful enough to repay the money in three years and buy himself out of the contract.
Armed with Deardorff 8x10 camera he opened his first studio on 80 West 40th Street in New York City. Harold soon had to get a security system and he revealed to me his secret weapon; "The studio was divided onto five levels, so we had to get a dog. Stuff was being stolen from the reception room on the lower level." MacDuff was the dog's name and turned out to more of a "Ham" as Harold puts it, and found MacDuff in many of the shots that Harold produced at the studio.
From this studio he moved onto 31st Street to a larger one with tall ceilings and a skylight, which he rigged to open and close. Then came 1958 when Harold's photography business hit a real low. Harold remembered, "I thought I was going to go under, I had to fire one of my assistants, and eventually I pulled through." However, it wouldn't be long until he got his first big break in 1960. He would land jobs with McCall's, Esquire, and Newsweek Magazines.
Harold would begin traveling the country doing interesting work. McCall's Magazine was having him shoot photos of mothers and daughters. "I took photos of Mrs. Sinatra and her daughter, she was lovely; I never understood why Frank left her." He said with a slightly turned up grin. He would then travel and take photos of notable people who did well in their careers and who also had a good sense of fashion; he did this for Esquire magazine. Parent's magazine would send him on the road to take photos of fathers and sons, where he would use seamless paper in the father's workplace to capture the element of the studio and the workplace; this gamble went over very successfully.
Harold soon became known in the magazine business as a person who never said "No" and always came back with high quality shots. This reputation gained him the chance to take cover photos of some very high profile and famous individuals, like Eddie Murphy, Woody Allen and Steve Martin.
Now join me on my journey to Paris through the eyes of Harold Krieger. Picture yourself taking photos of beautiful women wearing bras and girdles. Now picture these wonderful models posing in a series of windows across a busy street. Then imagine doing this during the Algerian uprising with armed military walking the streets below you. "These shots took longer than expected and light faded. We had to go back the next day to finish." He then continued "We were using an apartment of a French ambassador and had to shout across the street to communicate with the models. We were afraid that the landlady of the building, who didn't know what was going on, wouldn't let us come back, because of the uprising and riots in the street. So we sent her some flowers and candy and we ended up finishing." He said with a much larger grin.
"One of the most exciting times, unfortunately, was when Kennedy was assassinated." He then went into building me a mental picture. "McCall's wanted me to get a photograph of the First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson. I approached the Whitehouse and found that there were hundreds of other photographers there setting up to take pictures of her." Frustrated and knowing the type of picture McCall's was looking for he approached the Press Secretary, Mrs. Carpenter and requested some time alone with her. "I got four minutes alone with her and I shot four rolls of rotoflex, and they used one for the cover." (March 1964)
I could continue to write for days about the life and times of Mr. Krieger with what I learned on this day; but I would like to leave you with an encore story of Harold, after his successful journey as a photographer. Harold had come around to being in the business for 25 years and decided it was time to retire. "I thought I would go forever, but I didn't," he remembered thinking. "But how do you retire, I didn't know what to do," he finished. That was when he met Roberta Russell; they soon got married and celebrated their honeymoon in Ireland. When they returned home they moved in together on East 55th Street in New York City. Later they would purchase an 85 year old mansion on Lake Placid.
"It was a millionaire's fixer upper ... we spent the next 20 years fixing it up," he said. I could only smile at the thought of that project. They would later sell that home and downsized to a lovely place in New Hampshire and one right here in Lake Placid, in the Adirondacks, 'A wonderful place' that they consider being "Forever Wild."