Thank God for Life Magazine, Walter Mitty and Bob Gomel.
While it existed, Life Magazine was my favorite publication because it told history visually with dramatic images from amazing photographers like Houston’s Bob Gomel.
Now in his 80s, New York native Gomel is still an active and intrepid photographer. His images from the 1960s are iconic with personal and historic moments in the lives of Marilyn Monroe, the Beatles, President John F. Kennedy, Muhammed Ali and many others.
If you have seen The Secret Life of Walter Mitty film with Ben Stiller and Sean Penn, you can probably imagine Gomel, a versatile, creative image master, as the philosophical, world-traveling Life cover photographer Sean O’Connell. If not, I’ll do it for you.
I am a photographer, but I have never worked for Time Life Publications. As an avid reader, however, I can attest to the impact each groundbreaking Life Magazine had on me. To me Gomel was one of Life’s best at capturing the quintessential moments that millions of readers thirsted for in the 1960s and 70s. I knew of him before meeting his son Cory Gomel in 1983.
Life photographers had a knack of gaining access and returning with images no one else could obtain. The reason, Gomel said, is Life photographers were told never to return with excuses.
I have met Bob Gomel one time at an open gallery showing his stark, black-and-white images here in Houston. Gomel strikes me as a stylish man who is smart, creative, capable of solving dilemmas and finding back doors to get the right photos if the occasion calls for it.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty was a film that honored the best efforts of Life Magazine personnel, including the traveled and war-weary photographers who brought this photography publication to life each week. Stiller’s love of photography, as well as a serious team working with the magazine archiver’s team, made this work.
From a personal level, I enjoyed the celebration of the hard working people who are behind the cameras and behind the scenes at such a publication. Like Ben Stiller’s lead character Walter, I imagined myself working at Life before its demise.
And after attending college with Electric Light Orchestra die hard fan Cory Gomel and eventually learning more about his father’s career, I believe a few elements of Sean Penn’s character ring true for Life’s real image kings like Bob Gomel.
It’s a happy memory for me to know that when Cory was very young, he tagged along with Bob on a photo shoot with boxing’s greatest heavyweight Ali. In the end, Cory wound up in a photo with Ali that was animated and humorous.
I have many great memories from college, but hearing Cory tell tales and playing his ELO music at deafening levels are among my favorites today. Little did anyone know I was destined to be a photographer at that time.