Friday, September 16, 2011


The Miriam-Webster dictionary defines Serendipity as: the faculty or phenemon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for. Today, serendipity smiled on me. Jasmine and I visited the historic Richmondtown complex here on Staten Island, home to a restored Colonial village and a museum. We planned to see an exhibit about the Negro Baseball Leagues and their place in New York Yankee history. When we arrived, it seemed the exhibit was shut down  because a one-hour class in portrait photography was being held in the same space. The man teaching the class came in to the room where we were waiting. Since only one registered student showed up for his class, he asked us if we would like to sit in for free. And that is how we met Al Efron.

We chatted for a while and Al explained how he had a passion for photography since he was a boy. Being a child of the post depression years (Al is 81) he learned early to hustle a buck. He and his friend would take the subway up to the Harlem dance halls, which were numerous in the 1940s, and offer to take group shots of people's tables for a dollar. They later augmented their small income by running a hatcheck operation and splitting the take with the dance hall owner. This is how people learned to depend on themselves back in the days before welfare removed all incentive to work. But I digress.

After he got married and had kids, Al found he could not support his family as a photographer. For a period of eight years, including a three-year internship, he studied to become an architect. After passing his State certification exams, he and three friends started their own firm. By the time he retired, the firm employed 75 architects. After retirement, Al returned to his first love, photography, but found things had changed so much that he knew virtually nothing about modern cameras. Rather than be content to just buy a digital camera and point and click like the rest of us, he threw himself into learning. He attended schools given by Nikon, and also several week-long Photoshop classes out West where he has a house in Tuscon.

As you have guessed by now, Al liked to chat, since we found out all this and more about him in an hour. He talked about a trip recently to San Diego that required climbing slippery cliffs in  in the pre-dawn darkness so the light would be just right for the birds they were photographing. Not bad for an 81 year-old guy! He also told us he refuses to sell his work although he exhibits it frequently. If someone likes a picture, he gives it to them, frame and all. We sat through his class and Al taught us about how to use light and shadow to create more interesting portraits. He talked about the best times of day to shoot, and also how to make a photo composition more interesting. We saw some of his portraits on his Apple I-pad, and they were very good.

Sometimes life's little unlooked-for surprises can make your day. Al proved to be as interesting and energetic a guy as I have met in a long while. He inspired me to get out and take some pictures, which I did at Great Kills beach immediately on returning home. (See sample above.) By the way, Al's class was in the same room as the Negro Leagues exhibit, so we got to see that too. All in all, a good day.


Children's Craniofacial Association


The Whiner said...

Wow, I like that picture you took. Al Efron must have taught you a thing or 2. He was an architect too? The original Art Vandalay.

Joseph Del Broccolo said...

Yes, Art Vandalay was my inspiration, along with Cosmo Kreamer and Mr. Costanza! Aside from that, it IS a really great shot!

Jim Pantaleno said...

Thanks Joe, I kneel at the foot of the master.