The irony of Editta Sherman’s life is that this celebrity photographer to the "stars," has become the celebrity.
In her Central Park West apartment in New York City Editta’s eyes are like camera lenses. She is always coming into focus. She looks. She watches the moves I make and clings to my words. Her lips are bright red and her skin tone fairy tale white. A diminutive woman now over one-hundred and one-years old she floods the interview with her joys of life and the recent loss of one of her sons. His memory over comes her with sadness. The love of a mother for a child takes precedence in sentences and the mood in the studio goes back and forth with feelings. Life does what it does to each one of us, but the years have been kind to her. Even with the depth of her losses that includes her husband when he was fifty from diabetes and then the recent accident that took her grown son, the resilience of the Editta in the room catapults in for a soft landing when I roam the studio.
She was born July 9, 1912 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. As a child she helped her father, Nunzio Rinaolo, who was a wedding photographer in Patterson, N.J. where her craft was fostered. Perhaps it was the emotion of her father who worked hard to get the feelings of the newlyweds that left its indelible photo in her mind. And the fact that he took pictures of her as well that boosted her identity as a creator. The confidence she has in her photography is from the way she was raised. Couple her early exposure in life to the camera with the support from her husband years later and the natural talent she has, for Editta her life was destined to be a photographer.
Some of the black and white portraits she shot of the famous are featured on the walls in her studio. No one is more important than the other. Each portrait received its attention and her desire to bring forth what she admired most about the subject in front of her is what made her photographs special. The north light in abundance in her Carnegie Hall Studio was also a contributor to the work she created. Fifty years later, however, her life was changed when Carnegie Hall renovated the inner sanctum from creative studios and living spaces for artists including actors and teachers, to functional rooms for modern day rentals. The “Duchess of Carnegie Hall,” as she was called, left her Carnegie situation and moved to Central Park South in 2010.
She presents her life to me like a clean sheet of paper and talks about the details with stories that include how she met her husband while taking his portrait, and that her teeth are hers. She had four sons and one girl and from that has twenty-five including her grandchildren. She sits in a gold trimmed chair and wears a cheetah print sweater and a white pearl choker necklace. In the living room where her gold chairs are centered she has a picture of herself with President Obama. “I never thought I would get in to see the President,” she says, but during a visit to the White House, she was approached by President Obama and he sent her a signed copy of the picture someone else took of her with him. Editta admits to loving her husband, “twice,” and how she made soup for her neighbors while she lived in Carnegie Hall.
Humbly I ask if I can take pictures of her with my pocket sized digital camera-she agrees-and instantaneously I show her the results. She is happy and colorful. She is black haired and clear eyed. The pupils and brain who brought out the best in black and white photos for celebrities like Henry Fonda, Somerset Maugham, Charlton Heston, Tyrone Power, Carl Sandburg, Angela Lansbury, and Mary Martin and has a repertoire of over 2,000 photographs that she took with her father’s camera, looks pleased with the results.
A woman of notoriety in her own right, Editta Sherman shares her life story of joy with her father’s camera with focus and with a very clear picture.