The other day I came across an obituary for the photographer Denis Cameron. I’d never heard of Cameron and probably wouldn’t have read the story if the first line didn’t state he was born in Minnesota. The obit went on to describe him as a ‘real-life Zelig’:
He seemed to pop up at every event of political and cultural significance for a few decades in the second half of the 20th century – except, unlike Woody Allen’s character, Cameron was the one behind the camera. He photographed Hollywood stars and the war in Vietnam; his pictures were the common denominator of the Prague Spring, the fall of the Berlin Wall, Ayatollah Khomeini, Sophia Loren and Errol Flynn in a casket.
Fascinating. But a search on the web turned up next to nothing on Cameron. The little I found seemed to refer to, of all people, Richard Avedon:
This led me to Avedon’s book, The Sixties, which has this outstanding image of Cameron, Emerson and translator Nguyen Ngoc Luong:
The Avedon book includes a terrific interview with Gloria Emerson in which she speaks at length about Denis Cameron:
Did I talk to you about the time we went past the checkpoint and they opened fire? Denis and I were driving back because he had a girlfriend who’d come to see him in Phnom Penh and he was very upset because he thought a very smart English correspondent would take the girl away. I don’t know who he cared for most, the English correspondent who suddenly loomed up as a rival who he adored as a friend, or the girl who was very decorative and rather a famous English debutante we’d come to Phnom Penh in the midst of all this war. His own particular anguish over two friends in Phnom Penh who might have been, what?…holding hands in an opium den together…was so great he risked our lives. We drove past a checkpoint and I was very cross. It was dark – the North Vietnamese were all over the country – and he slowed down. And then the Cambodians opened fire. The car turned over and Denis and his interpreter got out and started running to a rice paddy to hide. I was slower and tripped and I got caught and I couldn’t find my handbag and the firing went on. Finally I got out of the car and thought, “It is simply too late. I won’t catch up with them.” And I looked and Denis had waited. He’d crawled a few feet and turned around and waited for me to come. And he had his hand out.
That was so extraordinary. He had waited. He was furious I took so long but he had waited. We crawled a big and sank in all this God-awful mud and Denis said something about, “You had to go back for your fucking handbad,” and then this splendid noble moment was over. We shouted that we were Americans and the Cambodians said in French they were sorry, they hoped we would forget the little incident. But I never forgot it. Because he waited. Not many people wait for many people, do they? I think one of the great things that you can see someone do is reaching out literally to save you. To show you the way. I’ll never forget this long arm going out to me. That may be love. I don’t know. Then, again, it might be better than love, don’t you think?
I want to know more about Cameron. I want to see his pictures. Does anyone have more information?