Thursday, July 20, 2006

Hank Meyer and The Malls

Back in the late 1960's, before the hi-rise boom, Dade County was rapidly spreading in all directions, gobbling up the Everglades on the west, the farm land to the south, and merging with Ft. Lauderdale sprawl on the north. Urban sprawl. Expressways barely kept up with the growing traffic and new malls sprouted out of nowhere every ten miles or so in every direction. I'd been shooting for The North Dade Journal and worked on many a story with our top reporter, Elvalee Swift. One day she quit, and did the unthinkable for a true news reporter. She went to work for a public relations firm

Hank Meyer Associates was the largest most prestigious firm in South Forida. Elvalee called me, wanting me to shoot some photos of some newly promoted executives. I figured what the hell. The money was great. Soon I was doing mayoral campaigns and mall openings and covering events for the Jamaican Tourist Board here in Miami. The first party I covered for them I was invited to sit down and eat something. The consul general walked by tapping his fork on his plate, saying "you should try some of this!" I looked and tapped my fork on my plate. "I'm eating the curried goat!" I replied. I guess he never expected to find a white American eating goat. Later that night some of the middle aged women encouraged me to get out on the floor and dance with the girls. I did. The next day when I delivered the contact sheets Elvalee told me that the Consul General had called, telling her that from then on she should always send me. It seems that eating goat and being willing to dance with the colored girls was the test!

Most of what I shot back then for Elvalee was mall openings. Kendall Town and Country, Omni International, Loemann's Plaza, a whole bunch of them, and as a follow up I'd shoot fashion shows and store remodelings. Networking through those contacts I shot Aventura Mall, Dadeland Mall, and photographed the enclosure of the old 163rd St Shopping Center, transforming it into The Mall at 163rd Street. Some of the shooting was black and white, some was color slides. I carried a ton of filters back then. There was no Photoshop for after the fact color correction. You got it right the first time! I worked with both my Leicas and my Hasselblad.

One big problem with being a young photographer is that most of the people you work for, like Elvalee, are older than you. The people they work for, like Hank Meyer, are older still. One by one your clients retire and die off. I drifted more and more into the arena of politics. I started working with younger people. In the last couple of years I've attended the funerals of several people who were both clients and close friends. They were eight to ten years younger than I am. It makes you stop and think.


Anonymous Jonah Norason said...

Wow! You actually shot pictures of The Mall at 163rd Street after enclosure and the opening of Omni International? Incredible! I've always wondered what both malls looked like in their heyday. Do you have any pictures for public viewing, because I'd kind of like to see Mall at 163rd before they "remodeled" it in 2004. Drop me a line at my email address,

11:01 AM  

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