Work of Mount Laurel resident and critically acclaimed photographer Reginald Wickham on display at library through June 20
“If you’ve ever met anyone that was at the right place at the right time, you’re looking at him.”
That one quote from critically acclaimed photographer and 20-year Mt. Laurel resident Reginald Wickham can be used to describe many of the stories the now 84-year-old photographer revealed when asked to reflect back on a life’s work.
The colorful, abstract designs that might adorn a textbook from McGraw Hill and Prentice Hall, jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie’s 1970 album “Portrait of Jenny,” the brochure for a Holiday Inn hotel, or even a past national advertisement from Eastman Kodak — all are outlets where Wickham’s photography has surfaced over the years.
Wickham, a New York native, recalled his “most successful show” at a restaurant in New York City that featured artwork on the wall, during which he didn’t actually sell anything, but where a man left him a business card.
“Terri Phillips, (music producer with Perception Records) Dizzy Gillespie’s cover. Lucky shot,” Wickham said.
Then there was the time Wickham was in a bookstore where he struck up a conversation with a woman about their careers.
The woman, with Prudential Fox & Roach, asked if Wickham took pictures of interiors and exteriors of buildings. Laughingly, Wickham remembers telling her those types of photos where his specialty.
“What else am I going to say? It became one of my biggest accounts,” Wickham said. “She gave me a test job and she liked it.”
Wickham’s wife of 57 years Eleanor once had an acquaintance at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and was able to get her husband a small show at Penn Station with less than a dozen or so 8×10 portraits.
By chance, Wickham said a representative of Eastman Kodak saw the portraits, picked one of a small girl peering around the corner of a building in Harlem, and said the company would run a national advertisement using the shot.
“It works. Just by having a show at Penn Station, incredible,” Wickham said. “That’s how my whole life has been. Just by chance.”
Even the first time Wickham started shooting photographs was by chance, when his father couldn’t photograph a friend’s birthday party in Queens and Wickham at age 11 filled the role.
However, in addition to the “right place at the right time,” Wickham also extols the virtue of determination.
A goal Wickham had for many years was to be published by Popular Photography, which he describes as a desire of every photographer. Wickham said the publication turned him down 14 times before finally accepting him on his 15th attempt, giving his work five pages.
“Eventually you will get a yes,” Wickham said. “A no should be a challenge not to give up. That’s the point.”
Wickham’s belief in determination also appears in the story of how he first got work with academic publisher W.B. Saunders. When he first called a representative of the company, Wickham remembers her telling him she was about to go on vacation to Bermuda, and that Wickham should call back in a year, before she hung up.
Wickham said he took the woman’s words to heart, and he wrote down her information and exact instructions.
“A year later, about a minute before the time, I start dialing, and I got her exactly when she said, ‘call me next year.’ She was so impressed,” Wickham said.
So impressed she was that Wickham said the company became one of his biggest accounts.
“Determination. Most people would take that as a turn off and never call her again. I didn’t,” Wickham said.
Now retired and having long since raised his two adult children, Reginald and Theresa, Wickham said he still belongs to some local camera clubs and passes time in the second floor of his home, a studio area stocked full of his past work and other keepsakes.
Wickham also has his latest exhibit “Photography by Reginald Wickham,” on display through June 20 not at the Metropolitan Museum of Art or in Europe as in the past, but right around the corner from his home at the Mount Laurel Library.
Even at this stage in his life, Wickham said the show came about simply from him taking a chance and trying to sell himself.
“If I don’t sell myself, who is going to know me? I’ll just live here and that’s it,” Wickham said. “There’s a lot of talent that goes to waste because people don’t project. You have to let people know who you are.”