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January 19, 1996 - Image 35

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1996-01-19

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The Picture Man

him, and while he waited for the coun-
try to "come to its senses" he was free to
develop a filing system for his pictures
that later became the lifeblood of his
"By training, I seemed destined to
plan the archive like a library, offering
quality pictures assembled according to
a logical system," Dr. Bettmann wrote
in his autobiography, Bettmann: The
Picture Man. This distinguished my
budding enterprise from that of my col-
Each image Dr. Bettmann collected
was carefully copied, mounted on index
cards and categorized by subject mat-
ter, time period and other applications.
Dr. Bettmann also developed a tough
standard for picture selection. Accept-
able images had to meet three criteria:
"well-designed, easily 'read' and every
inch informative," he said.
Such scrutiny would serve him well
in the United States where editors want-
ed pictures that immediately told a sto-
ry or reinforced ideas, he said. The
frantic pace of modern life left people
with little patience to decipher compli-
cated designs.
"I threw away most of the pictures I
received," Dr. Bettmann said. "Some-
one once said of me, 'When pictures go
across his desk, they tremble.' "
Even in the hands of Mr. Gates, the
archive, now shortened to "Bettmann,"
maintains the same lofty principles. This
consistent top quality prompted its in-
ternational reputation as. "the Tiffany
of pictures," Dr. Bettmann said.
"We still stay by the same high stan-
dards Otto created," said Daniel Pierce,
Bettmann director of collection devel-
opment. "His stamp is so indelibly put
on the Archive."
In the early 1930s, the Bettmanns'
American relatives pressured them to
flee Germany. But the family, who
heard rumors of the sleazy, Indian-in-
fested, culturally impaired way of life
overseas, were afraid to emigrate.
"We were kind of naive and ethical.
We didn't want to escape," Dr.
Bettmann said. "Nobody would have
heard of me if I had stayed. I would just
be a number in a concentration camp."
In 1935, Dr. Bettmann's first at-
tempts to sell his pictures were thwart-
ed and his bank account was seized by
the government. Thoroughly disillu-
sioned with Germany, he finally packed
his images and left. His parents and
brother followed a few years later.
"When I came down the gangplank
in New York I felt a certain fresh air that
I have loved ever since," he said. "When
the immigration official asked what I
did, I explained to him that
I was an art historian. He
New York's
said, 'I'm glad you came
oer East
here. We need people like
?Ade, 1910.

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