Interview with life member Bernard Cleff
By: Felicia Perretti
1.) How were you introduced to photography?
I was in the Navy during WW2, the GI veteran program paid for my education at the Philadelphia College of Art on Broad and Pine. It is now known as the University of The Arts. Ray Ballinger a teacher there, strongly encouraged me to get out of the advertising program and recommended me to the photography program.
2.) What made you want to become a ASMP member?
I was actually one of the first photographers in Philadelphia that started the ASMP Philadelphia chapter. There were about a dozen of us in the city, all mutual friends. We heard about ASMP in N.Y. then started a little group of our own in Philadelphia. We would discuss common problems in the photography business and give advice. We had to agree to share information without jealousy. Eventually one thing led to another and the chapter was official.
3.) Who are some notable people you have worked for? Architectural or commercial?
The very first magazine assignment I got was from Fortune. It was a small head shot that led to bigger and better assignments. I’ve worked for Inc. Magazine, Venture, IBM, N.Y. Times Sunday Magazine, Business Week, Forbes, Cosmopolitan, Farm Journal, and I worked for Conrail for 10 years. I also did work for many major advertising agencies, who no longer exist in Philadelphia.
4.) Did your work take you to places outside the country? Did you enjoy that work?
I took a photo trip to China for 30 days on my own. I traveled a great deal for Conrail through the east and midwest. I did a lot of work out of helicopters for them too.
5.) What photograph of yours do you think represents you the best as a photographer?
The Conrail photographs. Working for them for 10 years built up a great deal of memorable work. The images consisted of track construction on the ground, rebuilding locomotives, tunnels and aerial shots of 100-car trains at the Horseshoe Curve in Altoona.
6.) Other than sculptures in the architectural field, have you photographed buildings?
I had to document all the buildings in Philadelphia, literally every structure for The Philadelphia Historic Preservation. I shot from the Delaware River to 8th street and from South St. to Market St. A lot of those buildings are still standing.
7.) Now retired do you still shoot? Personal projects?
I’ve been out of the business for 14 years. My personal project is my 2 year old grandson.
8.) What’s the biggest difference you have noticed in the photography industry from when you started to today?
Digital photography. I shot with film my entire career. Digital takes all the guess work away. You would go through so much apprehension waiting for the film.
9.) What’s something all aspiring photographers should know about starting a career in photography?
There’s a lot of hard work. You really have to have a passion for this business. The anxiety; will a client like you? Will they pay you? You have to be able to take disappointments. ASMP has seminars now that we didn’t have back then to help with these scenarios.