A Pair of Photos Framed by a Controversial ‘Rewind’ Technique

Both shots were taken in 1965 by Bob Gomel for Life magazine.

Former Life magazine photographer Bob Gomel tells the Houston Chronicle that his most profitable photo license involves a shot of Malcolm X snapping a picture of Cassius Clay at a Miami diner. He gets $3,000 a pop for that one.

But within professional photography’s ranks, Gomel is also associated with some pre-Photoshop era cleverness. He employed a technique for two different mid-1960s shots, causing a lot of debate:

His signature shot of the 1965 New York City blackout shows the full moon that got city dwellers through the dark night. The bright, beautiful moon shows in the right part of the image – but from where Gomel shot the skyline picture the moonlight was over his shoulder, illuminating the skyline. He then rewound the film and shooting back over this shoulder from the same spot, re-exposed the frames to place the moon over the skyline.

While art photographers had been experimenting with similar techniques for years, this was the first journalistic use of a manipulated image. Life printed it with an explanation of the technique, and purists raged.

Gomel said the image was the actual view from New Jersey that night – he simply had no way to get there. The point of the story, he said, was that the city functioned through the night by an exceptionally bright moon. He simply put the pieces together.

Before that controversy died down, he sparked further discussion when augmenting an image of a well-fortified inaugural parade review stand where Lyndon B. Johnson and Hubert Humphrey looked on behind a bulletproof glass barrier. There was a presidential seal on the glass, but it could not be seen clearly from Gomel’s position. He used the same rewind technique to move the seal.

Gomel worked for Life from 1959 to 1969, and shares many more fascinating anecdotes with Chronicle contributor Judi Griggs. Read the full piece here.

P.S. The great video above was put together in 2013 by son Corey in honor of Gomel’s 80th birthday.