Thursday, September 15, 2011

Photoshop, Johnny Vaich Style

Do you remember Johnny Vaich?  I picture him to this day, a gruff man, short and swarthy, with a shock of black hair, an unlit, burnt down cigar clenched between his teeth. A photographer himself, he had the only photo shop (not Photoshop) in Newtonville Square, on Washington Street near the corner of Walnut.  He was my father's good friend. 

I first met Johnnie when I was five years old, in my father's shop, Newtonville Electrical Company, Inc., on Bowers Street in Newtonville, and then many times after that at my dad's newly built shop around the corner on Newtonville Avenue.

Johnnie always said what he thought and thought what he said.  He kept a German Shepherd dog by his side, except when he sent the dog alone to the Newtonville Savings Bank (Walnut Street at Highland) with that day's cash deposit in its mouth.  Without his master, Johnny's dog crossed busy Washington Street and Walnut Street in order to accomplish the task.  The tellers took the deposit and sent the return receipt back to Johnnie at the Vaich Camera Shop in the jaws of his trusty dog.

I bought my first SLR camera from Johnnie Vaich; and my first and only Kodak Instamatic, Carousel slide projector and slide film for my first (and only) trip to Europe and the Middle East. And I learned all I ever needed to know about taking pictures from this seasoned photographer.

What makes a good photographer? I asked him.  His answer? Someone who knows which photos to throw away!


  1. that german shepherd was the retired 'Rin Tin Tin'.
    what is remarkable about the story is that it acts as a bridge between the nineteenth and twentieth century. my guess is that Vaich was born on the cusp of the two centuries, relegating his earliest memories to animal powered society. horses and dogs, cattle, sheep, and the pasture were just around the corner or in one's back yard or home. the trusty dog was just a normality. let us face the obvious fact. He could trust the dog more with his money, than we can trust our politicians. oh, if congress would only go to the dogs.

  2. I remember entering Johnny Vaich's store, as a youngster. when you were five i was just getting born. so my earliest recollections would date back to the last years of the bower street commercial address and then the new, clean, orderly (by comparison)shop around the corner, Newtonville Avenue address. the new address for our daddy's store was a short baseball throw from the Masonic temple which occupied newtonville avenue just west of the corner of Walnut Street, and across the street from the gone liberal :) congregational church whose declension at the pulpit made it fit only for friday nite dances for middle schoolers and high schoolers. those days were the only safe days to enter the church :). by the time i began frequenting Vaich's shop, as a prepubescent teenager, the dog was aged, and could only manage to move itself from one lounge spot to another, seeking that more comfortable moment. if i had known of its history i would have paid it more respect and less fear. the dog was huge, and by the way,the dog was NOT A GERMAN SHEPHERD. it was a BELGIAN SHEPHERD, which is probably why it looked so dangerous and beastly, the breed was closer to the wolf, because it did not suffer the outrageous fortune of being overly bred. johnny Vaich knew his dogs as well as his cameras.

  3. i think Vaich's shop was as disorderly as daddy's bower street address. it had the comfort of an old shoe dangerously close to being thrown away. Vaich's character and personality fit the pre suburban homogenization of our society, the pre tv generation which blended all of us into a nameless soup, which is why memories of daddy's friends are so acute. they are memorable because they were identifiable.

  4. the corner of walnut and newtonville was occupied by a pharmacy on one side of the street and the congregational church on the other side. the pharmacy had a very different feel to it than the one that was on the south side of newtonville avenue, on the corner of the street that held the century old claflin elementry school which we all attended, all four floors, or was it five? an all wooden structure that was made safe by the grace of God, had to be, given that the timbers were as dry as a matchstick and the boilers dated back to the previous century, antebellum, no doubt (civil war,i.e.), in which it was constructed. do you remember huddling in the basement after being calmly herded down the 3 or four or five flights of stairs on our way to brave another civil defense drill, to hide in the cellar, to protect ourselves underneath the stairwells taking comfort against the earthen thickness of stone and darkness to shelter us from a nuclear blast that might be heading our way from a country far, far, away? those moments were so telling, i can remember departing from my home's cellar, which had the same feel of the claflin school basement sanctuary, with the latin words escaping from the cool drafts of my mind, 'mors ab alto'?, Death from above'today?
    the reason why the pharmacy close to daddy's store had such a different feeling than the one down the street from claflin school was that the first pharmacy was the first pharmacy. it's architecture, and interior design was pre ww1, whereas the second was established during the second world war. amazing what a difference one world war can make. i always felt more comfortable in the younger one, maybe because the baseball cards (cum bublle gum!)were within easier reach of my elementary school length hands.