Photographer Don Normark, Who Got to Dodgers Stadium Before It Did, Dies at 86
by Jen Graves
on Tue, Jun 10, 2014 at 2:02 PM
Don Normark was a photographer whose great 1949 project, Chavez Ravine, demands to be looked at again. Start out by seeing the images and reading the story online, then watch the documentary based on the photographs. Normark lived much of his remarkable life in Seattle. He died June 5 in Queen Anne, and his full obituary is on the jump.
Donald V. Normark, noteworthy 20th Century Photographer (1928-2014), died at age 86, June 5th, 2014 in Seattle, WA
“I have a number of photographs that I think deserve an audience. Not me, the photographs. I directed from behind the scenes, but each photograph is a solo artist, the one that captures the spirit, remembers the details, loves the light, and on its faux two-dimensional stage performs whatever-life-wrote-right-there-that-in-that-moment for us. The photograph bears witness, preserves the moment, bridges time.” —Don Normark
From his initial photographs taken in 1947 while serving in the U.S. Marine Corps at El Toro Marine Base and taking night classes in photography at Anaheim Junior College, to his final passing at Virginia Mason Hospital in Seattle, Washington, Don Normark remained a self-defined creative force.
Normark was born in Sedro-Woolley, Washington in 1928, and graduated from Seattle’s Roosevelt High School in 1946. As a young man he studied with Minor White in San Francisco, and became acquainted with Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange and other internationally acclaimed photographers. His ongoing interest in photography led him to enroll in what is now the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California, where he benefitted from the tutelage of George Hoyningen-Huene. While looking for a subject for a class assignment, he found the three close-knit Mexican-American communities of Chávez Ravine, which overlooked downtown Los Angeles. Enchanted by the people and the intact rural landscape, he spent many months documenting their lives in 1949. Normark’s photographs are intimate, and human, and the most comprehensive documentation of a community that would be razed—three hundred families were displaced in a controversial battle with the government. Dodgers Stadium now occupies the land. Five decades later Normark’s work was revisited in a best-selling book, Chávez Ravine, 1949: A Los Angeles Story (Chronicle Books, 1998), and a prize-winning documentary film of the same name.
Normark went on to spend two years in New York City, where he worked for Look magazine in their darkroom. On the morning after the opening of an exhibit of Normark’s images at the Brooklyn Art Museum in 1952, he left for Rome to study Italian on the GI Bill. When his GI Bill ran out he supported himself as a troubadour, singing in restaurants and taverns to earn his bread.
After returning to the United States Normark divided his time between Seattle and Los Angeles, and began freelancing for Sunset magazine. His photographs appeared in almost every issue for decades, eventually amounting to some 10,000 images published by the time of his retirement. Normark spent his life traveling and meeting new people, among them Dr. Jane Goodall in Gombe, Africa. As a gifted storyteller he enriched the lives of a wide circle of friends and family with his tales, keeping in contact with people everywhere throughout his life. He was a member of the Society of American Travel Writers and served a term as its president. In 1985 he was selected through the Bill Muster Showcase as their Photographer of the Year.
Don Normark’s photographs have been exhibited at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The J. Paul Getty Museum, and The Santa Barbara Museum of Art among many others; he is represented in the permanent collections of the Brooklyn Museum, MIT, and the Smithsonian. His photographs were featured in a 1964 issue of Aperture magazine and his work has been published in many books, anthologies, and periodicals.
Don was a man of many talents: playing the guitar and singing, painting, writing, and of course his chosen vocation of photography. He wrote many stories of his travels, and at the time of his passing he was working on a memoir and a website.
For many years a resident of the Queen Anne neighborhood of Seattle, he lived in a house full of art and artifacts from his travels that spoke eloquently of his zest for living; he was a warm and gracious friend to many.
Normark is survived by his daughter Jessica; his son Benjamin and daughter-in-law Roxanna and their daughters Sophia and Anna; his beloved Roz Duavit Pasion, and countless friends and fans. Celebrations of his life are being planned for Los Angeles and Seattle. To receive information about these events please email email@example.com.