The first piece of photographic equipment I ever purchased was a Gossen Pilot 2 exposure meter. I didn’t even own a camera. All of my pictures were taken with my father’s circa 1960s Nikon FTn Photomic 35mm camera. The meter was notoriously unreliable and at the advanced age of 13 I was serious about my photography. Whether shooting girls field hockey for the school newspaper or taking pictures of the seedy Jersey shore neighborhoods near where I grew up, this meter was always with me. It got to the point where I could walk out of my house, look at the sky and say f/8-125 second, check the meter and I was dead on right. I could actually estimate fractions of a second. Sometime during art school a fancy Minolta digital meter wooed me and the Pilot was relegated to back up meter.

I was introduced to a lot of photographers and wannabe photographers while working in Bamberger’s photo studio. One such wannabe managed to get a freelance gig shooting fashion. She asked me to assist her, which meant she really had no idea how to go about doing the shoot. The location was outside Hoboken terminal. I brought along my exposure meters and set everything up for her and let her demean me in front of the clients all morning. When she asked for my help for the next shoot, I told her I was busy and lent her the Gossen Pilot 2. Sometime in the span of a week or so I quit Bambergers and never saw the meter again. That is until this package arrived at my door 25 years later.

Let me explain something. Bambergers was a department store chain which started in 1893. They were owned by Macy’s but kept their own identity. The flagship store in Newark, NJ was 14 stories and took up an entire city block. All of the advertising and catalog work was shot in-house in a giant photo studio which employed close to 30 people.Most of the photographers were paired up with assistants except for me and another guy named Paul Schaffer whose name would evoke chuckles during introductions, but would always take it in stride. I was a young kid out of college and Paul was an older guy who was embarking on photography as a second career. We were the 2nd assistants, the guys who got the dirty jobs, who fixed things and built sets and had to fill in for an assistant when they called in sick. Paul and I hung out and I even assisted him when he got a freelance fashion job. After quitting in a bad way, the only job I ever quit, it was Paul who picked up my last check and met to give it to me. Shortly after this I started my museum career and Paul and I lost touch.

Fast forward 25 years, add the invention of Facebook and Paul Schaffer found me. “I have something of yours” he said. He got it from the woman who borrowed it and he’d stored it for all these years. The meter arrived last week in pristine condition. Although it no longer works, I don’t care because it held its value. It no longer reminds me of time in fractions of a second, it does it in years.

Thanks Paul.

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