Saturday, April 9, 2011

Photographer Bernard Ente Dies

Yesterday I lost a friend.
And I mean a friend.
Bernard Ente, or Bernie as we all knew him, made my getting married at age 50 last year a hell of a lot easier. A photographer by trade, he shot all my wedding pictures. “Get in the middle of the street,” he suddenly ordered. I looked at him incredulously, and in spite of that ever-present mischievous glint in his eye, I saw the artist in him had taken over. So my dolled up Korean wife and I timidly ran into the middle of a brief break in traffic right there in front of Gizzis CafĂ© on West 8th. “Smile, you look too stiff!” he mimicked me as he smirked. Bernie could always make everyone laugh, and I immediately relaxed. Lightning fast, he shot again and again before oncoming cars forced us to run into the packed venue. Bernie made our far from traditional wedding even that much more special.
“What do I owe you?” I asked when I saw the gorgeous set of pictures that commemorated a day I never thought would happen.
“Nothing,” he said. “Just take us out to lunch,” he said.
That was Bernie.
When I wrote Apartment 4B, Like in Brooklyn, book designer Jeff Archer suggested a picture of the actual building I grew up in for the cover. Bernie was the first guy I thought of. Going deep into my old “hood,” Bernie laughed that residents thought he was a cop while he shot the now gated WWII six story apartment.
“What do I owe you, Bernie?”
“Just a photo credit.”
And was he ever proud of that cover.
Bernie was also involved in various community activities. He was the kind of guy who would take the time to fight for a creek, or whatever it was he believed in. It was never, ever about money. One friend of Bernie’s, Erik Baard, wrote this in his own tribute to him on

“He was a crusty Queens guy with a deep sentimentality in the best way, and he had a fine eye. He was kind and intelligent. His natural (or was it hard won?) skepticism never stopped him from supporting the most idealistic endeavors and over-the-horizon dreams. “

Yes, guys like Bernie are few and far between. And for a guy who brought nothing but joy everywhere he went, 59 was way too young to go.
Bernie made his living as a school photographer. He was often on the road, and I didn’t see him as often as I’d like to. But when I did, whether it was with his lovely wife and daughter who he adored, or at a hot blues show, we always had a blast. 
And we laughed. Oh, how we laughed. Because that was Bernie.
Bernie was a subscriber to my Wrestling- Then & Now newsletter, which is how we met, and he was also pleased that out of the thousands of possible pictures that would have been fitting, his wedding shot was what I chose for my twentieth anniversary issue’s cover. Bernie and I had bonded in our mutual love of music and wrestling. Whenever I’d do a comedy show with Johnny Valiant, there was Bernie shooting away. He was all about support. And never a charge. 
He was that rarest of guy who everybody loved. I honestly never heard anyone say a bad word about him.
Bernie was really a big kid at heart. A joker. He was quite tall and would whip out that camera lightning like to get a shot of everything from a duckling in a pond to whoever he was with in an unguarded moment. “Got it,” he’d say victoriously. He was larger than life and I honestly can’t believe he’s gone.
When Bernie championed someone, like blues harmonica ace Felix Cabrera, he’d suddenly get serious. “Evan, you gotta book Felix,” he’d say passionately. And I have and always will. Working with guys like Felix has enriched my life. This Friday at Gizzis, Felix dedicates his set with Robert Ross to Bernie, and for someone who loved and supported the blues, I can’t think of a better sendoff.
You know, this was a man who was always about laughter and fun. So there’s almost this odd sense of guilt in my writing this with a heaviest of hearts. But it sure isn’t easy losing a friend. Particularly when my friend, Bernie, epitomized the word. 

Evan Ginzburg

1 comment:

  1. Thanks so much for posting this story about Bernie, known to the families and staff of Tower Hill School, as Mr. Tunafish. You captured Mr. Tuna's personality so well in your tribute to him. I will miss my visit every fall from Bernie and his talent for photographing children and capturing their true spirit and personality. Now getting the photo was quite a comedy show with his monkey puppet, silly sounds and jokes. He had a huge heart and his death will be a huge loss to the Tower Hill School Family. I will personally miss him because we also shared a love of music. Last year he was photographing David Randolph, conductor at Carnegie Hall. When I told him I had sung in the 1980's with the Masterwork Chorus, which David Randolph was the conductor of, Bernie had two tickets waiting for me at the Box office to see David conduct again. Not only that but afterwards he sent me a beautiful photo of David conducting the chorus. When I heard of Bernie's death I looked around my office and there were so many pictures he had taken. One of my favorites though is last fall when I said, Mr. Tunafish, you're always taking pictures of us but I don't have a picture of you. So we posed together and one of the staff took our photo. It will be proudly displayed in the front school office tomorrow morning, a tribute to a wonderful person.