This section is from the "Studio light a magazine of information for the profession 1923" book, by Sara F. T. Price. Also see Amazon: Studio light a magazine of information for the profession 1923.
Editor's Note: The following story contains a heap of human interest, but there's considerably more than human interest to it. It should be an inspiration to every man who loves his work and has the determination to get ahead. And while every photographer can not do what Mr. Ritch has done there are other opportunities equally as great if one has the determination to succeed and will stick to the task as persistently as he has done.
William S. RlTCH, book-keeper at $30 a week, found himself in a rut at the prime age of 40. He was of a Brooklyn family and had risen from the office boy stage to organist then pianist then bookkeeper. And as the family increased although the job didn't he just plugged along and got deeper and deeper into the rut. Then - an 80 cent box camera clicked the trick. From a bookkeeper at 40, Mr. Ritch at 58 is a spry, energetic photographer with a "way" with children that carves his place as expert in child photography.
"The new always sort of got me," he says, between snatches of humming as he bustles around his top floor studio that serves as printing and developing room. "I just fumbled with the little book of instructions that came with a No. 1 Brownie camera a friend gave my boy on his birthday because it was something new. More I read, more I got interested. Bookkeeping was humdrum, you know, and this flashlight photography gave me a hobby. But it's more than a hobby now!"
To note the alert grey eye and quick step of Mr. Ritch as he pauses in conversation to adjust photographic films is to realize the stick-to-it-ness of this man who had the pep and gumption to start anew at 40 when most folks begin to "settle." And this with a family of six all dependent on the outcome of the venture. Yet it was because of this family that the babies' photographer is successful today.
From A Portrait Film Negative
By Wm. S. Ritch
New York City
As Mr. Ritch perused the little blue book of instructions on flashlight photography he held tight to his bookkeeping job but tighter to the little blue book. He experimented at nights after the day's grind. He flashed his six kiddies in all sorts of poses. One photograph, showing the group of children eating out of bowls won a First Prize of $5.00 in a picture contest. That $5.00 fired him to buy a better camera. Another photograph of his little girl getting out of bed in the morning captured a $100.00 prize. Then he took account of his savings, gave up the bookkeeping and started out one morning with his camera under his arm. a bundle of sample pictures in his pocket, and in his bosom doggone determination to make every mother yearn for a picture of her baby. He canvassed Brooklyn. If he saw a child on a porch he would seek out the mother and show the sample photographs of his own brood. Wouldn't she like a picture of her baby? She most always did Sofrom house to house he coaxed orders. At the close of one not very profitable day he hailed a French nurse-maid in Flatbush and asked the name and address of her little charge. It subsequently happened that the family was about to leave town for the summer but in the fall the mother remembered the photographer and gave him the order. The fame of that tot's photograph spread from the mother to friends and from friends to more friends until Mr. Ritch traced about $1,000 worth of business to the mere halting of that nurse-maid.
Today Mr. Ritch can't make trains quick enough to fill out-of-town orders. Requests for him to bring himself and his paraphernalia - he does all his work in the children's homes and nurseries where they are happiest and most at ease - come from Philadelphia and Boston. The late Theodore Roosevelt would have no other but William Ritch photograph him with his group of grandchildren. Today this picture of Teddy holding the infant in the center of the group is the most widely published and best known photograph of the Colonel. On the grey walls of the studio close by the Roosevelt picture there is the photo of the bouncing son of the violinist Zimbalist, the H. O. Havemeyer and Harrison children, Woodrow Wilson Sayre in all his glory, the baby of Don Marquis, columnist, and the vivacious youngsters of John Barnes Wells and Jean Webster.
The kiddies dance on tippy toes when Mr. Ritch comes to photograph them. They have him spotted from year to year as the man with the beautiful colored lights. This hitches to the reason why he does flashlight portraiture exclusively. He finds that children unlike grown-ups. love to hear the bang! of the flash and to see the burst of light. They just laugh and think it's a good joke. In this way he gets them in natural poses which he considers of more importance than mere artistically finished detail.
FROM A PORTRAIT FILM NEGATIVE
By Wm. S. Hitch New York City
Mr. Ritch is a bit of child psychologist in his line. Take, for instance, the match trick. His pockets are always full of matches for his flash. If his subject is a trifle peevish he produces a match, the one thing a child is never allowed to play with and which consequently has the greatest fascination. He tells the child the match is a lolly-pop and that Teddy Bear wants a suck. The child, entranced at the forbidden toy, loses itself in busy contemplation. A flash - and the pose is caught, match, Teddy Bear and all. Then the mother says "Isn't that just the way Susie looks?"
"There's only one knack in taking children's photographs," says Mr. Ritch, "and that's to always keep them busy. When a child has something in his hands to busy him he's happy. If he isn't holding something I keep him busy by asking him what color light he'd like to see. He's all curiosity waiting for it and I shoot in the meantime. I never fuss too much with the child. I never say,
'Don't do this or that.' Mothers have a habit of saying, 'Now, don't be afraid of the noise.' I always warn them before never to say that. Keep the child interested - that's all. It's just like my work here. I'm happy and stronger and feel younger today at 58 than I did at 20. Why? Because I'm interested. There's no getting into a rut. No day is ever the same going out to different people's homes. I hate to go to bed at night and I love to get up in the morning.
"I'm not much on any philosophy of success but I'll say the best slogan for most anyone who wants to push ahead is this: You're never too old to learn something new."