Les Riess

I first met Arnold at a photo conference, that I was in charge of planning, in the Fall of 1994 in New Orleans, my hometown. I took on the challenge of planning this event after the national leadership of a major photo organization failed in it's effort to plan their 50th Anniversary celebration. I had 6 months to get it together, with a $2,000 budget put up by my local chapter of this organization.

My initial task was to try to line up speakers of some import so that I could obtain sponsors and draw attendees. One of my first calls was to Arnold, mind you, that I had never spoken with or met Arnold prior to this call, although we were members of the same photographers organization. I asked Arnold if he would be interested in being the keynote speaker at our conference, and after he expressed strong interest, I said, very nervously, "Oh, by the way, you'll have to pay all of your own expenses.". During the pregnant pause that followed, I started thinking that, here, I am, a small-time photographer from New Orleans calling an icon of photography, asking him to be a keynote speaker at a conference and telling him that he has to pay his own way. What the Hell am I doing? How did I get myself in this mess?

After a few more moments of silence, during which time I had the Mother of All Butterflies in my stomach, Arnold spoke in his usual gruff voice, "So, I'll be the keynote speaker.". I assured him that he would. "In New Orleans?". I replied, "Yes." He said, "Well, Gus has always wanted to go to New Orleans and she likes jazz. We'll do it."

The memory that stands out the most from that event is when we had a second-line jazz band march the conference attendees from the hotel to a restaurant for Sunday brunch. To see Arnold and Gus strutting down Poydras Avenue behind the band was indeed a sight to behold and one that I will never forget. From that time forward, Arnold and I were friends because, as he recounted to me numerous times over the years, of the fun that Gus had in New Orleans. I've never seen a husband more devoted to his wife.

Fast forward to the Fall of 2005. Hurricane Katrina slammed into New Orleans on August 29, 2005. It was the first hurricane for which I ever evacuated. I was out of my home for exactly one month because of damage to the infrastructure of my neighborhood. I was fortunate because, unlike many others, I only had very minor damage to my home. Shortly after I returned home, my phone rang, and it was Arnold. I couldn't believe it. One of my first calls after this horrific disaster and it was Arnold. He told me that he had been trying to track me down for weeks and wanted to know how I was doing and was my house O.K., etc.,. We chatted for awhile and then, said our goodbyes. However, that phone call, once again, demonstrated the kind of man that Arnold is/was. A man of integrity, loyalty, and devotion to his wife, family, and friends. I'm proud to say that we were friends.

Les Riess

Article Type: