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Monte Zucker; 'Prince' Of Wedding Portraiture

By Yvonne Shinhoster Lamb
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Monte Zucker, who was known as the dean of the traditional-style wedding photographers for his classic posing and lighting techniques, died of pancreatic cancer March 15 at his home in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He was 77.

A Washington native, Mr. Zucker operated a photography studio in the Washington area for more than 50 years -- in Garfinckel's department store in Montgomery Mall, in the White Flint area in Rockville and in Silver Spring. About 10 years ago, he moved to Florida, where he continued to work as a photographer and teach and mentor amateur and professional photographers.

Mr. Zucker, who began taking wedding photographs in the late 1940s, was an authority on posing, lighting, composition and other aspects of classical photography. Some of the industry's most successful photographers employ his techniques for weddings and portraits.

Several years into his work, Mr. Zucker began changing the way wedding memories were captured. He combined the studio-only bridal portraits with on-site wedding day coverage. He would haul his lighting kit, backgrounds and other equipment to weddings and take pictures of the couple and their families.

Although his traditional methods sometimes met criticism as being too static as the technology changed, Mr. Zucker nevertheless commanded the respect of generations of photographers who learned from him how to light and pose a bride-to-be just right. Clay Blackmore, a protege who worked with Mr. Zucker, said his "work shows us that fine portraiture is not dead."

"Today, people take snapshots and call it art. Some photographers shoot 5,000 pictures at a wedding and pull out 100 decent shots. With Monte, it was about making every shot special. Every portrait meant something. Every time he went out, he was at his best. He never settled."

Capturing emotions in the faces of his subjects remained a hallmark of Mr. Zucker's work as he shot bridal photos in temples, churches and synagogues, in posh hotels, on beaches, in back yards and on the plains of Africa. He also photographed children, relaxing them so he could catch their most natural expressions.

His photos often reflected his disposition, according to a 1990 article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, which noted that Mr. Zucker -- who with his "twinkly eyes, tanned face and salt-and-pepper hair and beard had the look of an upscale sea captain" -- was "widely acclaimed in the trade as crown prince of wedding portraiture."

"A toucher, a hooter, a hugger and kisser, he is constantly collapsing with laughter on the shoulder of a pupil or client," said the article. "Zucker is master of the art, the science and the business of photographing love (or its simulacrum). "

Mr. Zucker discovered photography in a camera club at Roosevelt High School in the District. He graduated from the District's Teachers College with plans to become an English teacher. He married in 1951, and soon afterward, his National Guard unit was deployed to Germany. After serving there for a couple of years, he returned to Washington and opened a photography studio.

Over the years, Mr. Zucker developed into a celebrity within the professional photographic community and among his clientele. In 1990, he was voted Wedding Photographer of the Year by nearly 20,000 brides in Brides magazine.

A popular teacher, he said he was proud of being able to teach others to do what they love and make good money at it.

"I've always wanted to show others good technique and to give them the ability to do what they feel. I want to help people express themselves with images," he said in a recent interview for Professional Photographer magazine. "I want them to be able to interpret a situation and put it on paper for others to share their visions."

His numerous honors included the 2002 Photographer of the Year Award from the United Nations, master of photography and photographic craftsman degrees from the Professional Photographers of America, the Westcott Award for Achievement, fellowship in the American Society of Photographers, membership in the elite Camera Craftsmen of America and distinction as a Canon Explorer of Light.

Before his death, Mr. Zucker initiated the Zucker Institute for Photographic Inspiration, a charitable organization dedicated to inspiring at-risk youths through photography.

His marriage to Sondra Wool Zucker ended in divorce.

Survivors include two daughters, Tammi Reitzel of Greensboro, N.C., and Sherri Heller of the District; a brother, Seymore Zucker of Greenbelt; two grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter.

"I don't photograph the world as it is; I photograph the world as I would like it to be," Mr. Zucker once said. "So I editorialize a little, I bring it together and help people create memories. Through my photography, I have tried to tell people how lucky we are to be alive, how lucky we are to be one big family together, how lucky we are to live in a world that accepts variance and diversity."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company