A Local Life: Maurice Wolf
Lawyer-Photographer Captured the Splendor Of World's Diversity
Sunday, January 6, 2008
Soon after Maurice Wolf arrived in the United States in 1947, he developed a fascination for photography that never faded. He had come to New York after spending the first 16 years of his life in Europe, and he was eager to capture his new world on film: Central Park, skyscrapers, the chrome of a soda fountain, the doors of a telephone booth and the faces of people on the streets.
He formed a photo agency with some high school friends -- drawing up the papers of incorporation long before he actually became a lawyer -- and kept a police-band radio at home. He would rush out to photograph accidents and fires, then sell his pictures to New York tabloids.
From then on, wherever Wolf went in his well-traveled career as an international lawyer, he always kept a Nikon camera close by. He photographed streetscapes and people at play and had hundreds of images of Mount Vernon and scenes along the Potomac River, which he exhibited at American University's law school in 1997, as well as with the Art League of Alexandria and at other venues.
But photography was just one part -- a snapshot, if you will -- of the multihued world of Maurice Wolf, who died Dec. 4 at Inova Fairfax Hospital of a heart attack at age 76.
"His interest was not just in landscape," said his sister, Sarah Wolfe de Massameno, "but in the landscape of humanity."
Wolf spent 45 years in Washington, working as a legal specialist in telecommunications and international investment law. He began his career at the Federal Communications Commission, then spent a decade with the Inter-American Development Bank before forming the firm of Wolf, Arnold & Cardoso in 1977.
Over the years, he worked on projects from Paraguay to Tonga, from Gambia to Nepal. His home may have been in the Riverside Estates community near Alexandria, but he had learned at an early age to be at home anywhere in the world.
His son, David, recalled walking with his father down a crowded street in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
"He told me to look at the faces of the passersby and notice the differences in their faces," David Wolf wrote in an e-mail. "Brazilians are, after all, a combination of mixed races -- African, indigenous, European . . . and Japanese.
"I tell you this story because I think his photography in the second half of his life was a reflection of his embracing individuality. He was the least-biased person I ever met."
Wolfe spent his early years in Brussels but was born, at the insistence of his British maternal grandmother, in London. He and his sister, Sarah, stayed in Brussels with their grandmother in 1938, when their parents went to New York to help set up the French pavilion for the coming World's Fair.
But when Germany invaded Belgium in 1940, Jewish residents were forced to flee. Wolf's grandmother took him and Sarah to the docks, asking to see the captain of a departing British troopship. Explaining that they were British citizens, she demanded passage to England. The captain refused.