Jimo Perini

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Posted by panch from pool0081.cvx25-bradley.dialup.earthlink.net ( on Sunday, July 21, 2002 at 5:09PM :

I'm in a nostalgic vein...I pay the bills here...if i want to I can....nyah

Jimo Perini is one of the world's best kept secret photographers. He was born in San Francisco 74 years ago. His father was deported back to Italy for being a member of a certain Italian crime agency. Jimo's mother died when he was five or six. he went out to live on the streets, cared for by a succession of Italian and Chinese women around the city. Living on the streets was different back then...what wasn't?

When he was eleven he fell in with bad company, thirteen and nine. They stole a car, robbed a store at gunpoint and headed out across the country going they knew not where. In Nebraska they robbed another store and were caught. At their sentencing a voice behind them said, "I'll take those boys". It was Father Flannigan, just starting Boys Town. Till he was sixteen Jimo lived at Boys Town...where he first learned to handle a camera.

While he was there, Hollywood came to out to film "Boys Town" with Spencer Tracy and Mickey Rooney. As a trusted helper Jimo was assigned to Tracy for the shoot and appears in a few crowd scenes. Before leaving, Tracy gave Jimo his card with a private number on it and said to call if he ever needed help with anything.

When the War came Jimo, like many others, ran away to sign up, lying about his age. Not every kid back then had a birth certificate...and no one was too careful as long as you looked like you could be of age. he was shipped out to Europe, promptly captured and sent off to a POW camp. He had the good fortune to be locked up with the great photographer Andre Kerteze...a Hungarian who would later become one of the world's best known photographers.

His early interest in photography brought them together and along with other prisoners they escaped and made it to France where they joined the Underground. There Jimo also met Cartier- Bresson, another great photographer to be. Jimo lost two brothers in the war but made it back safely when it ended.

He made his way down to Los Angeles looking for work...remembering always the card from Spencer Tracy, he called it from the train depot. A car was sent round and he found himself at Tracy's house where he met Kathryn Hepburn the same day. Tracy asked him what he was interested in and Jimo answered he was thinking of photography. "There's your first shoot"...Tracy said, indicating Hepburn with a jerk of his thumb. I've seen some of the photos.

Jimo has his own ideas about photography and has seldom even allowed a show of his work to be staged unless it was done to his liking...not a guy to wade in among Assyrians. Once he was asked to shoot Barbra Streisand in San Francisco but walked out after watching her rant at someone...not interested. he's paid the price, but is far more interesting for it...though he is taciturn and not too talkative.

Back in San Francisco he joined a group of photographers who were to be called upon by a special division of the United Nations, and is still in existence. This involved being ready at a moments notice to go to the nearest military base to be shipped off for photo reconn. This would involve parachuting into countries they had no business being in and travelling in aircraft like the hyper-sonic Blackbird long before we knew there ever was such a thing.

Jimo's been to every hot spot in the world, including Iraq. he has won several awards and distinctions and is the only photographer in the world, or was, to have a permanent display at the Great People's Hall in Beijing.

He's been voted the best photographer in the last 100 years, by his peers...his mentors all coming in right below him. I know...you'd think you'd have seen more of his books around...but the award wasn't given for popularity or marketability. He and Imogen Cunningham used to wander the streets of San Francisco years back.

A few years ago he became the leader of the photo team but stopped parachutng some years back. He's been fighting Cancer for years now..ever since he was among the photographers who filmed the explosion of the first atomic bomb...the one you've seen in films where the cloud radiates out across all those ships at sea. He remembers landing on the carrier deck afterwards and catching a glimpse of the huge cranes tossing their chopper into the sea. In the weeks that followed his toes curled back and lesions appeared.

He's had several tumors...had bones removed, and a few years ago a tumor was removed from his optic nerve. he's in remarkably good shape all things considered and has lived to see many of his doctors buried. He travels back to Italy a couple of times a year, and this year suffered a stroke over there he is recovering from. last time I saw him he looked good. We went out for lunch and chatted. He plans to go back soon, even though his doctors said it might kill him. Like he says...it isn't as if he'll live any longer by staying home...long enough to beat dying in Italy.

The things he's done and seen could fill a book and he's been at work on one for some years now. many of the things he's done and seen he can only now begin to talk about...some he never will be able to.

I met Jimo in 1975, as my wife and I and a friend were working to make the break to New York. They were actors and I was going to finally commit to being a sculptor...however you did that. Jimo did some photos for her resume and asked about her life as they sat in the coffee shop below our apartment on Bush Street. I was upstairs working on the small sculpture of Botticelis Venus. Jimo asked to meet me and I was called down...didn't want to stop work, but I'm glad I went.

When I decided to kidnap my son and take him with us, Jimo became my contact person and buffer...helping us leave a false trail that went to London. He also spoke with detectives to assure them my son was far better off where he was. Jimo came to New York while my son and I were living in a rooming house in Queens and stayed in a room across the hall.

I was working at a place that made reproductions of classical sculptures and every night I'd come home to a nicely cooked meal my boy made for us. We had the only room in the house with a kitchen of sorts. We shared a bathroom down the hall with the other borders on our floor, but had a refrigerator, sink and stove along one wall of our room. There was a bed, a table and fireplace and a view of factories out the two windows. The building was clean...one of those landmark Brownstones.

After meals Jordi would put on his ballet tights and pose for a little sculpture I was making. When Jimo came I was also at work on a small head, small enough to hold in one hand. He photgraphed me one day.

Years before, Jimo had been an operator on the cable cars in San Francisco and had published a book of photos called "San Francisco Grip". His second book came out in '78 and was called, "To Marci With Love". Marci is the daughter he had and raised himself. There's a photo in the book of just my hands, holding the small clay head. The caption reads something like..."The artist Fred Parhad, in Montmartre".

I wasn't in Montmartre...I was in Astoria, Queens. There was still a warrant for my arrest back in California...so he put me in Paris.

I also sometimes wonder how people get to meet people. Just happens I guess.

-- panch
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