By Steve Maslowski
When Glenn Titus asked me to write about my father for the Legends section of Outdoors Unlimited, I thought it might be a nice chance to cast a bit of flattery on the memory of the ol’ man, deceased in 2006 at age 93. Now, several weeks later, I am still not quite sure what to write. You see, I worked as a wildlife photographer with Dad for many years, and even after he retired saw him almost daily when he came to the office to correspond with friends and attend to minor tasks. Perhaps familiarity dulls even the glow of legends, because in memory Dad is very much more human than hero. Still, if the reader doesn’t mind, I will present a few firsthand, somewhat subjective observations.
Karl Maslowski was the son of an immigrant gardener who died young, leaving Karl to provide for his mother and sister. While working full time, he finished high school at night and taught himself about nature, photography and communication. By his mid-20s, his talents, energy and drive allowed him to become a self-employed wildlife photographer working in both still and motion picture formats. Over the next half-century this self-taught, self-directed man earned accolades including: an honorary doctorate from Miami University of Ohio, the Arthur Allen award from the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, the Circle of Chiefs award from OWAA and a very large handful of first-place medals in all sorts of competitions for documentary films. In addition, he personally lectured nationwide to an audience estimated at well over a million, including members of the National Geographic and National Audubon societies.
He was an unwitting pioneer in wildlife photography. By chance his career started in the 1930s when color motion picture film first appeared in the commercial market. He often remarked that he would get a standing ovation for a movie if it had “a red bird, a yellow bird and a blue bird all in the same show.” He was the right man at the right time.
The flip side of this was that the world eventually changed beyond Karl’s interests, capabilities or beliefs (I’m not certain which it was). Karl took a lot of still photos with old contraptions like the Speed Graffix and who knows what, and eventually worked his way up to the Hassleblad, using it even before the Apollo moon astronauts employed one to take their astounding photos of Earth. But then 35 mm cameras entered the stage. He refused to use them. Perhaps they just had too many small buttons, or seemed too toy-like after the big things he used. The transition from 16 mm film to video was out of the question.
Karl was a writer, although he had no particular aspirations to be one. He simply had the urge and confidence to communicate (a writer has to have something to say, and a confidence that what he says is of interest to others). He wrote a weekly nature column for the Cincinnati Enquirer for 50 years, invariably composing the 800 words in two hours on Saturday morning using two fingers on an old typewriter with a worn-out ribbon. He was careless with grammar and structure, yet the text jumped off the page with fresh but folksy similes and metaphors.
Karl was indeed part of what Tom Brokaw called The Greatest Generation. When World War II broke out, he was old enough to avoid service but volunteered nonetheless (despite my mother’s protests). After basic training he was stationed in Colorado, where he became impatient over the menial, meaningless tasks assigned to him and wrote to his commanding officer – Ronald Reagan! – requesting a more productive assignment. Off to Europe he went, serving as a combat cameraman. He said his hair turned gray the first time he saw anti-aircraft fire heading his way. Talk of fallen comrades brought tears to his eyes, even years later. Interestingly, Karl quickly forgave the Germans, but never the Japanese. Perhaps this was a hidden barrier to ever using a Nikon.
Karl seemed impervious to the elements. I never knew him to complain about cold feet, cold hands, or cold anything. Even in the worst of weather, he was a tough, tough old horse.
Behind every successful man is a smart woman. My mother knew the nuances of grammar and had a friendship with math, and made it possible for Dad to concentrate on what he did best. Dad, on the other hand, made a complex project such as creating a documentary seem easy. Perhaps it was for him. He always had something he wanted to say,
Dad was not motivated by ego. He had a genuine concern for and love of wildlife and the out of doors. That is, his vocation was his avocation, too. On workdays he took pictures of wild animals. On days off he hunted and fished.
The fact that he had lots of friends – including many quite a lot younger – provided Dad with a great deal of strength, physically and mentally, that kept him hale, hearty and independent. It seems awards and acclaims are nice, and may linger briefly in memory and history, but other matters ultimately have greater personal importance.
Steve Maslowski is a freelance photographer who works with motion pictures, video and stills. An OWAA member since 1975, Maslowski makes his home in Cincinnati.
Photos: upper right, Karl H. Maslowski; center left, Maslowski in about 1948 (photo by Al Kain); Maslowski in Bulgari, Italy, in February 1944. All photos courtesy of Steve Maslowski.
Observations on an OWAA Legend: Karl Maslowski
By Steve Maslowski