Award-winning author Lois Duncan passed away on Wednesday, June 15, 2016.
Duncan was the author of 50 books, ranging from children’s picture books to adult novels, but she is best known for her young adult suspense novels. Seven of Duncan’s books have been adapted into films. She was also the daughter of Florida photographer Joseph Janney Steinmetz.
In tribute to Lois Duncan, we are re-posting this interview with her from May, 2012. In it, Duncan gives a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the making of some of her father’s most famous photographs.
Lois Duncan Steinmetz in a field of daisies in Taos, New Mexico.
Florida Memory: Joseph Janney Steinmetz was a world-renowned commercial photographer whose images appeared in such publications as The Saturday Evening Post, Life, Look, Time, Holiday, Collier’s, and Town and Country.
His work has been referred to as “an American social history” that documented scenes of American life as diverse as affluent northeasterners to middle-class Floridians. He often used friends and family as subjects in his photographs. Tell us about this one.
Duncan: There I am, standing in a field of daisies in Taos, New Mexico, getting eaten alive by chiggers while my father kept waiting for “the light to be just right.”
The slant of light was one of the most important things I learned from him about photography. Whenever we took a photo trip on a magazine assignment, he would have the script of the photos he was to take, and before he ever started work, he and Mother would visit each location, determine the angle from which the shot should be taken, and the direction the light should be when the picture was taken.
Then they’d register the time of day when they should try for that shot. (Unfortunately for me, this daisy field shot was not planned beforehand–Joe just stumbled on a “pretty field of daisies” and I happened to be in the car–so the lighting was overhead and he had to wait for a cloud to come over so he could shoot without shadows.)
Florida Memory: Joseph Janney Steinmetz lived in Sarasota, Florida. He fell in love with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus which wintered there and photographed performers for 20 years. This photograph of clown Emmett Kelly in a bubble bath is one of the most famous of his circus images. How did it come to be?
Ringling Circus clown Emmett Kelly in a bubble bath
Duncan: Joe was good friends with many of the Ringling Brothers Circus performers. He took this photo of Emmett Kelly in the bathtub as a favor to Kelly, who wanted the image for his Christmas card.
Joe’s wife, Lois Foley Steinmetz, was crouched down out of sight behind the chair that held Kelly’s clothing, with an egg beater in her hand. After every shot Joe took, Lois would leap out of hiding, use the egg beater to increase the foam in the tub, and conceal herself once again.
Here are more images of Lois Duncan from the Joseph Janney Steinmetz collection:
Lois Duncan fishing in Pennsylvania, ca. 1938
William Steinmetz and Lois Duncan Steinmetz with their mother Lois Foley Steinmetz, 1940
Steinmetz family at the studio packing for a photo assignment, ca. 1950
Lois Duncan Steinmetz, admiring the scenery of the Suwannee River, 1949
Lois Duncan Steinmetz, left, and friend Polly Gaines in a motorboat, 1950
Lois Duncan Steinmetz on the 1949 cover of Collier’s magazine.