Rowland Scherman was the first Peace Corps photographer. He started in 1961 at the agency and he traveled the world. Rowland helped establish the image that the world had (and has) of what the Peace Corps is, and who we are as PCVs.
A book of his work, with his running narrative, has just been published. It is entitled, TIMELESS Photography of Rowland Scherman and the forward is by Judy Collins. It was published by Peter E. Randall for $29.95. You can find it at www.PERpublisher.com.
In the book Rowland talks about how he got a job with the Peace Corps. This was in March 1961.
Like so many others, I was thrilled by JFK’s inaugural speech. I wasn’t a “professional” photographer, really. I had been a studio assistant for a fashion guy, and I made a few dollars doing portraits “on location” on the streets of New York City. I shared a crappy little darkroom with a friend. But JFK’s words made me think that I could be something more, could reach a higher potential, if I volunteered my work and myself for the betterment of my country, instead of simply chasing a buck. Yes, I thought, my services just might somehow be useful to the new administration. I found out whom to see about a job with the Peace Corps, took a bus to D.C. and announced my availability to be their official photographer.
“We don’t need photographers, kid,” newsman Tom Matthews, said. “We need doctors, farmers, nurses, technicians. Besides, look at all the press we have covering us already.”
Sure enough, the building was crawling with reporters and cameramen, as everything pertaining to the Kennedys and the early days of the New Frontier was newsworthy. But the Peace Corps was in its infancy. No one understood right away that the new agency was only an idea–and that there were only table and chairs, confusion, and Sargent Shriver.
“There has to be something I can do to help,” I said to Matthews. “Do you mind if I hang around for awhile?”
“Be my guest, kid,” said Matthews. “But don’t get your hopes up.”
The next day (or maybe it was the day after), I had come in early and was standing around in somebody’s office, when in burst Tom Matthews.
“The princess is here! She wants to be in a picture with Shriver.”
Her Royal Highness — Beatrix, the Princess of the Netherlands — had come to Washington, and one of her interests was the Peace Corps. The “official” newspaper press had left the building, they had given up trying to get a visual story at the Peace Corps.
Matthews bellowed from down the hall: “Where’s that kid with the camera?”
I wore my Leica under my jacket for some reason. I moved my lapel back to show them and said, “Here I am.”
Rowland Scherman had his job…with the Peace Corps!
Some background on Rowland. Going freelance in 1964, he subsequently did covers and photojournalism for LIFE, Time, Newsweek, Paris Match, Playbook, and National Geographic. He won a Grammy in 1968 for an album cover of Bob Dylan, and in 1969 was voted Photographer of the Year by the Washington Art Directors’ Association.
Next he moved to Britain for seven years, and there created the book, Love Letters, a freestanding human typeface.
In 1991 he published a book of photographs about Elvis Presley’s influence on the American landscape — Elvis is Everywhere.
Today Rowland lives in Orleans, Massachusetts, where his work includes landscape photography and portraiture.
For exhibition information and more information on his prints, go to RowlandScherman.com
For ordering the book, go to: http://www.perpublisher.com/per165.html
To see the movie of Rowland’s life and photography, search out:
EYE ON THE SIXTIES: The Iconic Photography of Rowland Scherman with commentary by
Director Chris Szwedo.