This is the story of a photographer, a back injury, and the photographer’s assistant. The photographer was Leon Perskie. You’ll never hear that name again, although it was he whose back was injured. So his 19-year-old assistant, Morton Tadder, had to step in and shoot that day’s assignment . . . and that day’s assignment was photographing President Harry S. Truman in the Oval Office. No pressure there. Tadder got the shot. And the rest is literally history. And it was history that kept falling into Tadder’s lap, eventually making him one of Baltimore’s most successful and celebrated photographers.
Unlike other photographers who have to claw their way to the top, Tadder appears to have started at the top and then just stayed there. Over a career spanning six decades he’s traveled the world, taking photographs of the Queen of England on tour, half a dozen U.S. presidents, and Fidel Castro, who gave him a cigar. He photographed Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner when they were merely dating. Once he cut a deal with camera-shy actor Cary Grant. “Grant was old by that time and didn’t like having his picture taken. I guaranteed he would like mine. When I showed him the finished print all he could say was, ‘You’re right.’”
Tadder was a fixture in boardrooms all over Maryland and around the region. “All the movers and shakers knew me,” he says. Tadder was even deemed good enough to photograph another Baltimore superstar photographer, A. Aubrey Bodine, and recalls their telephone conversation.
“Tadder, I need a photo.”
“Of me, stupid.”
One pearl of an assignment was working for Playboy. The Baltimore Playboy Club was looking for a photographer to shoot all of its Bunnies, Playboy’s distinctive cocktail waitresses. “The clubs had their own magazine, and they needed someone with a certain amount of integrity who could keep his mouth shut,” Tadder says.
Rather than shooting in the club on Light Street, he had them come to his studio in the old Standard Oil Building on St. Paul Place. The women would put raincoats on over their bunny outfits and anonymously walk up from downtown in groups of five. After each session another batch would arrive. But, unbeknownst to Tadder, as the women were walking out of the building, they were flashing the men in the lobby. “By the end of the day the lobby was filled with men.”
Tadder is perhaps best known for his photography of the Baltimore Orioles. He and the ball club are almost inextricably linked. Brought in by the team’s old P.R. men, Jerry Sachs and Bobby Brown, Tadder stayed for 44 years shooting team photos, player portraits, game action, and yearbook and scorecard covers.
“I was the first photographer the team ever paid,” he says. “And I never had a written agreement.” He attributes his success to a simple business plan: “I always made good decisions, and I wasn’t greedy.” But he was also demanding and perhaps singlehandedly crafted the early image of the team. “I didn’t want the players looking like bums. I always made them wear clean uniforms and would send them back into the clubhouse if they needed a shave.”
It’s a leisurely five-minute stroll from one end of Oriole Park’s club level to the other. It’s also a photographic crash course on the history of the ball club. Lounges with names like “Hall of Fame,” “Gold Glove,” and “All Star” dot the curving hallway. Their walls are filled with portraits of Oriole greats—most of the work is Tadder’s. In the “No Hitters Lounge” hangs a picture of Jim Palmer, who threw a no-hitter against the Oakland Athletics on Aug. 13, 1969. He is decidedly clean-shaven. The inner wall contains huge prints of every team photo from 1954 up to the present. They are a study of the ever-changing face of baseball and its fashions. Again, the vast majority were shot by Tadder. Within sight of the left-field foul pole hangs the 2004 team. “After I took that shot all the players gathered around and they gave me a team jersey with my name on the back and the number 44. That’s how many team pictures I had done. And then, I was retired.”
Today, the 86-year-old Tadder seems far from retired, still following up on an assignment he shot on Sept. 13, 1964. It was on that day that the London Express sent him to the Baltimore Civic Center to photograph The Beatles. Beatlemania was sweeping the nation and Baltimore was a stop on that year’s tour of major U.S. cities. Tadder covered the event like a seasoned professional, shooting the concert, the screaming fans inside the Civic Center and outside the Holiday Inn where the band was staying, their press conference, and the Fab Four just sitting around their hotel room relaxing. Some film was sent back to the newspaper in England, and the remainder Tadder developed and kept in his files, forgotten for decades. Now Beatle collectors around the world covet those photos—signed silver images of a band that defined rock ‘n’ roll and altered civilization in the process.
At Nations Photo Lab in Hunt Valley, Tadder stands over a conference-room table with Joyce Frampton, the lab’s bubbly customer relations manager. They examine each fine-art print before it is packaged and sent to the Unicorn Gallery in Fells Point for display and purchase. One print stands out, different from the rest. It is a montage of two images of Paul McCartney, one shot by Tadder that September day in 1964, the other shot by Tadder’s son, Tim, a noted photographer in his own right, during the halftime show of Super Bowl XXXVIII. Tadder holds up the print and smiles. “One icon, two photographers, 40 years apart.” And the rest is history.