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Obituaries

Carole Kismaric, 60; Gave a New Look to Photo Books

November 24, 2002|Mary Rourke | Times Staff Writer

Carole Kismaric was to the photography world of the 1970s what Dorothy Parker was to the literary scene of the '50s. Her taste, her sense of humor and her assurance about her taste as an editor helped define an era.

Photography curator Robert Sobieszek of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art remembered Kismaric that way after her death Tuesday in New York. She died of pancreatic cancer at her home. She was 60.

Kismaric brought her trained eye, her eclectic experiences in publishing and her light touch to bear as an editor of photography books, starting in the mid-1960s -- first at Time-Life, where she worked on a series of books about photography, among others, and later at Aperture, the art photography book publisher.

The newsmagazine style she developed at Time-Life had a direct influence on her future work. She went on to reinvent art photography layouts in ways that shook the publishing world.

"Carole brought a popular, commercial design sense to a stodgy, ghettoized art form," Sobieszek said.

For Aperture, where she also edited a quarterly art journal, Kismaric produced photography books on the work of Edward Weston, Ansel Adams and Diane Arbus. Each one was narrowly themed: nudes for Weston, light for Adams, newsmagazine images for Arbus.

At the time, photography was comparatively new to the art market, and its supporters were trying to defend its claim. Books on the subject placed one image on each page for a framed effect. Kismaric applied a magazine style to art-book layouts, putting as many as three pictures or as few as one on an open, double page.

"The technique goes back to Look and Life magazines," Sobieszek said. "Carole used it to kick up the traditional art photography layout a notch. It made photography a lot more exciting to look at."

Never a professional photographer herself, Kismaric began her career as a newspaper reporter in college but soon turned to photographs as her preferred way of telling a story.

As a psychology major at Pennsylvania State University in the early 1960s, she spent summers working at the Parkersburg News in West Virginia and United Press International in Ohio. They were places where the only good photograph was a news photo, preferably one that crackled with information.

After graduation in 1964, Kismaric was a writer for Conde Nast Publications, home of Vogue magazine and others that covet visual panache. From then on, Kismaric seems to have been happiest when she could edit words and pictures in ways that captured the unexpected balance points between the two.

She went to Time-Life in 1965, working first as a researcher, later as a picture editor and then an associate editor. In addition to the photography book series, she worked on a series on the Old West and another on human behavior. Her last project for Time-Life was a book on the U.S. bicentennial.

In 1970 she married Charles Mikolaycak, a book designer for Time-Life and an illustrator of children's books. Their collaborations led to several independent projects, including children's books that she adapted from folk tales.

Friends remember the couple for their whirlwind social schedule.

"They were the quintessential New Yorkers," said Dick Cravens, a contributing editor at Time-Life and Aperture (under the byline R.H. Cravens) and a longtime friend of Kismaric. "They saw every play and every exhibit."

Cravens was a regular dinner guest at their apartment in the East 90s, where the menu was always the same. Pasta with pesto and scallops, salad, and memorable wines

"It was the sort of meal a busy person could pick up on the way home," Cravens said. He wasn't there for the food. "Conversation was the best I've ever had."

Kismaric moved to Aperture in 1976. Over the next 10 years, as managing editor and later as editorial director, she featured photographers who drew from an art background, including the 19th century Frenchman Eugene Atget, and others more influenced by journalism, such as her contemporary Danny Lyon.

"She was extremely intelligent and absolutely encouraging, with photographers as well as writers," said Cravens. "And she was invariably civil."

She left Aperture in 1986 to work on an independent project that resulted in a book and traveling photography exhibit. "Forced Out: The Agony of the Refugee in Our Time" grew out of a grant proposal she made to the J. M. Kaplan fund. (She proposed Northern Ireland as a topic; the fund countered with the global refugee crisis.)

Four top New York publishers contributed $25,000 each to publish the book in 1989. It came out as an oversize paperback for $19.95, a moderate price compared with the prices for most art photography books meant for coffee tables.

In 1990, when Kismaric founded Lookout productions with Marvin Heiferman, they aimed for similar collaborations to package books and exhibitions for the popular audience. Heiferman, a photography curator and writer, said they started by brainstorming, often in his Manhattan loft.

"We'd sit at my computer and bang out ideas based on what is on people's minds," he recalled in an interview.

Two of the most popular works looked at children's books from the 1950s in their cultural context. "Growing Up With Dick and Jane" in 1996 and "The Mysterious Case of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys" in 1998 showed what Lookout was all about.

"We wanted to find cultural icons, popular images, and how they affect our lives" Heiferman said.

He compared their work to cultural anthropology. He curated their projects; she did her usual. "Carole was a fantastic editor," he said.

Kismaric is survived by her sister, Susan Kismaric. Her husband died in 1993.

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