A Collection of Stories

Anthem photographer David Spindel reflects on his career

By Laura Latzko

For David Spindel, being a professional photographer has meant looking at the world with a special eye and capturing it on film for others to see. 

The world-renowned photographer, who is originally from New York but now lives in Anthem, has a natural gift that has allowed him the chance to work with famous actors and musicians and baseball greats. 

Spindel says although anyone can own a camera, being a photographer is more than that.

“A good photographer has an eye. They see the world differently,” Spindel says.

He is best known for photographing John Lennon and Yoko Ono during one of the “Double Fantasy” recording sessions. His photographs were reproduced for the John Lennon “Acoustic” CD, along with books, documentaries, CDs and posters. 

He has also developed posters and limited-edition projects for baseball greats such as Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, Willie Mays, Phil Rizzuto, Mickey Mantle and Duke Snider.

Spindel’s images have appeared on book and CD covers, movie posters, mouse pads, coffee mugs, advertisements, videos, T-shirts and porcelain plates. 

Spindel has always tried to follow his own path and do what he thought was right, instead of what everyone else was doing. 

When he was growing up, he never thought of photography as a career. His mother was initially against him becoming a photographer because she thought he would end up taking pictures at weddings and bar mitzvahs. 

It started out as a hobby and has grown into so much more. David’s love of the art form has never waned throughout his career and has often kept him up working late into the night and early morning.

“I tell people I’ve been paid to do my hobby all of these years. I’ve never considered it work,” Spindel says.

Spindel has been living in 85086 with his wife Barbara for the last 15 years.

Spindel is “retired” but continues to work out of his Anthem office, which is filled with photos, memorabilia and letters from throughout his career.

He has recently been putting together a collection of stories from his time as a photographer, which he plans to call “Just a Kid in the Candy Store of Life: Celebrated Stories from My Professional Photographic Career.” 

During his time as a photographer, building relationships has been important to him. Whenever he has photographed anyone, he has always sat down and talked with them before the sessions. 

He has always preferred to photograph subjects in his studio.

“Everyone’s unique in their own way, and I don’t take pictures like I’m a paparazzi photographer. I wanted to get them in a controlled environment in my studio and bring out the quality of who they are,” Spindel says.

He has always had the same quirky sense of humor and unique way of looking at the world. 

Barbara has had the chance to see up close his dedication to his craft.

Living with someone who is so focused on his work has come with its challenges. 

“David is a genius,” she says. “They think differently, and they don’t think about eating. They have a tunnel vision. When they have a creation coming into their head, it just tunnels to that. Everything else is out of the picture. I had to bring him back into reality.”

He has been married to Barbara for nearly 55 years, and the two have a son and daughter together. 

Throughout his career, Barbara has been his biggest supporter and has taken on roles such as videographer. She has helped him with his photography, as he is partially color blind. 

She often went to photo shoots with Spindel and met with the celebrities. 

“We have been in many places that many people would love to be. For us, it just came naturally. These people were just very natural with us,” she says.

When their children were little, Spindel worked long hours, and she often had to take on double duty at home. 

Spindel tried to make it to his children’s sports games and events, but he would go back to work afterwards. 

When he was driving back home late at night, he would talk with his wife and children via CB radios. Spindel’s handle was Shutter Bug; Barbara’s, Lady Bug and his children’s, Pink Pussycat and Hot Sticks.

Moving to Arizona was a big change of pace for David and Barbara. Before relocating, they sold their 23-room house in New York, which had an arcade, movie theater, a library, a casino and a baseball memorabilia room. 

The two moved to Arizona on a recommendation from his doctor. Spindel suffers from depression, and his doctor and wife thought Arizona would make a better environment for him. The couple also had family living out here.

Spindel has battled depression throughout his life. There have been times when he has been going through bouts of depression that he hasn’t been able to work or even function. Barbara has been there during those moments to take care of him. 

Despite dealing with this illness, Spindel has built a long-lasting career, filled with memories that he cherishes. 

Spindel grew up in Brooklyn with an older brother and two younger sisters. His father was a pharmacist and his mother a schoolteacher.

His first camera was a Brownie Hawkeye his parents purchased for him.

When he was growing up, he took pictures of neighborhood kids and helped his brother capture photos for his college newspaper.

He decided to pursue photography as a career after attending the Rochester Institute of Technology. 

Richard Zakia, a professor who used his photographs in his books over the years, recognized early on that Spindel had a unique talent.

“He would always tell me, ‘You were given a gift that no other photographer that went to RIT had, this unique ability to combine hundreds of items into one photograph, and they all work together.’ My wife would always say when I take a photograph, all of the items in the photograph would stand up and smile with me,” Spindel says.

It took Spindel some time to get established as a photographer. After graduating from school, he worked as an assistant for photographers in New York before opening his own studio in 1970. 

He started out doing photography for local advertising agencies.

During the early years, he often had to deal with art directors with unrealistic expectations. Over the years, he proved himself through his work, and he had more freedom to create what he envisioned from the get-go.

“I got to a point in my career when art directors realized how good I was at what I do. They would send me down the products and say, ‘create a photograph’ rather than telling me what to do,” Spindel says.

He also sold his photographs to stock companies throughout his career. In places such as airports, he has come across his stock photos.

When he wasn’t working, Spindel would take still-life photos of memorabilia as a hobby. This eventually led to the work he did with Major League Baseball.

Spindel is a life-long baseball fan, so working with players he had grown up watching was dream for him. 

Along with photos of baseball players and memorabilia, he took pictures for an eight-book series that focused on different MLB teams.

Spindel hopes his pictures of memorabilia create feelings of nostalgia for viewers. 

“My whole idea is when people look at some of the collages I’ve done and the memorabilia, it brings back memories for them. They see things in the photographs that maybe they owned at one point or another,” Spindel says.

The relationships that he has built with others, especially baseball players, have been one of the most meaningful parts of his work.

Over the years, he has developed close friendships with baseball players such as Joe DiMaggio and Whitey Ford.

He has also had a chance to work with actors in different stages of their careers.

He photographed actors such as Adrienne Barbeau, Bette Midler and John Witherspoon during the early years of their careers.

He also worked notable figures such as Regis Philbin, Kathie Lee Gifford, Marty Allen, Mark Lenard, Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Wladziu Valentino Liberace, Richie Havens, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump and his second wife Marla Maples. 

Meeting and photographing DiMaggio was one of the highlights of his career.

Spindel had already spent a month picking out and placing memorabilia for the photograph, but DiMaggio came into the session with a humidor signed by his Yankee teammates and a baseball autographed by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. 

The real challenge ensued when DiMaggio asked where he would sit in the photograph. Spindel hadn’t originally planned to have DiMaggio in the picture, but he ended up double-exposing the ballplayer into the photograph. 

At a signing soon after that, DiMaggio introduced Spindel as his “personal photographer” to other baseball players. 

“I initially photographed Joe, and Joe recommended me to everybody else. He became my agent,” Spindel says.

Photographing John Lennon and Yoko Ono was also a memorable experience for Spindel. 

When he went for the session, he didn’t know who he be would photographing. He was surprised when he met Lennon while he was setting up his equipment and the musician was getting a massage.

During the session, he used an available light technique to take photos. He said this approach worked well in getting candid shots of Lennon and Ono.

“That’s why the photographs turned out so beautiful, and they’ve been used all over the world in dozens of projects,” Spindel says.

Over the years, he gotten to know celebrities such as actors Chuck Connors and Charlton Heston, comedians Marty Allen and Jerry Stiller, actress Stephanie Powers and singer Richie Havens. 

He has also developed pen pal relationships with actresses such as Bette Davis and Katharine Hepburn. With his letters, he would often send gifts such as vintage photographs.

“My friendships that I developed with these special people were unbelievable,” Spindel says.

His memorabilia collection includes baseballs autographed by celebrities such as Dr. Ruth Westheimer and Muhammad Ali. 

Throughout his career, Spindel has also created Rebus photos, which are visual representations of words, phrases or names. For one of his favorite Rebuses, he painted plastic brains to look like cue balls to create a visual representation of the phrase “Rack Your Brains.” 

He has recently licensed photos of his collages for puzzles. His favorite is “Remembering the Duke,” which honors John Wayne. 

Growing up, Spindel’s father always worked long hours at the pharmacy. Watching John Wayne films together was something special they did on Sundays.

“The only time I got to spend with him was either when I was working in the drug store with him, or on Sunday afternoons, we would either sit on the porch in Brooklyn and watch a movie, maybe occasionally go to a movie or go visit my grandparents. One of the things my dad always enjoyed was the old westerns with John Wayne,” Spindel says.

To learn more about David Spindel and his work and see fun photos taken from throughout his career, go to spindelvisions.com and davidmspindelphotography.shutterfly.com.   

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