I always looked up to Dan Lippitt, the uber-cool photographer who got to sit on the floor of Detroit Pistons games at night shooting in-action photos of the players and cheerleaders, and then would spend the next day doing photo shoots of underwear models at his studio in Pontiac or on his farm in Metamora.
I first met Dan at my bar mitzvah party at the Somerset Hotel in Troy. Dan, six years my senior, was assisting the photographer, Les Gorback. He held the light pole, but I recall Les treating him like an apprentice because he also let Dan shoot some photos. (I vaguely remember my mother not being happy that "the kid" was taking photos.) The movie Major League (one of my favorite movies) had just come out and I told Dan that he looked a lot like Charlie Sheen (truthfully, over the years I continued to see a resemblance).
At the end of the night, Les hired me as an assistant since I had one of the last bar mitzvahs of my grade and would be available to work going forward on Saturday nights (and I was tall). So for the next year or so, I would go to weddings and bar/bat mitzvahs with Les and hold the light pole. It was excruciatingly boring. That is, until one time Les asked me to work but said I'd be working with a different photographer, a subcontractor.
He told me that Dan Lippitt would pick me up at home and I'd spend the day with him going from a wedding ceremony in the morning to the reception later that night. I had a blast hanging out with Dan for the day. He introduced me to really great music and told funny jokes. Since he had attended the same high school I was at, he shared hilarious stories about the teachers there. He told me about how passionate he was about photography and let me use his cameras. I had a fun day with Dan and it didn't seem like work. I always looked forward to being Dan's assistant.
And then, over the years, we would keep crossing paths. In 1998 we were both counselors on the Teen Mission to Israel. Whenever our group would be at the same place as Dan's group, he would always be sure to take some photos of me (of course, he had the best camera on the trip). Every time I'd see him at a Detroit Pistons game, he would have me come down to the court at halftime to schmooze and take some photos of me with my kids.
And of course, these weren't your typical photos. I would always print them out and frame them because they were of such a high quality. Dan had a really great eye and was an artist when it came to his photography. I especially liked playing softball with Dan because his photos of us playing were of professional quality.
I'm grateful to have a nice collection of photographs that were taken by the talented Dan Lippitt. I'll think of him squinting behind the camera whenever I look at them.
RIP Dan, you were truly one of the good guys.
(All photos courtesy of Dan Lippitt's Studio)