For the past 20 years, Tom Nebbia has produced at least one photographic presentation each year for the Henderson County Library, drawing on his vast collection of work from his three decades as a photojournalist for National Geographic. But this month’s presentation is especially notable: Nebbia says it will be his last. “I’m 86 years old now,” he explains, “and it takes me months in front of the computer to put each of these shows together. It’s getting to be bad for my health, so it’s time to stop.”
This last event will be drawn from all the categories of Nebbia’s work shot between the 1950s and the ’80s, when he retired, and will include moving images as well as stills. During his career, he trotted the globe, camera in hand, to shoot human-interest stories, landscapes, wildlife, and portraits of notable personalities. He hobnobbed with Charles Lindbergh and Laurance Rockefeller in the South Pacific, helping to prepare Rockefeller’s book on the South Pacific islands; with John and Jacqueline Kennedy while shooting interiors of the White House; and with the likes of Alfred Hitchcock, Cary Grant, John Wayne, and Walt Disney, with whom Tom spent an entire month. “He told me during lunch one day at Disneyland that he was once a man with great imagination but no money,” Nebbia recalls. “But he said that a man with no money has no imagination. He was referring to the success of Snow White, the film that set him on his career.”
An especially prized photograph is a candid of Picasso, whom Tom had been pursuing for a formal sitting for some time. “I was shooting a story on the French Riviera at the time, but he refused my request for a sitting,” Nebbia recalls. “But the very next day while I was shooting a bullfight in a small town, the matador presented his cape to a leathery figure seated in the stands, who turned out to be Picasso. I was able to take his picture, whether he liked it or not.”
Nebbia’s presentations have provided a window into a world retreating rapidly into the deeper recesses of history, washed with nostalgia for what seems to have been a safer, more self-assured and progressive era. “I remember after one presentation I did on Clark Gable, the room emptied out except for one women in a wheelchair, who was in tears,” he remembers. “I asked her what was the matter, and she just said, ‘I loved Clark Gable.’ So I guess I’ve been doing something right these past 20 years.”
Tom Nebbia’s “Saluting Twenty Years Of Presentations” will take place in the Kaplan Auditorium at the Henderson County Library on Saturday, February 13, at 2:30pm. Free. Limited seating. 828-697-4725.