This is more than just a story on the work of Frank Christian, the veteran photographer who will soon publish a collection of historic Masters Tournament golf pictures.
Instead, it's a century-long family chronicle - three generations' worth - of the people who photographed much of Augusta's history, dating back to a great uncle who emigrated from Sicily, to 61-year-old Frank Christian Jr., who has been the photographer at the Augusta National Golf Club for more than 40 years.
The book, Augusta National & The Masters: A Photographer's Scrapbook, (Sleeping Bear Press, $45), with more than 250 color and vintage black and white photographs, will be in bookstores Friday.
Masters golf shots, many prominent on the walls of fans and players around the world, are Mr. Christian's calling card. A photo of Arnold Palmer and Ben Hogan, waiting on the second tee in 1966 with stern looks and cigarettes in their mouths, is a classic. Another memorable shot came when Jack Nicklaus was captured being kissed by his wife and sister following his sixth title in 1986.Mr. Christian knows every Masters champion and was graced with a book foreword by Gene Sarazen and glowing reviews by Byron Nelson, Mr. Palmer, Mr. Nicklaus and Ben Crenshaw.
"When you're documenting history, it's hard to say this moment or this picture are more important to me," Mr. Christian says. "There's a unique story behind them all."
JUAN MONTELL, the tiny great uncle with the wide smile and broad-brimmed hat, came to the United States from Sicily in the late 1800s. He landed at Ellis Island and discovered that the wealthy liked to see themselves in photographs. So Montell, as he called himself, followed the carriage trade, the horse-and-buggy era precursor of the jet set. The journey took him south to Augusta, where many of the rich set wintered before Florida was widely developed. His first known photograph in Augusta was taken in 1897.
Montell was quite the entrepreneur. He worked his way into the Augusta opera house before shows and convinced the manager to let him shoot the audience from the stage. "Please sit still," the manager would announce. "The photographer Montell is here to take your picture." Montell's wife, Eunice, would phone prominent area businesses and page Montell, even though he wasn't there, so that the public would be aware of his work.
Montell also became quite familiar with the sports star of the day, Masters co-founder Bobby Jones. Upon Jones' frequent visits to Augusta to play the Augusta Country Club or Forest Hills course in the 1920s, Montell would be on hand.
One of his most famous photos is a group shot taken in March 1924 with a then-revolutionary circuit camera, at Augusta Country Club before an exhibition match featuring U.S. Open champion Jones and partner Perry Adair against Arthur Havers, the reigning British Open champion, and Jimmy Ockenden, the French Open champion.
Montell also shared a love of photography with the Berckmans family, the previous owners of the Augusta National land, and photographed the area as it became Augusta National in 1930. He also shot the first years of the golf course before moving in 1934 to Gulfport, Miss., where he died years later.
FRANK CHRISTIAN SR. joined Montell in Augusta in 1927 and took over the business when Montell departed.
Frank Sr.'s earliest work was an old photo style called "kidnapping." In early 1927, the Ricker Hotel opened adjacent to Forest Hills and drew many vacationers. Frank would hop the trolley car from downtown Augusta and ride it to Monte Santo and Walton Way, where he would get off and photograph hotel guests playing golf or croquet, riding horses and swimming.
"People were amazed that they could be photographed one day and get the picture back the next day," Mr. Christian says. "Of course, we had their permission to shoot the photos."
By the early 1930s, Frank Sr. was the official photographer for the new club on Washington Road and also shot extensively for the Augusta Herald. He worked closely with Jones and club co-founder Clifford Roberts in capturing the early years of the tournament and the club, many of which are shown in the book.
When Frank Sr. retired in 1954, he handed the business over to his 19-year-old son, whose passion for writing was superseded by photography. Frank Jr., who received a club from Mr. Jones at age 6, had taken his first Masters photo in 1948 - a group shot of the field for that tournament. His first Masters photo for money came in 1955 when he shot Masters participant Davis Love Jr., the late father of current PGA Tour star Davis Love III.
FRANK JUNIOR would become famous all over the golf world - and beyond.
The Masters pictures he took and had in stock from his great uncle and father and the Berckmans family were priceless. He also was hired by the Professional Golfers Association of America to photograph some of their events, most often the PGA Championship and Ryder Cup. Famed singer Frank Sinatra hired him to take some publicity shots, beginning in the early 1980s. He even lectured on the history of photography at Kodak House in Rochester, N.Y., a few years back.Mr. Christian's success is based upon a quirk and the resulting ability to take pictures quickly so that folks wouldn't fidget as they waited for the flash.
"I always hated to have my photograph made," Christian says. "I felt like my face was going to harden and crack like clay. I couldn't smile. It was sheer terror. I thought if I feel this way, then my, quote, victims, must feel the same way."
He also developed a knack for knowing if "clients" had blinked or not.
"You know, I don't like to waste film," Mr. Christian says. "I shoot with both eyes open - one in the finder and the other on the subject, just a little bit open. If your eyes are open, you see blue (when the flash goes off). If they're closed, you see red - you're seeing the light through the blood in your eyelids."
Frank's quick photos and perky demeanor endeared him to golfers and Augusta National members, particularly Mr. Roberts. The club chairman was a stern man who was viewed as a dictator. At least that's what most people thought.
"He was perceived as such an ogre," Mr. Christian says. "But he had a wonderful, dry sense of humor that not many people saw."
Mr. Christian cites the Jamboree, the members' big spring party and tournament, as an example of Mr. Roberts' wit. Mr. Christian brainstormed to place Mr. Roberts in unusual roles for films about the event in the late 1960s.On one occasion, Mr. Christian's film had members playing golf and eating before being startled by someone in a bear suit. At the end of the film, a close-up revealed Mr. Roberts as he took off the bear head.
On another occasion, Mr. Christian and the Augusta National general manager, the late Phil Wahl, built a plank just under the water's surface on the par-3 16th hole. Roberts hit a shot onto the green and proceeded to seemingly walk on water. He then motioned for the caddy to follow, and when he took a different route away from the plank and fell in, it drew quite a roar from the audience.
"One of the things that prompted me to do this book is that I worked with Clifford Roberts on his (1977) book (The Story of the Augusta National Golf Club)," Mr. Christian says. "That book was mostly about the golf club and not the Masters. It kind of whet everybody's appetite. I hope this book takes over where his left off in that it gives the readers some interesting insight, some facts and figures, but most importantly, photographs of the early days of this golf course."
This is likely one of Mr. Christian's final projects. He complains of health problems and said he will probably retire "in the next year or two." His grown children are all involved in other fields, even though son Edward, an airline pilot, has assisted on some Masters shoots. Still, he is fulfilled.
"We've documented a great slice of Augusta history," Mr. Christian says. "These moments will live forever because we pulled the shutter. That's very satisfying."
Frank Christian's book, Augusta National & The Masters: A Photographer's Scrapbook, is scheduled to be in area bookstores on Friday. The book, published by Sleeping Bear Press and written with Cal Brown, is $45. Interested parties can also call Sleeping Bear Press at (800) 487-2323 to order the book or a catalog of golf books.