Wow. I'm a bit blown away.. I'd tried to reach David Vestal several times over the last couple months by phone and I just, today, learned of his passing away last month. Get ready for an unashamedly syrupy post —which will hopefully not diminish its intention to give hommage, because I absolutely adored David Vestal.
David was a true angel even before he died. He did so much to pass along his great body of knowledge and communicate his wise point of view on photographic matters —and in such a clear way— that his place as one of photography's preeminent doyens will be difficult to fill. This kind, quiet, diminutive man was a true giant, and it shouldn't be forgotten that he was instrumental in helping to prolong the production of fiber-based paper at a moment when Kodak had announced they would discontinue it (I verified this with Mike Gristwood of the old Ilford company.. apparently Vestal's "Save FB" writing 'campaign' —and that of Jean Dieuzaide, here in France—, gave Ilford the extra push it needed to bring out their Galerie paper ..which, as I understand it, in turn forced Kodak to keep producing their own line ((Ron Mowrey, your input is welcome on this last point!)). We all owe him.
I first 'met' David years ago by telephone. He sometimes helped me refine articles I submitted to Photo Techniques magazine and his clarity of thought was invaluable. Then, a few years ago, I had the great privilege of hosting him here in Paris, on what I suppose was his only visit. As I saw him in-person for the first time —coming out of customs at Charles de Gaulle airport—, I couldn't help but marvel at this indefatigable, slightly hunched and —yes— brave 80-something-year-old man who had just flown across the Atlantic alone, to arrive in France with his well-used, trusty Canon SLR film camera (FILM, damn it!) hanging from his neck. I'm not ashamed to tell you that I was very moved .. and that the memory of that moment yet brings a tear. Here was a man totally passionate about and devoted to photography, perhaps even "married" to this art as a nun is to Jesus (forgive the corny religious metaphor ... but it's true that I even joked with David that he reminded me of a monk, living a simple life with a seemingly singular goal: promoting good photography). For his Paris visit, I'd found him a small apartment in the Marais district, and we hung out in cafés and went to a couple of exhibitions, including one at the Henri Cartier Bresson Foundation of the work of Lewis Hines. I was fascinated to hear David's story of how his photography teacher, Sid Grossman [and a woman whose name I've forgotten] actually saved Hines' negatives --of some of the very images we were looking at---, after rescuing them from a flooded New York City basement, and how David himself was at one time in charge of holding several of those negatives.
David Vestal wrote well, but obviously he was also a visual communicator, and pretty darn good one at that, too. In both cases, he inspired. I was lucky to have been able to call David my friend. I'll truly miss him ... but thanks, David, for leaving so much behind. Rather than "rest in peace", I'd rather say
PS - he surely would have edited this post down to five sentences!