Betty James and the Slinky

How do you photograph a sound? Well, that was the question posed to me when I was assigned in the mid-90’s to make a portrait of Betty James. She was the chief executive officer of James Industries, the maker of the Slinky. The famous toy has a very distinctive sound as it walks downstairs, “grzzzzink!” Inc. Magazine needed a portrait and wanted to see that sound. 

No pun intended, but it wasn’t as hard as it sounds. It took a few Polaroids to discover the right shutter speed to add enough blur to the toy as it walked down a set of test steps in the company’s Hollidaysburg factory, but once that determined, it was a straightforward shoot. I photographed Betty with and without the toy in her hand, but in the end, the magazine selected the one shown here. Shot in color, I converted it to black and white because the film has deteriorated over time.

Betty James passed away in 2008 at the age of 90, but her legacy will live on as long as there are stairs to descend and a spring that makes a “grzzzzink!” as it walks.

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