A Life Beautifully Framed



Jerry Esterson, above, with  Bob Hope and at right, with  his wife, Lois, and bandleader Mitch Miller. Esterson spent nearly six decades as  Baltimore’s premier event  and celebrity photographer.
Jerry Esterson, above, withBob Hope and at right, withhis wife, Lois, and bandleader Mitch Miller. Esterson spent nearly six decades asBaltimore’s premier eventand celebrity photographer.

Known to many as the premier Baltimore event and celebrity photographer for nearly six decades, including 15 years as Baltimore Jewish Times staff photographer, Jerome Frank “Jerry” Esterson passed away May 28 at the age of 88.

“There isn’t a Jew in Baltimore who doesn’t have a connection to him,” said daughter Elana Rock, who added that many considered her father to be a Baltimore icon. “He was loved for his charisma and his outgoing personality. He was equally comfortable at a [fancy] affair or any synagogue.” When the family dined at a restaurant, “we would never get through a meal without people coming to talk to him.”

Jerry Esterson was born to Julius and Celia Esterson and lived on Ulman Avenue with identical twin Morty and younger brother Lenny. Growing up, said Morty, the twins “dressed alike and people could not tell us apart,” and added, “We always got in trouble” playing tricks on friends and teachers at school. Louis Leonard “Lenny” Esterson, died on June 14.

After graduating from Baltimore City College in 1944, Esterson served in the Army’s 409th Infantry Regiment, 103rd Division in Germany, Italy and Austria as a squad leader, and in 1945, he participated in the liberation of Dachau concentration camp. He later became a chaplain’s assistant and achieved
corporal rank by the time of his discharge the following year.

Though Esterson received his first camera as a bar mitzvah gift and avidly photographed friends and neighbors, it wasn’t until after serving in the Army that he became more serious about photography, saidMorty, when he took classes at Baltimore City Community College and apprenticed with several local photographers. In later years, Esterson paid that generosity forward by mentoring younger photographers such as Stuart Floam, Jerry Fine, Dave Terlizzi and Charlie Smith.

Esterson set up shop as Jerome Studios and quickly became the Baltimore Jewish community’s most sought-after photographer for weddings, b’nai mitzvah, portraits, special parties and important social events. His assignment work appeared in the Baltimore Beacon, the Baltimore Sun and the Northwest Star, and he also photographed for organizations such as Baltimore County General (now Northwest), Bon Secours and Good Samaritan hospitals, Save-a-Heart, Israel Bonds, Baltimore Zionist District and the Talmudical Academy.

It was on the job covering an event that Esterson met Lois Rosenthal, who, as assistant editor at the Jewish Times, was covering the same event. In an article written by their daughter-in-law Linda L. Esterson, Lois
recalled she was thrilled to see Esterson at her office the following week, especially after she told her
co-worker she would “marry the next cute Jewish guy who walked by my desk.” They were engaged only six weeks after meeting and married nine months later in August 1959. Elana was born in 1960 and Eric “Rick”
was born in 1963. The couple spent 53 years together, and they were dedicated members of Ner Tamid Greenspring Valley Synagogue for decades.

Even with a chaotic photographer’s schedule, the family spent Shabbat dinners together and traveled to Atlantic City each Passover when the children were young. Elana said her father’s work led to his “huge role in the community” that connected “our family to everyone else’s family.”

Elana and brother Rick would often join their father on shoots in their teen years.

“I got good at composing photos and putting albums together,” she said, and cited her experience lining up
Bais Yaakov students by height for group shots and adjusting their clothing.

Esterson gained a reputation working for local show business companies such as Musical Sales and Eyeglass Co., so whenever a celebrity was in town, he was contacted for the job.

“I met David Cassidy and went backstage as a teen to meet Alice Cooper,” recalled Elana. “I remember Jimmy Carter and Menachem Begin.”

Rick remembers “shaking Milton Berle’s hand” and meeting Joan Rivers, Red Buttons, Fred Travalena, Monte Hall and Jackie Mason, among others.

061915_Esterson_Obit2“My father was very close with (former Baltimore Mayor and Maryland Governor) William Donald Schaefer too,” added Rick. “He was a superstar. He was like a celebrity; every place he went folks said ‘hello’ and women were kissing him.”

As a successful businessman with a big personality that was typically “the life of the party,” said Rick, his father would “command the room, directing and smiling” as he arranged people for the shots he needed,
“and he did it with such humor and professionalism.” But sometimes, even Esterson needed to recharge.

The studio darkroom “was less than a mile from home. So his solitude was getting up and going there whether he had jobs in studio or not,” said Rick. “He might be printing or making albums — it was an escape.”

Photographing local and national celebrities was his forte, but Esterson was known for getting his picture with the celebs as well. He would simply set up the shot and hand the camera to a bystander, said Rick.

Esterson photographed politicians and dignitaries such as Presidents Harry S. Truman and Jimmy Carter and Vice President Spiro T. Agnew, Abba Eban, Elie Wiesel, celebrities Tab Hunter, Mitch Miller, Elvis
Presley, The Beatles, Bob Hope, Edward G. Robinson and Johnny Unitas, among a host of others.

Esterson retired in 2004. At the time, he and Lois lived in Naples, Fla., and he worked at a Ritz Camera shop. In 2008 after suffering a stroke, the Estersons returned to Baltimore, and after his wife passed away, he lived with Elana and her family. Even over the past six months, Morty would bring his brother, in his wheelchair, “to Goldberg’s or the bistro each week, so we could have lunch.”

Esterson had undergone surgeries but never complained and was almost always in good humor, said Elana. “It was a blessing for us to have that time with him.”


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  1. My father was a mason, and Mr. Esterson was in my father’s lodge. ( St. John’s ) Do you suppose Bob Hope was a Mason as well? Esterson and Hope are shaking hands, and the flash is covering the hand shake. Do you suppose it’s a masonic hand shake? They call them grips. Something to think about.

  2. When I was 19, I was a councelorr at Camp Airy in Thurmont, Md. This was an overnight camp. I heard they needed someone to teach photography, and since I knew how to develop film, I applied and was hired. I had a small darkroom in my basement. The camp had photography ever since it’s inception.

    The kids really didn’t learn photography, but in the four week period they were there, they had the experience of taking pictures (all over the camp), basically developing the film, and make an enlarged print. An exciting experience if you’ve never been in a darkroom.

    A councelor who helped me Knew Jerry Esterson, and he gave him an old exposure meter. Not the kind you use for setting a camera, one for the darkroom.. Even though I knew what it was, and how it was supposed to be used, I didn’t know how to use it properly, so the meter was never used.. My helper told me the meter was given to him by a photographer who lived in the same area as he did. His name was Jerry Esterson. Sorry folks, I don’t have the meter..

    I have to be honest, but not crule, I didn’t think very much of Mr. Esterson at the time. But now that I read about him, I’m very impressed. Who gets an 8×10 Speed Graphic camera for their Bar Mitzvah? Do you know what type of camera this is? Well first, the camera holds one sheet of film 8×10 inches in size.. And if you look a the picture with Mr. Esterson shaking hands with Bob Hope. Mr. Esterson is holding a 4×5 inch speed graphic camera;. totally manual, but a work of art.

    The camera has 2 shutters: a focal plane in the back, and a leaf shutter in the front. And there’s 3 ways to view the image: a wire frame with a peep sight, a tubular viewfinder, and a ground glass screen in the back.. Flaps open to sheld the screen from light and brighten the image.

    If you know anything about photography, you must set the proper shutter speed and the f/stops to produce a correct exposure. But with the Speed Graphic camera, there are 3 things to set: The f/stop (also called the lens opening), the slit width (for the focal plane shutter) and the spring tension.(how fast or slow the slit moves over the film)


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