Marc Hauser: 1952–2018
My first job at a legit newsstand magazine was as art director of Musician magazine.
Given the magazine’s subject matter, it was not hard to find photographers who’d enthusiastically accept assignments from us, despite the paltry $8,000 per issue photo budget. (By comparison, our budget at Fast Company often topped $100,000 per issue, while at Condé Nast, magazines like Vogue and GQ routinely spent two-to-three times that much).
But photographers love to shoot their music idols so much that they’d do it practically for free. Some actually did.
Shortly before I arrived at Musician, the legendary magazine creative director Fred Woodward had begun making design history at Rolling Stone. We fancied Rolling Stone as our competition — though they barely knew we existed. Still, that’s who we all wanted to be. For me that challenge meant aiming really high with our photography.
The RS stable of photographers was star-studded: Annie Leibovitz, Albert Watson, Herb Ritts, Anton Corbijn, William Coupon, Danny Clinch, Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, and a young newcomer named Mark Seliger, to name just a few.
We had our share of wins, too, coaxing people like Aaron Rapoport, Bonnie Schiffman, Deborah Feingold, David Gahr, Lynn Goldsmith, The Douglas Brothers, George Lange, Terry O’Neill, and Karen Kuehn to work with us.
But I felt like we had finally arrived when I hired Marc Hauser.
Hauser, who was based in Chicago, was high — maybe even at the top — of my list of photographer targets.
Famous for his black-and-white, medium-format film portraits shot on seamless backdrops, his deep portfolio includes images of musicians David Bowie, Mick Jagger, Patti Smith, Dolly Parton, John Mellencamp, and Eric Clapton, movie stars Julia Roberts, Sophia Loren, and Woody Allen, as well as prominent Chicagoans Michael Jordan, Oprah Winfrey, John Belushi, and Cindy Crawford.
Then, along came Sunnyland Slim.
Born Albert Luandrew, Slim was a blues pianist from the Mississippi Delta who moved to Chicago, helping to make that city a center of postwar blues. The Chicago broadcaster and writer Studs Terkel called Sunnyland Slim “a living piece of our folk history, gallantly and eloquently carrying on in the old tradition.”
And Musician was doing a story on him.
I summoned up the courage to call Hauser to beg and plead him to take this assignment. I expected to hear a quick dial tone. But he couldn’t have been more gracious and enthusiastic. He said he’d be “honored” to shoot for us.
I’d love to have been at Hauser’s studio for the shoot, but alas, the budget wouldn’t allow it. In fact, the photo only ran about a quarter-page. Even in 1990, Sunnyland Slim wasn’t a cover story. But I’ll never forget the experience of this collaboration with Hauser.
• • •
So here’s the extremely buried lede: Hauser died last month at the age of 66.
Sadly, his passing wan’t big news — I stumbled upon it by accident. Sadder still, though, was the story that began to unfold as I Googled my way around looking for more information. Like many, apparently, I hadn’t really thought of Hauser in years — except when I pass by that photo of Sunnyland Slim (above) that hangs on my wall.
His studio made the announcement on social media on December 31, “In the past few weeks, Marc suffered some health complications that forced him to be hospitalized. He died peacefully last night.”
According to his obit in PDN, “His hard work and ambition carried him through multiple comebacks: He quit drugs in the 1980s, adapted to the digital photography revolution in 1990s, survived a fall from a crane in 2008 that caused him to lose part of his right leg and the use of one eye.”
According to one account of the incident, for an assignment in Seattle, a client insisted on shooting from a crane. While 40 feet in the air, the crane began to tip as it moved across a hill. Hauser and his assistant fell to the ground, and they fell hard. Both were knocked out.
“I remember frantically yelling at my assistant to drop his camera, but he refused,” said Hauser. “And it punctured his chest, leaving him paralyzed for life. I shattered my leg in five places and the impact of the fall had detached my retina from my eye, which has caused many complications.”
For the next four years, Hauser focused on getting his life back together. His leg needed to be completely rebuilt and his detached retina made shooting difficult. He only shot one job during this time, an assignment that sent him to the 2008 Beijing Olympics. He completed the entire project from a wheelchair.
Out of the scene for so long, Marc lost touch with most of his clients, many actually believing him to be dead.
Doctors managed to save his leg, but years later an infection forced them to amputate below the knee.
His history with drugs and the related weight-gain led to further health problems. Hauser suffered from diabetes and kidney disease for many years.
And, due to the recent death spiral of newsstand magazines his (and so many others’) commissions dried up. In need of income, he opened a portrait studio in 2015, offering family sessions for $159 that he advertised through Groupon and Yelp.
Near the end, things had gotten quite desperate for Hauser. Friends created a GoFundMe page with the title “Marc Hauser’s Lifetime Health Fund,” which included this urgent plea:
Currently, Marc is left with one eye and one leg. The destruction of his kidneys was so severe, he MUST go to dialysis three times a week, and is unable to work those days. His kidney function went from 38% to 8% over the two years of medication for his leg-swelling complications. Kidney dialysis AFTER his insurance is $500 per visit. He goes three times a week, and recovery for the sessions is grueling.
Long story short, he needs your help.
• He needs to keep his studio going, including paying his rent.
• He needs these dialysis treatments or he will die.
• He needs to promote himself and thrust himself back into the game.
• MARC HAS GONE THROUGH HIS ENTIRE LIFE SAVINGS TRYING TO GET WELL. He is out of money.
Marc loves life. Marc is a beautiful, passionate, patient man who makes beautiful work and wants to keep doing so. And we all want to see him do so. Please, help Marc continue capturing wonderful images.
At the time of his death, the page had only raised $6,630 of its $25,000 goal.
Despite all of the adversity he faced, Hauser didn’t seem embittered by his situation. “I just believe that you don’t give up,” he told the Chicago Reader in 2015. “You just keep doing what you love. And I’m very lucky that I do photography, the stuff that I love . . . you never know.”
▶︎ Read selected Marc Hauser obituaries in the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times, and in Photo District News. Hauser published five books, three of which are available at Amazon.com, including Portraits of Friends and Acquaintances (1985), Halloween in Bucktown (1987), a collection of his studio portraits of local kids dressed for trick-or-treating, and Images from Within: Portraits of People Confronting Mental Illness (1999), which portrays 34 adults from many different walks of life who struggle with a variety of issues related to their illnesses.
Back to News + Notes