Team Grotta

 

Fantasy Man by Sally Wiener Grotta
“Fantasy Man” by Sally Wiener Grotta, from a photo by Peter Treiber

Soon after Daniel and I met, he taught me photography so we could travel on assignment together. Our work took us to all seven continents (including three times in Antarctica) plus numerous exotic islands (such as Papua New Guinea and Madagascar). Our articles and photo spreads  appeared in numerous glossy magazines.

When I bought Daniel a Radio Shack computer for its word processing capabilities, he immediately recognized the future. Using the same critical skills and instinctive insights that made him a successful investigative reporter and book critic, Daniel was soon delving into technology, writing feature stories, reviews, and trends pieces for many of the major publications covering consumer electronics and computers.

The first time we saw and handled an electronic camera, we both knew we had to get involved. (Back then, the conversion from analog electronic capture to a digital image file was done externally. So they were called electronic — not digital — cameras.) When at Book Expo (the publishing industry’s premier U.S. trade show) that year, we met Tim McGraw. After only a few minutes conversation, he was sold , too. That lead to a book contract with Tab/McGraw-Hill to research and write the first major book on the subject: Digital Imaging for Visual Artists.  In turn, that lead to scores of article and column contracts, more books and lectures. We became Contributing Editors at PC Magazine, where not only covered digital photography, imaging, printing and such. We also created the PC Mag Lab test scripts on just about all such subjects, as well as experts that PC Mag trotted out for their traveling lecture series. (Our seminars on digital photography and imaging drew larger audiences than all their other classes at the time put together.) 

From that point on, just about all our non-fiction work was under a dual byline. (If you’re curious how we worked together, take a look at Collaboration & Marriage: Strange Bedfellows?a bit of humor we wrote a few years ago.) Editors started calling us Team Grotta. It appeared to have developed organically, put forward in staff meetings and in office discussions, as in “Why don’t we put Team Grotta on that project?” or “Ask Team Grotta, they’ll figure it out.” I believe we were among the last to hear the rather complementary sobriquet.

What was fascinating was watching Daniel when a new digital camera (or related equipment) was put into his hands. As I mentioned in The Early Years, Daniel’s serious photography started when he was still in elementary school. (He sold his first photograph to The Philadelphia Inquirer when he was about 11 years old). His understanding of the technology wasn’t only based on his extensive knowledge; it was rooted deep in his sinews, almost part of his intellectual DNA. Give him a camera or a strobe or tripod, and he would immediately begin describing the pros and cons of its design and functionality down to the smallest detail. At the same time, he would analyze how it could be improved, often coming up with inventions that had not yet been developed. We took to calling that initial contact between him and equipment as Daniel “psychometrizing.” (From the noun psychometry — the supposed paranormal ability to unearth facts about a person by touching an object related to that person.) It was a tongue-in-cheek bit of humor, because neither of us believed in the paranormal, and I had too much respect for Daniel to trivialize his expertise. But it was also a good description of what his instinctive, immediate understanding of camera equipment looked like, nonetheless.

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