Mexican American children’s book author, photographer, and filmmaker George Ancona, widely acclaimed for his crisp slice-of-life photo essays introducing children to new experiences or cultures, or depicting laborers doing the everyday work in a
community, died on January 1 at his home in Santa Fe. He was 91.
Ancona was born December 4, 1929 and grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., where some of his earliest memories—and jobs—were connected to the Steeplechase Amusement Park in Coney Island. In his website biography, Ancona recalled assisting his father, an amateur
photographer, as he developed film in the bathroom darkroom and enjoying “fabulous Mexican meals” cooked by his mother. By age 12, one of Ancona’s first jobs was at the amusement park’s haunted house.
In junior high, Ancona wrote in his bio, he developed an appreciation for the beauty of type while taking a sign painting class and he learned to paint signs for the Coney Island rides. When he entered high school, his passion for art and design was
encouraged by graphic arts teacher Leon Friend, who organized an “Art Squad” of students who met after school to “design, paint, and draw for competitions.” Also during high school, Ancona took Saturday classes at the Brooklyn Museum Art School
where he met renowned Mexican painter Rufino Tamayo and was able to show the artist his portfolio. “Immediately after graduation,” Ancona recalled, he accepted Tamayo’s invitation to visit him in Mexico City, and embarked on the five-day bus trip.
South of the U.S. border Ancona studied art tuition-free at the Academia de San Carlos (arranged by Tamayo) for several months and eventually met his extended family in Yucatan for the first time.
I started getting assignments from Vogue magazine, because I had done
a lot of pictures with my children, and that's what I showed. And they
had a magazine called "Vogue Children" at the time, and I fit right
in, and I started doing that.
Then a friend of mine was Freddy Brenner, who was a men's fashion
illustrator when we had worked at Esquire. His wife was Barbara
Brenner, who wrote children's books. And we were having lunch one day
at the house, and she said, "You know, I have an idea for a book, and
I think photographs might be better than illustrations. It's called
Faces." And she asked me would I like to try it.
I said, "Sure." So, I tried it, and I designed the book also. And we
presented it, and they loved it.
We did another book together, called Bodies. And then after that, the
editor said, "George, why don't you try writing a book?"
"Me? Write? I never went to college. I'm always a visual person."
And he said, "Well, you see, if you were to write the text, you would
get the other 50 percent of the royalty."
"Alright." So, I wrote, and I did a book called Monsters on Wheels.
They liked it. They published it and, voila, I'm an author.