Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

A picture-perfect career

For Charachs, life is a graduation

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IF you were born in Winnipeg, there's a very good chance Barney Charach took your graduation picture. And that of your parents. And perhaps your grandparents.

"I come alive when I take pictures," says Charach, 80. "If I retired what would I do?"

For 56 years, the diminutive Charach has been the photographer of choice at high school and university graduations across the city. He's seen it all -- a valedictorian passing out during his speech, a high school grad mooning the audience, everything from graduates in tuxes to kids wearing shorts and sandals as they accepted their diplomas. Nothing can shake him.

"You just keep taking the pictures," he says, adding he did not photograph the mooning boy. "They come at you every eight or nine seconds. You just have to keep shooting."

Charach and his wife Myrna work the business together, a full-time job for the couple. A recent four-day period saw them shooting 18 graduations. They split up when necessary, Myrna working one graduation with another photographer, Barney working the other with their daughter.

What are some of the headaches of a job that has them flying around the city for two months?

"Before it starts, I stand up on a chair with a megaphone," says Barney. "I tell them, 'You have a card in your hand. Hand it to the person at the top of the stairs. Turn and face the audience. When you receive your diploma, don't say thanks. It makes your tongue stick out.' "

He sighs.

"They never listen. I keep getting the tongues sticking out."

There are no regrets about the more than five decades spent shooting grads.

"We have a good time," says Myrna. "We don't know how to do anything but take pictures and have fun."

Sitting in the kitchen of their comfortable River Heights home (which now doubles as the studio) the Charachs reminisce about their lifetime of capturing people in times of triumph and of sorrow.

"I started with Freshie Week at the University of Manitoba," says Charach, going back a few decades. "I got known at the university, so they hired me for the graduation."

He pauses and offers an impish grin.

"I've gone through seven presidents."

He has also photographed the graduations and weddings of many well-known Winnipeggers. He shot Onex CEO Gerry Schwartz's wedding. Ditto Sanford Riley's daughter's nuptials. And Gary and Janice Filmon's wedding. When Bill Norrie graduated, Charach was holding the camera.

Charach works with nine vintage cameras, the same type of equipment he started with. He has a cramped room near the furnace where he stores and repairs his equipment. The distinctive equipment is part of the Barney Charach charm.

But there have been hundreds of thousands of other pictures taken -- weddings, funerals and a long list of celebrities dating back to the forties. There are files in the basement filled with black and white shots of everyone from Lena Horne to Bob Hope.

Myrna smiles when she thinks of the variety of places they've mailed grad pictures and other photos.

"In every corner of the world there's a Barney Charach."

While it's been fun, the couple say it's also plain hard work.

"We're always available at a moment's notice. We run," says Myrna. "We photograph car accidents for lawyers. We do funerals. We've taken pictures of the Queen. We've done morgue shots."

There's no end in sight.

"Barney just isn't giving up," laughs Myrna. "He's still buying equipment."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 21, 2003 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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