I got the call yesterday afternoon. Man said that he was from Brawley and by his worn voice I could tell he was past the eighty mark. Wanted to talk about Paul DeGaston. I was busy yesterday and said I had to call him back. He called again. Rather than argue I grabbed a few pieces of paper and tried to take some notes as he talked. He talked fast.
He had first met DeGaston as a handyman in La Jolla in 1950. Right around fifty, he thought. Paul and his wife Violet had a photographic gallery down there on Prospect. He had done some odd jobs for the photographer and was intrigued by photography.
He says DeGaston and his wife lived at 1121 Torrey Pines Rd. Owned the place but lived in the little house in the back and rented out the main place. Eventually sold it for about 29k, real money back then in 1956. The caller wasn't exactly sure where DeGaston ended up after that, he thought a 1000 Palms in Riverside County and then eventually they purchased a house in Idyllwild on 10 acres with a cabin.
Anyway eventually the man became Paul's apprentice and did gardening for him. Said that Paul and Violet got along real well.
He told me that De Gaston's real last name was actually Frazier. Said that the old man told him that he was originally from Missouri. As a teenager he went to New York and apprenticed with a famous photographer, he doesn't remember the name after all of these years.
He took the name DeGaston when he became a photographer, thought it made him sound french and distinguished. He had a huge negative file when he retired and sold it off. DeGaston told him that he had made a lot of money in Shanghai. Left before the japs took over. There were a lot of rich americans there in those days ripe for the plucking. He left Shanghai for Honolulu in the thirties when things got a little too hot.
He said that Paul DeGaston was a revolutionary photographer. He used a three part die transfer process that combined three separate red, blue and yellow filters and printed them on a gel matrix in cyan, magenta, yellow and key black. He used a gigantic large format camera and set up his shots with a revolutionary three light system with a top light, a light at a 45 degree angle and a right straight light. He remembers DeGaston walking around and around the studio with the third light, trying to find the sweet spot to illuminate his subject.
Said he never kept a photo of Paul, doesn't have one, kind of odd not to be able to find a photographer's picture.
That's about all we got on the phone yesterday. Sent this email too:
... when Paul F. DeGaston retired,(around 1957) he and Violet bought a place in Thousand Palms, as a winter home. They kept Violet's house in the town of Idylwild for a summer home. They sold their cabin and 10 acres there (Idylwild) as well as their home on Torrey Pines Road in La Jolla. A friend and neighbor both in homes and studios in La Jolla was the artist Carolus Verhaeren . You should Google him for a tragic tale.
When I knew Paul, he no longer did etching or out-of-studio photography. There is a National Geographic article about Shanghai (1938 or earlier) of which all the photography was done by Paul DeGaston - very good, but the text was not by him. I long ago read Paul's copy of this article, contrasting the luxurious life of the wealthy foreign Shanghai dwellers with the dismal conditions for the impoverished locals.Excellent photography.
Tonight we discovered the website for Gene Dougherty at gene@BrightHorseArts.com and
noted a considerable resemblance of Mr. Dougherty to the Paul DeGaston I knew in LaJolla in the early and mid-fifties. Somewhere it was mentioned that he died in Riverside. This is possible as both Idylwild and Thousand Palms are in Riverside County and were quite rural in the 50's, perhaps no hospitals at the time. Please let me know any new developments. J
So we now have yet another new last name for Paul Percy, Frazier, and an additional place of birth, Missouri. I asked him about any anomalies in Paul's character and he spoke the world of him, no blemishes. Verhaeren was a neighbor, committed suicide in a phone booth, distraught over a woman, one of the people I sell in my gallery. Once again, two Paul DeGaston's married to a woman named Violet, both with multiple names, both dissemblers, both philanderers, both once lived in China, both artists of some merit, both with rather questionable pasts.
Keep trying to button this story up but it keeps coming. Like any good whodunnit, just when you think that things will start to clear up, you get thrown a new left hook or two.