Longtime friend Toby Young of Westminster, who was Picker's companion for the past 12 years, state that Picker died peacefully in his sleep at the Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield, Mass., on Wednesday at about 9 PM. He had suffered from renal failure for about three years.
Picker, who moved to Vermont from Westchester County, NY, in the early 1970s, will be long remembered for his photographic work. His wide, sweeping wilderness landscapes and intimate studies of natural forms have been held up alongside the work of Ansel Adams, Paul Strand and Edward Weston. He taught a highly successful photography class known as "The Zone VI Workshop," and authored a book by the same name that has become recognized as the gold standard of photographic instruction.
Friends and family remember Picker, a graduate of The Putney School, as a steadfast champion of civil liberties and environmental causes, an avid skier and fisherman, and a world traveler who loved Vermont's scenery and lifestyle.
"He was unique," said nephew Andy Simonds of Boca Raton, FL. "To quote Robin Williams, he was a man who sucked the marrow out of life."
"He was very involved and his photography, which was incredible, was very well known by a lot of people," Young said. "He had a very distinguished voice, with a kind of hoarseness to it. We were on a beach in Anguilla (in the Caribbean) once, and as he was speaking, someone turned to him and asked 'Are you Fred Picker?' He said yes, and the two of them started talking about his photography. It's a real testament to how many people loved his photography."
"He truly was a wonderful man," she adds. "It was a wonderful life with him."
Lillian Farber of Newfane knew Picker for nearly four decades. She was an early student in his now-famous photography course in 1966, and later served as the administrator for his photography courses, which were taught at Windham College (now Landmark College) in Putney. The courses ran from 1975 to 1990.
Farber described how she, living in Hartsdale, NY in 1966, wanted to pursue art but admitted that she was "bad with her hands." She became aware of Picker's courses and thought that a photography hobby would be well suited for her.
"He always told people that whatever he does, he gets paid in advance and they don't get their money back," she said.
As classes continued, she told him she was considering withdrawing because she found his technical jargon difficult to understand.
"Most of what is said is a lot of crap," was his response, she said.
Often, she said, Picker displayed an uncanny sense of "photographer's intuition." A trip to Easter Island, off the coast of Chile in the Pacific Ocean, stands out in her memory as illustrative.
A British publication had given Picker a commission to document the island's trademark enigmatic giant stone heads. Farber went with him to write the accompanying text. After a lengthy trip, through insects and heat, the pair arrived at a set of seven heads on a plain. Picker took several hours to snap a photo, waiting for the right cloud formation to appear in the background. Even after he took a photo, he insisted on remaining at the scene. When Farber asked what the wait was for, Picker responded by saying "I don't know."
Several hours passed. Suddenly, a group of 20 wild horses charged through, seemingly from nowhere.
"When he had the heard of horses so that there was a galloping horse between each head, he took the picture," she said.
"How did you know that was going to happen?" she asked.
"I didn't," Picker replied. "I just knew something was going to happen."
Long before the advent of the Internet, Farber say, Picker developed a multitude of photographic supplies and equipment, which he sold out of his garage via mail order. One product was a variation of the black cloth used to drape a photographer's head, known as a focusing cloth, while taking a picture.
Picker's filters, camera designs, tripods and other photographic aids are still considered indispensable tools of the trade by photographers.
In the 1980s, Picker continued to work full-time, specializing in architectural photography. The recession of the late 1980s, which resulted in lesser numbers of new building going up, limited the paying jobs that he could do. Even so, his interest in photography continued unabated. The books of photography he published within his lifetime are "The Zone VI Workshop," "Rapa Nui: Easter Island," "The Fine Print" and "An Iceland Portfolio."
By the late 1990s, Picker's declining health had forced him to slow down. After being on dialysis for several years, he chose not to continue treatments.
"He had kidney failure, and he had been on dialysis for three years when he made the decision to stop," Young said. "He just decided that he had enough. It was a very courageous decision."
However, she added, his sense of humor shone even in the last few days of his life. A few days before he died, he was visited by a friend. Picker called "Come closer, come closer!" to his friend, re-enacting a pivotal scene from the 1975 George Burns and Water Matthau movie "The Sunshine Boys."
"His sense of humor lasted as long as he did." Young said.
Friends report that Picker was married very early in his adulthood, but the marriage did not last a year. Picker did not have any children.
A memorial service will be held at Dummerston Center Church on April 12 at 2 PM. In lieu of flowers, donations are asked to be made to the American Civil Liberties Union.
Reprinted with permission from the Brattleboro Reformer