Bill McIntosh: The Man With
The 24-Karat Camera
By Gary Ruegsegger
Downtowner Senior Editor
A few years ago, it was not a closely-kept secret
that Norfolk produced one of the finest photographers
in the world, Bill McIntosh. In addition to producing
world-class photographs, Mr. McIntosh has written
some pretty good books.
His latest book, William S. McIntoshs
Witness to Norfolks Renaissance highlights
his growing up in Norfolk during the great
depression and his life as a photographer.
Its well worth the read. His story begins
in 1931 and is dedicated to his adoptive parents
Anna Belle McIntosh and Ernest Linwood Marshall.
Anna ran a boarding house in Norfolk and Ernest
was a truck driver and salesman for High Rock Ginger
Ale. Anna and Ernest never married because Anna
feared she would lose her government insurance policy
and pension from her late husband, a World War I
Captain Basnight, a barge captain, was a boarder
at the house. He ran a barge from Norfolk to Edenton,
North Carolina. He would play a key role in McIntoshs
life and his eventual future as a man with a 24
Anna was visiting with Captain Basnight's sister
Ethel on the porch and watching the children play
when she first laid eyes on the three-year-old Bill.
Noticeably taller than the other children, he was
chewing on a raw sweet potato. Bearing no resemblance
to the now- dapper photographer, Bill was sporting
a mustache of dirt, his hands were embedded with
red clay and was wearing ragged pants. Bill was
a sight, but for Anna it was love at first sight.
She looked at him and mused, I would like
to have a little boy like that.
Why dont you take him with you?
Ethel replied. Weve been trying to decide
what to do with him.
After a call to the chief of police and a little
paperwork, they packed up Bill and headed back to
Norfolk and her companion Ernest Linwood Lin
If youre going to adopt a child, why
not choose one with dark hair and brown eyes,
questioned Lin. At least hed look like
one of us.
I want him, Lin, and Im going to raise
himwith or without your help, she responded.
Lin never argued and took to Bill almost immediately.
Anna got plenty of help raising Bill from him. Lin
saw something special in the unkempt little boy.
Through the years, he showered Bill with gifts including
cowboy suits, electric trains and bicycles. Lin
loved to show off his boy at the barber shop, movie
theaters and the old Ocean View Amusement Park.
The threeAnna, Lin and Billseemed made
for each other. And they were. Bill is a legend
in his adoptive home town. It seems that he took
everyones senior portrait locally during the
fifties, sixties and seventies. Bill McIntosh took
mine in 1969 and my big brother Bobs in 1966.
McIntosh was the man with the golden eye. There
was no doubt about that.
In 1966, he also took a portrait of twin brothers
Joe and Paul Trovato. The photo was for their mother
on the occasion of both making the rank of sergeant
in the Army. Today both are ushers at St. Gregory
the Great Catholic Church in Virginia Beach.
My wife claims Paul is a saint and Joe is well on
his way to becoming one. As for me, I missed the
onramp. I asked another usher, a Dallas Cowboy fan
(but dont hold that against him), about her
assessment and he replied, Dont ask
me. I was the guy behind you honking my horn.
Fifty-one years after McIntosh took the Trovato
photo, I snapped a picture of the twins at church.
Surprisingly in the last half century neither of
the twins has gotten to look any better than they
did in the McIntosh portrait. Bill McIntosh makes
everyone look good.
If McIntosh hasnt taken your portrait, you
probably didnt amount to too much. His lens
has captured the images of publisher Frank Batten,
General Colin Powell, director Gordon Parks, Governor
Colgate Darden, singer-songwriter Larry Lambert,
King Tut, and so many others. Many sat for their
portraits at his famous white cottage studio in
front of the former Center Shops store on 21st Street.
No name is more synonymous with photography in Hampton
Roads. No name even comes close.
Now, hes become an exceptional writer.