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It was not a closely-kept secret that Norfolk produced one of the nest photographers in the world, Bill McIntosh.
Bill McIntosh took this photo of Joe and Paul Trovato in 1966 as a present for their mother. Both had just been promoted to sergeant.
Downtowner Portrait of McIntosh 2: Among the many things Bill McIntosh is famous for is his old Cottage Studio in front of the Center Shops on 21st Street. Today he works with his daughter from his studio in Virginia Beach.
I took this photo of Joe and Paul Trovato in 2017. My wife recently promoted them to sainthood.

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. McIntosh’s Witness to Norfolk’s Renaissance” highlights his “growing up in Norfolk during the great depression” and his “life as a photographer.” It’s 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 veteran.

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 McIntosh’s life and his eventual future as a man with a 24 karat camera.

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 don’t you take him with you?” Ethel replied. “We’ve 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” Marshall.

“If you’re going to adopt a child, why not choose one with dark hair and brown eyes,” questioned Lin. “At least he’d look like one of us.”

“I want him, Lin, and I’m going to raise him—with 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 three—Anna, Lin and Bill—seemed made for each other. And they were. Bill is a legend in his adoptive home town. It seems that he took everyone’s senior portrait locally during the fifties, sixties and seventies. Bill McIntosh took mine in 1969 and my big brother Bob’s 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 don’t hold that against him), about her assessment and he replied, “Don’t 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 hasn’t taken your portrait, you probably didn’t 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, he’s become an exceptional writer.

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Carrol Walker's Old Norfolk
Norfolk Municipal Airport
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Bill McIntosh: The Man With The 24-Karat Camera
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Hampton Roads Military Corner
Jean Dumlao, a Virginia Beach native, has lived a life of service.
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November 2017
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