Getting to Know Me… The Early Years « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

Getting to Know Me... The Early Years

What’s Up?

Thursday was clean-up and packing day. I fly to Long Island’s Islip airport on Friday afternoon for five weeks for the Nickerson IPT and to visit my Mom, my younger sister Arna, and my younger daughter Alissa and her family. A Mets game and Jersey Boys are on the schedule along with the two B&H Event Space programs.

This Just In

It is 9:38am on the way to the airport. It seems that lots of folks are loving this post. Be sure to read all the comments below along with my responses as I have already added lots of additional detail and explanations.

The Streak

Today’s blog post marks a totally insane, absurd, completely ridiculous, unfathomable, silly, incomprehensible, what’s wrong with this guy?, makes-no-sense, 247 days in a row with a new educational blog post. And I still have dozens of new topics to cover; there should be no end in sight until my big South America trip next fall. As always-–and folks have been doing a really great job recently–-please remember to use our B&H links for your major gear purchases. For best results use one of our many product-specific links; after clicking on one of those you can continue shopping with all subsequent purchases invisibly tracked to BAA. Your doing so is always greatly appreciated. Please remember: web orders only. AND Please remember also that if you are shopping for items that we carry in the new BAA Online Store (as noted in red at the close of this post below) we would appreciate your business.


Mr. Blue Eyes. Photo courtesy of and copyright 2015 Anita Sue South

Getting to Know Me…

I received the e-mail below on Wednesday


I am currently doing a school project on the life and works of Arthur Morris. I have found it very difficult to find out information about his early life including his childhood, his date of birth of and his education. I have tried really hard to locate this information without success. Could you please help me with my research so that I can complete project?

Your sincerely,
Georgia Lesurf, aged 13
London, England

My reply

Hi Georgia,

I was born in Brooklyn, NY on June 14, 1946. My Mom was and is Hazel Morris. She is still alive at age 93 and will soon be 94. I am going to visit her this coming Friday. My Dad, Private First Class Robert E. Morris, was a 100% disabled WWII veteran. After being hit repeatedly by machine gun fire (17 rounds!) from a plane, he lost his right arm on Okinawa and his left arm was hanging on by a thread. He recovered after 19 months in the hospital and many surgeries. He was a tough man and a tough father, rarely saying anything nice about or to me. But I eventually figured out that he did love me. He used to make me soft (not burned like my Mom did) French toast on the weekends and–in my early teens–took me to the luggage store where he worked for three decades on Saturdays around holiday time to help out. I loved that. By withholding praise he drove me to be a success at whatever I attempted be it bowling or golf or fishing or teaching elementary school in New York City or studying and photographing birds…

I had a happy childhood. When I was really little I loved playing in the dirt and rocks in front of my house with the painted lead soldiers that my Dad bought for me on occasion, usually when I was sick. I loved sports: stickball, basketball, softball, and a street game called slapball. In my early teens I became interested in bugs and butterflies and snakes and insects. But I never looked twice at a bird until I was 30 years old. I thought that bird watching was only for sissies. I had to give up basketball because of my bad left knee which is still hurting me a bit everyday and that is when I began watching birds.

I did well in elementary school until 6th grade when I had Mrs. McMenamin as a teacher. She was an anti-Semite; she did not like Jews. She was very tough on me calling my parents up to school most very week even though I was the same well-behaved child I had been for the first five years. I did well in Junior High School and had two great teachers, Harry Leinwand for Social Studies–he called himself “The King,” and Mel Agotta for Math. I went to a specialized High School, Brooklyn Technical High School which at that time was for boys only. My parents and grandparents wanted me to be an engineer. I was accepted to MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), the two best engineering schools in the US. But I chose to attend Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute—the third best engineering school in the country–on a full scholarship so that I could still enjoy my Mom’s home cooking. The only problem was that I soon realized that I did not want to be a metallurgical or any other type of engineer. I sort of flunked out of Brooklyn Poly a result of joining a fraternity, learning to play poker and bridge, and cutting classes to play basketball. I transferred to Brooklyn College and became a Physical Education major.

In 1970 I got my first job in the NYC school system and taught gym in an elementary school in the ghetto for three years. Bored, I asked to be put into a regular classroom. I struggled mightily for seven years but eventually became a better sixth grade teacher then than I am a bird photographer today. Honest. After 23 years as a school teacher I retired young at age 46 to pursue my dream of becoming a full time nature photographer specializing in birds. Most everyone told me that there was no way that I could succeed. I thanked them for inspiring me and went on to prove them wrong in short order…

Good luck with your project. Let me know if you have any additional questions or if you need a few images. I would love to see the final result.

later and love, artie

Questions and Comments

Questions and comments on my early years are of course welcome.

The best way to get to know me is to join me on an IPT. See the complete schedule here.


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27 comments to Getting to Know Me… The Early Years

  • avatar Georgia Lesurf

    Hi Arthur, wow thanks again for the information and posting this on your blog I feel famous!

  • avatar ARNA Morris

    You didn’t include the time you got a fish hook in your leg! How old were you? I don’t remember as I am 9yrs younger than you bro.
    C Ya Tomorrow
    Love Ya

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      I was about 13. It was a big, rusty bluefish hook. I found a dropline while fishing for snapper blues. I started to roll it about and the line was around my waist. It got stuck so I yanked on it and sank it deep into the muscle on the back of my right leg. Then I fainted.

      Somebody called Grandma Selma who came to rescue me. She took me to Dr. Ruderman’s who pushed it through, cut off the barb, and then back it out. Plus a tetanus shot.

      Selma was my Dad’s Mom. At her funeral, I heard a man sobbing. I soon realized that it was my Dad. I was dumbfounded. I had never seen my Dad be sad about anything. Ever.


  • avatar David Peake

    hey Artie,
    its cool to get to know you a bit better.
    I like that you give quality time to kids.
    its a geat investment.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      And to adults too. Especially to attractive women 🙂 Only kidding ladies. Or not…


  • avatar Stephen Vaughan

    I remember meeting you and Elaine in Florida. She was in your motorhome and you took me over to meet her. Shortly after that she was gone. You also took a photo of me photographing with my son (baby) in a backpack and you sent me a slide. I have always appreciated you generosity.

  • avatar John Johnson


    Why did you leave out driving a Taxi in Brooklyn?


  • Good afternoon Artie,

    It was kind of you to give that young person your time I know you have a very demanding business life, what a great human being you our.

    I have a wonderful saying I would to like to share with readers on the blog It is from a book called the Selfish Giant by Oscar Wild.

    ” Children are the flowers in the garden of life ”

    Best and love life


    Give my best to you Mum

    UK based Photographer

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Hey Kel,
      Thank you kind sir. Not so sure about the great human being part but I try to be as nice as possible to everyone unless they have proven to be a dickhead in which case I simply ignore them. And I have alway had a soft spot for kids who like photography, heck, for all cute kids. Thanks for the neat quote. Consider joining us on the 2017 Puffins and Gannets IPT next July.

      later and love, and cheers, a

      ps: will do.

  • avatar Lynda Blair

    Your post brought back some not so fond memories. You and I are the same age, so what’s with these 6th grade teachers back then? I had the anti-Semite, Miss Nichols, who used to call me up to her desk and jam a barrette into my scalp (ouch!) to hold my hair back. She would tell my mother I was a trouble-maker.. yada yada. My mother let her have it once but that didn’t stop her from treating me differently than the Catholic kids. To this day, I hate barrettes. You and I are lucky we weren’t permanently damaged. 🙂

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Glad that you too survived. To punish me for being a Jew, she placed me in Special Art to keep me out of SP (special progress?) in Junior High. In SP you skip 8th grade. I more than had the test scores to be in SP, but everything turned out fine despite her.

      Here is my favorite story. After a month we got a new girl in the class. Sara Lee Miller. Don’t ask me how in the world I remember that. Anyway, we used to put our chairs up on the desks before leaving each day. So Sara Lee knocks her chair over and about 20 more chairs topple to the ground like dominoes. Everyone in the class is howling with laughter. Mrs. McMenamin screams out at the top of her lungs, “Morris–50 demerits!”

      You gotta love it.

  • Dear Artie,

    I know I am going to have a great time with you on the Galapagos trip next year, talking to you about your past, present, and future! 🙂 And, also about bird, and other, photography!
    My father served in the Royal Air Force (RAF) during the War, as we were then under British rule! He subsequently joined the IAF (Indian Air Force) and later went on to become a commercial pilot.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Thanks and ditto and thanks for sharing. We still need a few more folks for that trip! Never heard from your friend..

      later and much love,


  • avatar Jackie Milburn

    WOW! I knew your dad served per your dedication on the The Art of Bird Photography II, but had no idea what he went through. What courage!

    “This book is dedicated to the memory of my Dad, Private First Class Robert Edward Morris.
    My Dad was a tough man and a tough father, but above all he was a good man.”

    The soft French toast sounds absolutely delicious. Dads had or in my case have a way of fixing breakfast.

    Would love to learn more of your early years. One thing I have noticed you use your left eye to look through the view finder, where I use the right. Is there a reason or why the left?

    Love to you

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Left eye dominant just felt natural. A few more things about my amazing Dad. He almost died (again) during gall bladder surgery in 1964. Then, as a result of smoking 4 packs a day, a habit he picked up in WWII to keep warm–they did not have the right clothing for the cold weather in the Aleutians–he survived both throat and lung cancer. Had a big heart attack between those two. When he was 78 he had a seemingly fatal case of pneumonia related to his laryngectomy. \

      On a Monday night the docs told my Mom to kiss Bobby goodbye, that he could not possibly survive the night because of the huge infection. On that Wednesday they told her the same thing, adding, this time we are sure as we are disconnecting his life support in accordance to his living will

      Two weeks later he was home busting my mother’s ball as he always did–it gave him, and I guess her to some degree, great pleasure.

      A second pneumonia finally got him in 2001. The craziest thing of all is that he never said one word of complaint–there was never a “Why me?” from my Dad.


      • avatar Jackie Milburn

        Amazing story and amazing Man. Your Mom has to be an amazing woman as well and I’m sure she had great pleasure that your Dad continued busting her ball after his battle with death. Sorry to hear pneumonia finally got him, he was a soldier in more ways than one!

        Oh! Loved the story about the chairs and the teacher signaling you out, she knew for sure it had to be the jewish boy’s fault.

  • avatar Pat Fishburne


    I’m sure your Dad is finally proud of you!

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      For sure. I remember one time when I handed him a signed copy of the original hard cover “The Art of Bird Photography he growled in his laryngectomy frog voice, “So I guess you did OK for yourself.” From him, that was a huge compliment 🙂


  • Dear Artie,
    What a good and generous letter to Georgia! But you haven’t told her anything about your wife and children… I know, from reading your various posts over the years, and from reading the dedication and the preface to “The Art of Bird Photography,” that they’ve meant a lot in your life. You are a lucky man, doing what you love and supported by a loving family!

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Thanks Daniel, But she only asked about my childhood. As is I went a bit overboard 🙂 My two wonderful daughters were by my first and former wife, Dana. The wife who I lost to breast cancer, was Elaine, the love of my life.


      ps: I have a soft spot for kids who have an interest in photography. Can’t help it.

  • avatar David Policansky

    Good morning, Artie, from Newark Liberty Airport. I had to spend the night in Newark because of flight cancellations; I hope to get home today. A very nice story of your life. I had heard parts of it before on IPTs with you and on the blog. I wish you continued good health and happiness and a wonderful IPT in Nickerson Beach, despite today’s heat.

  • avatar Bob Allen

    Hi Artie,
    I dig the autobiography. I knew bits and pieces but not the whole story. I do hope you will expand it into a complete memoir, and continue with the IPTs/workshops you have lead, accomplishments/awards, situations you have encountered, people you’ve met, and associated stories, from humorous to harrowing.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Hey Bob,

      That sounds too much like work, as in autobiography. But perhaps I shall continue in small segments… So thanks for the suggestion and later and much love, a

      ps; harrowing is a choice but I can do challenging 🙂