Just a few months before Robert W. Cameron died in San Francisco November 10 at the age of 98, the aerial photographer who was best known for self-publishing coffee table books dedicated to cities around the world in the Above series, was reportedly hanging out of a helicopter taking pictures for an updated edition of Above San Francisco. That book launched the Above series and Cameron’s publishing company in 1969.
“Mr., Cameron liked to do things a certain way,” says Chris Gruener, a publishing rep who has worked for Baker & Taylor and Faherty & Associations, and who is married to Cameron’s granddaughter, Nina. For the past year-and-a-half Gruener and Cameron had been talking about the photographer’s legacy and the possibility of Gruener carrying on that legacy by buying the company to run with his wife.
“It’s always been in the back of my mind,” Gruener said. He and Cameron often “talked shop” at family functions over the years, but it was only after Cameron turned 96 did they start talking about succession. The 16 Above books have sold more than 3 million copies, and the books and calendars still keep selling.
Aside from tending to its healthy backlist, Gruener has signed on a few small, regional publishers as distribution clients (which include Point Reyes Bookstore) and is talking with aerial photographers about continuing the series and possibly expanding it to new cities. Cameron + Company uses independent sales reps to sell its line, and its titles and calendars are available online at cameronbooks.com.
“I want to maintain the same formula that Mr. Cameron did,” said Gruener. Cameron got his aerial photography training serving in WWII. The entire Above series couples Cameron’s photography with a narratives provided by writers noted for their connection with certain cities, like San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen, Alistair Cooke in London and Pierre Salinger in Paris.
Ironically, Gruener picked up a copy of Above San Francisco when the Seattle area native visited the City by the Bay in high school—long before he ever expected to marry into the family let alone work with his wife to continue her grandfather’s legacy. Nina Gruener’s involvement running Cameron + Company might have to wait a bit since she recently gave birth to the couple’s second child.
The family is asking those in the area who wish to pay their respects to the famed photographer to stop by the Robert W. Cameron’s retrospective which is on display at the Metreon in San Francisco through the end of November.