Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Photographer A.J. Sokalner dies

Photographer A.J. Sokalner dies
Shot celebrity photos for ACE Pictures
By Daryl Lang, Photo District News
Nov 3, 2009, 02:44 PM ET

Celebrity shooter A.J. Sokalner, admired by his colleagues for his quiet, passionate commitment to photography, collapsed Monday night outside an event in New York and died a short time later, according to his agency.

Sokalner was pronounced dead at Bellevue Hospital, said Philip Vaughan, owner of ACE Pictures. Vaughan said an emergency worker told him Sokalner had suffered a heart attack.

Sokalner collapsed minutes after entertainer Lady Gaga arrived at the ACE Awards, an event hosted by the Accessories Council at Cipriani on 42nd Street. He was part of a group of about 25 photographers working a rope line outside the venue, according to friend and fellow photographer Dennis Van Tine.

Gaga was the big star of the night, and photographers waited inside and outside the venue for her arrival at about 9 p.m. Van Tine was inside when he heard from another photographer that Sokalner had fallen outside. Van Tine says he went out and saw paramedics attempt to revive Sokalner for several minutes, then load him into an ambulance. Another photographer notified Sokalner's girlfriend. She and several photographers gathered at the hospital, where they learned Sokalner had died.

Sokalner was in his late 50s and lived in Manhattan. Vaughan says Sokalner was a hard worker who shot for ACE Pictures on a daily basis. "He was very well liked, he was very well respected," Vaughan says. "He was a real photographer and he did it because he loved it."

Van Tine says Sokalner studied the works of great photographers and tried to inject "pizazz" into his images, and was "one of those silent guys who goes out and shoots every day."

"He was a cynic in the great New York tradition," Van Tine says. "He knew what was right, he knew what was wrong, he knew who the crooks were."

From Brian Ach: "A.J. was a good guy, always nice to a fault, but didn't let anyone get away with anything. Although he might have appeared a little rough around the edges, he was a gentle guy. He was always trying to get better treatment for the photographers at events, and was often the first to arrive. Courteous to a fault, he was a quiet guy who always greeted me with a firm handshake and a "Hello, Mr. Brian." He tried to shoot something better than the boring, frontal, full-length shots the magazines clamored for. We would talk about gear and technique. When I asked him to be a part of The Photographer Project, at first he demurred, saying, "Why would you want me in it?" I insisted, and he showed up and was game to collaborate on a great shot. His quiet energy and constant presence will be missed by me and many of his colleagues, as he was definitely "One of the good guys."


  1. I miss you so much, AJ. Our photo community has suffered a great loss. Your compassion and intuitive vision will live on in all of your photographs.

  2. very beautiful article, brian

    miss you AJ

    known aj for probably 10 years.
    we lived near each other and took the subway home from events together on a regular basis. we joked together and talked about photography and what books we were reading.
    i was trying to finish a 1000 page book recently to lend it to Aj so he could enjoy it as well
    you were taken from us far too soon
    love you!