January 6, 2008 ---
Herbert Keppler, former publisher of Modern and Popular Photography magazines and one of the most respected and influential figures in the history of the camera industry, died Friday night due to heart failure after a brief illness. He was 82.
Known as Burt by his friends and associates, Keppler was a driving force behind the success of the Japanese camera industry and was instrumental in cleaning up the photo mail order industry during an illustrious career that spanned more than 50 years. During those 50 years, Keppler was the Editor and Publisher of the two largest circulation photography magazines in the world--first Modern Photography, and then Popular Photography.
Starting in the 1950s, Japanese camera quality improved to the point where SLRs made in Japan eclipsed those made in Germany in both features and sales. Much of this success can be traced to Herbert Keppler. A frequent visitor to Japan, Keppler was sought after by all camera and lens manufacturers for his advice, and many popular cameras produced in the second half of the 20th century incorporated designs and features originally suggested by him. Many of these improvements helped change the perception of Japanese products from shoddy to high quality.
While at Modern Photography, Herbert Keppler pioneered efforts to police mail order advertisers and, in a unique program run in cooperation with the Attorney General of New York State, refused to run ads from mail order camera dealers who dealt dishonestly with subscribers who ordered from them. Over two million dollars worth of advertising was refused by Modern Photography when the advertisers did not live up to the magazine's strict code of conduct.
Under Keppler's supervision, Modern Photography built the industry's first independent test lab, a state-of-the-art facility. Its tests of lenses and cameras were considered a must-read for anyone considering purchasing camera gear. Popular Photography eventually also built a lab, but Modern's Lab Tests were widely considered to be more comprehensive, precise, and trustworthy. His opinionated column, "SLR Notebook," had a devoted readership.
After over 30 years as the Publisher and Editorial Director of Modern Photography, Keppler was wooed away to the bigger-circulation, arch-rival Popular Photography in 1987; approximately three years later, Modern Photography was bought and shut down by Popular Photography. Keppler upgraded the Popular Photography lab and started a mail order monitoring program similar to the one he successfully started at Modern.
Despite his reputation for technical and design expertise, Keppler was an afficionado of the art of photography, and was active on the board of the International Center of Photography. He fought for generous space for photographs to be published in both Modern and Popular Photography when budget cuts were limiting publication of photographic portfolios. Among his friends were such luminaries as Ansel Adams, Roman Vishniak, Henri Cartier-Bresson, David Douglas-Duncan, and many others.
Keppler worked continuously at Popular Photography, and continued to commute from his home in Croton-On-Hudson into his office in New York City until late November.
Herbert Keppler is survived by his wife, Louise, and his children, Tom and Kathy.