In Memory of Rebecca Baxter
On Feb. 5, Rebecca Baxter died, and with her went not just the eyes of Sarasota Magazine but part of its heart and soul as well. For more than 30 years, she was our official photographer, the one who took all the party pictures that did so much to define and document the town’s social life as it transformed from small Florida backwater to international glamour capital. It was through her eyes that the world saw our town.
For many years, I was the magazine’s social columnist, and Rebecca and I were partners in crime. We attended what seems like thousands of events, and it was her pictures that everybody wanted to see. Did she include them in the current issue? Did their dresses look as good as they hoped they would? The right picture from Rebecca could give them immeasurable status and satisfaction, and she became a friend and confidant to some of the most powerful people in town.
Her style was ultra-high-energy paparazzi with a touch of social satire. She had the gift of making a party look more exciting than it was. Her specialty was the surprised expression and the unexpected pose that said everything. And a confession on my part—many of those humorous cracks I made in my Mr. Chatterbox column were actually first uttered by Rebecca. She was an astute observer of human nature and one of the wittiest—as well as one of the kindest—people I’ve ever known.
It was also Rebecca’s job to photograph the various visiting celebrities, and here she approached genius. No one intimidated her in the slightest. I fondly remember a night at the Ritz when she photographed film star Leslie Caron. "Twirl around more, goddammit!” she yelled, and far from being offended, Ms. Caron knew exactly what she meant. The result was a spectacular set of photos of an aging star delighted at being once again the center of attention.
On another memorable occasion, she photographed President Bush’s visit on Sept. 11, 2001, and her pictures of that morning—the shock and the chaos—are an important record of a crucial moment in American history.
Occasionally—not often, but it did happen—we got a complaint about Rebecca. She used the wrong filter and it made someone's dress look green. Or she was “too bossy” in staging a group shot. I guess they expected us to slap her wrist but instead the opposite happened. Such was our loyalty and respect for Rebecca that we made sure the complainer was never again mentioned in Sarasota Magazine.
Social media made Rebecca’s career—and mine—obsolete. Now everybody is a photographer and people plaster their parties all over Facebook and Instagram. I suppose that’s good, but we’ve lost something, too—seeing our town and our lives through the eyes of an artist.
Confined to a wheelchair these last few years, Rebecca would roll herself out to the street and snap people walking by, posting her Front Yard series pictures with a brief recap of her lively interrogation of her subjects. Their expressions often show a mix of shock and delight at encountering this fierce life force. It’s hard for us to even imagine that Rebecca has left us. Our hearts go out to her husband, Rick, daughters Alex and Julia and their husbands, and her adored five grandchildren.