When Mike Sisak remembers Zohrab “Zorro” Kazanjian, he thinks about a 1969 Temple basketball game at Madison Square Garden. But Zorro wasn’t even at the game.
The men’s basketball team was playing Boston College in the National Invitation Tournament. Zorro, who often photographed Temple sports, was unable to attend the game.
He handed Sisak a Minolta film camera and asked him to fill in. Years later, Zorro joked that Sisak never gave it back.
“Even when I saw him in 2015, he reminded me, ‘You know, I gave you that camera and I never recall receiving any money for it,’” said Sisak, a 1963 journalism alumnus and former editor-in-chief of The Temple News.
Now, Sisak wants to donate the camera to Paley Library in Zorro’s name.
Zorro, who studied education at Temple from 1957 to 1962, died last month at 81. He moved to the United States from Baghdad in the late 1950s to attend Temple. About a month before his graduation, Zorro was offered a job as a university photographer and never finished his degree. He worked at the university full time until the 1990s and then worked as a contracted photographer until 2013.
During his tenure at the university, he took thousands of photos working for The Temple News and the university as a staff photographer.
Sisak, who met Zorro while working for The Temple News, said he wishes that everything Zorro photographed during his nearly 60-year relationship with Temple were archived in the library.
Zorro photographed most university athletes, including football and basketball players. He also photographed large university events.
“Not to be corny, but the best way to describe Zorro is in camera terms,” said Sisak, who is a former New York Times editor. “He was close up and personal and you never forgot him.”
In addition to his work for The Temple News, Zorro was a photographer for the university’s former office of public information, Templar yearbook and Temple Athletics.
Sisak said he thinks Zorro has taken more photographs of the Temple University community than anyone else.
When they first met in the 1960s, he and Zorro immediately bonded because of their religious faith — both practiced Orthodox Christianity. They lived together in housing formerly standing on Broad Street near Norris.
“It was beyond photography,” Sisak said. “It was a friendship.”
Sisak recalls seeing Zorro in 2013 in Mitten Hall at a 50th class reunion. For classmates he hadn’t seen in decades, Zorro brought 4-by-6-inch photo prints he wanted to share with his fellow alumni.
“He wanted to walk around and say hello and give them the prints that he had made when they were students, athletes at Temple University,” Sisak said. “He never forgot the people he photographed.”
“Zorro was the chronicler of Temple University,” Sisak added.
The Special Collections Research Center has an estimated 175 photos by Zorro.
In addition to his photography career, Zorro was a walk-on for the university’s track and field team and had a brief stint on the swim team, competing in the 200-yard breaststroke race.
Vicken Kazanjian, Zorro’s son and a 2002 film and media arts alumnus, said because of his father, he grew up on the sidelines of several Temple sports games. His father also put a camera in his hand at a young age.
One of the most iconic photographs Zorro took was of President John F. Kennedy, who came to Temple one week before he was elected president in 1960.
“You look at the crowd in the background and it’s right in the middle of campus, kids are hanging out of windows,” Kazanjian said of the photograph. “In comparing it to today, everyone would have their phones out…but he was there for those historic moments.”
Bob Rovner, a 1965 business alumnus and 1968 law alumnus, met Zorro when Rovner was the business manager of The Temple News.
Rovner also served as student body president in the 1960s and as a university trustee for the last 20 years, before recently retiring.
He called Zorro a “fixture” in the Temple community. He remembers how Zorro would photograph big university events, like “The Hour of Pleasure,” which brought major figures like Eleanor Roosevelt, Jerry Lewis, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons and Jimmy Hoffa to campus in the 1960s, Rovner said.
“He would just take picture after picture,”
Rovner said. “[During] our youth growing up…he memorialized that in pictures.”
Kazanjian recalls that as a kid, Zorro would drag him and his brother to Temple when they were on summer vacation from school. When he and his family would enter buildings on Main Campus, the security guards would immediately recognize his father and say, “Hey Zorro, come on in.”
“It would just be really cool to walk into any building on campus and he was just welcomed by everybody,” Kazanjian said. “He just knew everybody.”