Unlike most of the pictures in this book, this picture was shot totally spontaneously. The experience taught me several important lessons. We had just completed a shoot for Ralph Lauren and we were driving back to New York City. On our way, the art director realized that we had yet to shoot a picture of a certain outfit. We stopped the car immediately to solve the problem. Directly outside the car was this field.
The art director said we needed to shoot a picture without showing the model’s face. At first, I suggested we shoot from behind. For some reason, this was not acceptable. We had a canoe for the shoot that we had never used. Suddenly, I came up with the idea to place the canoe on top of the model’s head. This sudden thought was a combination of spontaneity, luck, and necessity. However, unbeknownst to me at the time, there was probably also something deeper at play.
For years I had placed hats on the heads of my subjects. By doing so, I obscured their heads and faces, and these pictures inadvertently became more and more surreal. This was not because I consciously or intellectually decided that’s what I wanted; rather, it was because I liked playing with the iconic image of the hat. On the one hand, it dressed people up, finished the outfit, and made them timeless. But on the other hand, it acted as this obscuring object that made the person every man, as opposed to a specific person in time and history. So, without even realizing it, I used the canoe as if it were a giant hat.
I usually spend days scouting and finding the perfect location. However, here we were obviously pressed for time, and we had to get this shot right away. We literally took the canoe off the car, and placed it in the field right where we stopped. This was a very important lesson to me. While the location is so important in my pictures and I work so hard to find the perfect place, on occasion, I can take what is given to me and make a great picture. This particular picture was totally fortuitous. We did not scout or permit the field; it was just kind of handed to me. And to this day I really like this picture. Sometimes, days of preparation will not necessarily result in a perfect picture. I have learned over the years to try to use things to my advantage. I scout when it’s sunny, but it rains on the shoot. The model is happy at the casting, and depressed on the shoot day. The right clothes don’t arrive, etc. If you want to shoot on location, be open to the possibility of luck and chance. If this ability to not be in complete control is too bothersome, I suggest you stick to inanimate objects, landscapes, or accounting. Be open to complications and problems. I welcome the rainy day, because I never know what may grow from it.
In the end, I was told Ralph Lauren never used this picture because he claimed it was too strong for the clothes. People remembered the image over the clothing. I don’t know if that story is true, but it perhaps shows insight on the part of Ralph Lauren.