One morning I was asked into Graydon Carter’s office, the editor of Vanity Fair, just as the world was collapsing under the total notion that greed is good, until someone noticed maybe it wasn’t.
Anyway, the point of this ramble is that, upon entering his office and sitting across from him, his first words to me were “I hear you are difficult.”
With this, I laughed and mentioned to him that it was all based upon one’s point of view. From my perspective I am totally professional, deliver what is asked of me (rarely is anyone unhappy with the results of my work), and I will fight hard and long and hard for the picture. It is my job and my calling, and my work is very important to me.
I also try to be extremely generous and hopefully kind for all who work for me, and I have had the same crew for over 15 years.
So if you mean I am not a pushover, I fight for the picture and my rights and demand perfection, well I guess that makes me difficult.
I didn’t really understand the full ramifications of his remark until later, but in retrospect I wonder if my difficulty referred to the picture making process alone.
There is one other point that needs to be mentioned, which also may have been entwined with his remark, before this preamble can end and I can get on with the story.
I have never liked nor sought out photographing celebrities. I love writers, poets, scientists, but the fascination with the celebrity in this country goes only skin deep for me.
They are usually cunning, demanding, insecure, and generally unhappy with themselves, which prompts them to love to role-play. I don’t like being beholden to their whims and needs, so there again maybe he was right, I am difficult, but I photographed CEO’s with flair and although extremely difficult, it was satisfactory for all.
Well, with this exchange we shook hands, they used a picture of mine on a book jacket, and I was given an assignment to photograph Kristin Chenoweth and Sean Hayes. They were the new stars in “Promises, Promises” a soon to open Broadway Musical revival, and I decided a restaurant or cafe was the appropriate place to shoot them given the story line of the musical.
All went well until the morning of the shoot. We scouted many locations and found a Bar/Restaurant in SOHO in Manhattan that worked perfectly. All through the production process, there was a young producer/photo editor with us from Vanity Fair. She was fun, helpful, vivacious, and very cordial. I liked her a great deal and she tried very hard to secure the location we wanted and provide us with everything we needed.
Some days before the shoot, I had signed off on my simple two-page contract with Vanity Fair, with some negotiations about usage rights, but things we were all able to settle amicably without much discord. We were now all set for the shoot.
Two large location vans arrived outside our location, and I entered both to introduce myself to Kristin Chenoweth and Sean Hayes. I tell them about the picture. My ideas for the wardrobe, styling and makeup, and surprising both were agreeable and both were very complimentary about my work.
We talked about a half hour and I left them alone with the stylist and hair and make-up stylist with whom I had given strict instructions on how I wanted them to look.
This process usually takes an hour or two, so I disappeared back into the location to begin to work with all of the assistants to set up lights that we needed to supplement the natural light. I was hoping to shoot entirely with available light, but I needed to be prepared in case it got overcast or there simply was not enough light.
Just as we had completed all of our production work, and everyone was about 15 minutes from show time, I was summoned over to four people, whom I have never seen before. Two are publicists for our celebrities, one is a publicist for the theater, and the other was the producer for the show who couldn’t be nicer and happier, promising tickets and free handbills to anyone that wanted one. He had gotten publicity in Vanity Fair for his new show. All was wonderful and free. The three other publicists introduced themselves. They were so slick and feigned great interest and excitement in the upcoming portrait, and just like Cinderella’s slipper as the clock was about to strike twelve, and our celebrities were about to walk into the restaurant, these three models of good faith, good cheer and good will brought out a new contract for me to sign. It was only about 25 pages removing all my rights to ever use the photograph for any purpose without their permission.
They had so conveniently pulled this out at the last moment, without my ability to concentrate on the contract or without my ability to have my lawyer present.
We were now at the OK Corral. Guns were drawn. They said their clients would not come out of the vans until the contract was signed. Finally, after a heated debate, the only thing that they agreed to was to remove the clause that prohibited me from using the photograph for personal, non-commercial use, but they were adamant about everything else. It was made perfectly clear that the contract must be signed before we could move forward.
As you might expect, I was furious and told them how unscrupulous I felt they were to pull this trick at the last moment. With this I told all the assistants to tear down the lights, “We are leaving!” I am about to enter the vans to tell our celebrities what had happened, but I am refused to talk to them until the contract is signed.
So this is how I am difficult. We started to pick up everything and leave and off in the corner I see the young producer from the magazine in tears. I went over to her and she pleaded for me to sign the contract. She might loose her job if they can’t find someone quickly to replace me. I told her that my contract is with Vanity Fair, not these publicists, and I will not sign this contract from these publicists that was thrown in my face at the very last minute.
She is hysterical and pleads for the magazine. The producer is epileptic with the idea that maybe he can’t get a picture in Vanity Fair, but the publicist hold their ground and say that it is important that they control the image of their clients. I asked if they were willing to pay for the rights they were demanding, and obviously they offered nothing.
This was fine with me. I was ready to leave and then once again I see this young girl in the corner crying. I just couldn’t hurt her. Ironically, I don’t care about celebrity pictures, obviously the publicist seemed to care much more than I did. So like an old fool who has lost his way, I agreed to take the picture, kick out the publicists from the shoot, and save the young producer her job. I don’t know what happened to me that day. I got weak, but it won’t happen again.
Ironically, the next time I shot for Vanity Fair, it all went smoothly, no publicists, no problems, and no difficulty.