In the mid 80′s, when I was humming along doing a great deal of portraiture of The Titans of American Industry, I was asked by a creative director (who shall remain anonymous) to make portraits of the most senior executives of a rather eccentric and interesting creative financial service company.
I had never worked with this creative director before, and if I recall correctly I was to photograph three executives a day, providing numerous choices of each at one location. I believe there was to be three days of shooting spread over a month’s period as they had to fly the in the executives from all over the world and coordinate a schedule to get three together for a day.
I had found a rather large and eccentric house and gardens in Westchester, New York, where I wanted to photograph the first three subjects, three men. I had scouted the location beforehand and chosen it very carefully, and felt it appropriate to make interesting and hopefully exciting portraits. It was slightly eccentric, yet elegant, with interiors and exteriors that would provide me with an opportunity to shoot a whole range of variations on each subject.
This was portraiture of men. There was no stylist, hair and makeup person. It was simply the three men, some assistants, and I. On the day of the shoot, these Masters of the Universe arrived each in a simple gray or blue suit with one tie and actually were in good spirits and quickly managed to get into the spirit of the shoot. These men were extremely bright and despite their lack of understanding of photography they were risk takers and enjoyed the slightly unusual approach to making portraits.
They were all young, probably in their mid forties and still happy and excited to have their portraits taken. Unlike other shoots, these men were all very cooperative.
So the day progressed and we were all working very hard, and having fun, actually laughing together and they seemed tireless in their enthusiasm to help execute anything that was asked of them.
Everything was shot in Black and White (as that was all I shot at the time) and quite honestly it all seemed perfect for the location and the intensity of the shoot and the spirit of the subjects. Their curiosity about life extended way beyond the financial world. They were curious about all aspects of life and it showed in their faces.
The day concluded, we said our goodbyes. Two of the executives left immediately to catch a plane to return to London, and the other was leaving the next day for the West Coast.
Now, prepare yourselves for what happened next, for this too could happen to you.
The next week after the creative director had just the day before received all the contact sheets from the first day of shooting, and had a day to carefully go through them, he called me in a state of delirium. I thought he must have been taking something I probably could use, as he was so giddy and happy. He pronounced to me that this one-day of shooting had produced the best series of portraits that he had ever seen. Everything worked. The men looked serious yet confident, the location was appropriate, and he was so happy with the results. “There is not one bad picture!” He proclaimed. He told me that I should be so proud of myself, and with this statement and his goodbyes, he started laughing with pure joy.
Well at first I didn’t know what to make of this. I was relived and happy at first. I actually was thrilled that he was happy as I too thought the pictures were quite good, although perhaps not to his level of euphoria, but I am always reluctant to get too thrilled about my own work.
I felt happy and proud that he had said these things as he had worked with the best of the best for many years. It was quite an honor to hear his comments.
So as the day progressed I was beginning to feel more, and more bravado. My chest must have been sticking out like a male peacock. There was a new strut in my step, and I was beginning to actually believe his words and feel like I was now six foot five instead of the usual five foot seven. I was towering over the world and I could stand tall, upright and be proud.
The next morning I received another call from our creative director. This time his voice was far more somber and sounded quite disappointed. He told me that the night before he had shown the work to his wife because he was so happy with the results. She thought all the men looked mean or unhappy. Why weren’t there any smiles in the pictures.
And with this comment, in less than 10 seconds he was miraculously able to make a 180-degree turn and decided she was right. In what the previous day he thought was the best one-day shoot of his career, had now turned into a dismal failure without one good picture. He told me he had gone through the whole set of contact sheets again, and could not find a single frame he liked. Oh the power of wives! Photographers should have fear and loathing and sickness unto death at the thought of some wife or sister overseeing one’s work. He said he wanted to do the shoot over again, this time with everyone smiling, but I refused. I told him the pictures were good (as he originally thought) and that I had done the best that I could. With that he said goodbye, hired another photographer who shot the same men smiling in banal, predictable poses. I got paid but I realized that fame, fortune, and glory are as fleeting as a smile.