We’ve got sand in our eyes due to Hurricane Sandy. We are completely overwrought, underpowered and understaffed. When we get our juices going again, we will be back. See you next week.
October 29, 2012
October 22, 2012
In the mid 1980′s I won a small fellowship to live in an artist colony in Lynchburg, Virginia. I went there to try to rediscover my old roots. I was worried that by shooting “commercial” work I maybe had strayed me from my old calling of shooting farmers, laborers and the landscape. Once I was there, my routine was up before up before dawn, returning at lunch, and then out again in early afternoon to find something to photograph that appealed to me.
Now is the time to regress for a moment. Although a Northern Yankee by birth, I had grown to deeply love the South. I had gone to university in Virginia and had traveled throughout the state on many occasions. I had grown to love Virginia, not it’s Northern suburbs, which were reminiscent of the life I knew, but deep in the hollows of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the fields of wheat and barley and generally the life of Southern gentility. It was a pleasant diversion from the Northern confrontational style.
So it was with great anticipation that I applied and was accepted for this fellowship. I thought Virginia was the perfect place to reestablish my links to my past. The landscape was appealing to me, at times almost English. The hand of man was apparent, but not overwhelming. The landscape was cultivated, but not destroyed. It was perfect, or so I thought.
Each day I traveled throughout Southern Virginia, looking for my past, trying to find something that interested me, but to no avail. That month of hard work turned out to be a total failure. Not one picture I took, did I like then, or do I like today. I had moved on, maybe, or maybe I simply wasn’t in the mood.
What I was in the mood for was lunch. On days when I was not too far away, I would hurry back to the Virginia Center, not because I loved the food, but because I did love my lunch with Peter.
Peter was Peter Viereck a well-known Pulitzer Prize winning poet, who had been at this artist colony many times, working for years on an epic poem that was eluding him. By its very nature, an epic poem is elusive, but for him this epic was larger than him or life and it seemed impossible to corral. He struggled to contain his feelings and thoughts into something so small, yet so big. For all these years it had remained out of reach, although he often felt he was near the end.
In a way I was struggling with the same problem. How do I get this grand enormous world onto a piece of paper? How do I take my feelings and lay them down flat and then have them come alive once again for a viewer? I am always trying, but honestly, never have I quite gotten there. I come close but I never succeed. So this dialectic that evaded him lingers in my soul as well. I understood exactly what he was talking about
So while he struggled to complete his opus, I struggled to find my muse for the month. Ironically, I found it at lunch, not in the wheat fields of Virginia.
As I began to talk to him about not feeling successful, I slowly began to loose my guilt and began to really listen to the words of one of the smartest men I have ever met
One lunch in particular has remained with me since that day in Virginia many years ago. I don’t remember where we were in the conversation, but what I do remember is this.
He was talking about the struggle of writing poetry and that the modern movement in poetry (like everything else) had lost it’s way. It had abandoned its footings and had leaped head first into uncontrolled, unregulated verse.
What he meant by this was that he felt it imperative that a poet writes in iambic pentameter, which is verse that follows a rhythm and a rhyme. It is the basis of classical and traditional verse. Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets were all written in iambic pentameter.
Modern poetry was leaving this tradition behind, and he was lamenting this as a great and profound loss.
This to me was the truly arresting part of the conversation. He went onto describe why iambic pentameter was not only crucial to poetry, but to all the arts and to living life itself.
Writing and working in rhythm is following the natural ebb and flow of life. Although this might seem ironic, as life is full of inconsistencies and variation, but deep down in the primordial forces that drive us, there is a natural rhythm. He believed it is in unison with our heartbeat. The blood in our body courses with its rhythm, and when we emulate this force we are in a natural sync with our very soul.
It is this deep powerful energy that we have strayed from. During the Renaissance the arts in all their variations seemed to expose this, architecture, music, theater, painting, sculpture, etc.
It led to a world that was full of optimism and enthusiasm. You felt close to the affirmative source of our very being, in closer touch to a powerful life affirming energy that drives our very being. This force gives us purpose and leads us to a better place.
I was lucky enough to touch this enthusiasm in the late 50′s and the early 60′s. America was still optimistic. Today we call this worldview naive, yet I find that quite ironic. My parents and their parents had lived through a depression and a great war, and to say that they were naive to cruelty of man and to sadness in the world is unjust. Yet despite this vision America was optimistic for the present and the future. Their music was filled with Aaron Copland, Rogers and Hammerstein. Their photography was so affirmative with the likes of Cartier Bresson, Robert Doisneau, Kerterz, Manuel Bravo, etc. These artists led us to places that were slightly out of touch and out of reach. Some may even refer to these places as surreal. It was there, possible, attainable, and reachable. You just had to reach slightly beyond your abilities. I love that world. It depicted the best that we could be.
Today it is all gone in the arts. It’s insight is small, it’s vision narrow, and although conceptually clever and interesting it is atonal and lost to any true rhythm.
The culture is lost, the arts are lost, and I have been trying in my own very small way to lead it back to a place where it belongs. Like Peter, I feel often I am loosing this battle, but I will always keep trying.
I sat with my mouth wide open listening to his insights. In my pictures, beside the basic drive to give form to my feelings, there is a need for a sense of composition. I must be in the right relationship to the subject and to the world around me. When I have failed even slightly everything falls apart. But when I succeed, and it’s all in the right place, the edges are defined, the subject is in harmony to the space, I am in true form. I have instinctively found my own classical verse. The photograph, although looking so simple is in touch with powerful forces that live deep within me.
So you see my stay in Virginia was a surprise. Although for whatever reason my picture making failed, I still had succeeded. Life is funny that way. Who knew that by feedings one’s stomach, one could be feeding one’s soul.
October 15, 2012
In the mid 1960′s without my realizing it, the world was on the cusp of change. It still retained a small vestige of what I loved; an eccentricity, an occasional provincialism and most of all a sense of elegance.
John Kennedy spoke with a patrician, Boston accent. Carey Grant was running through wheat fields in beautifully tailored suits, and Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn oozed charm, grace and romance. It seemed to me that they were not the creators of the lifestyle, but rather the reflection of what life was meant to be. The world truly seemed filled with optimism.
In the mid 1960′s I was in boarding school, and although it was a difficult time for me, it was also a time of great fun and good humor.
In my junior year of school, I remember taking Algebra II from a retired Colonel (probably from the Salvation Army) who demanded all his students refer to him as Colonel Evans. He was a heavy-set, squat sort of man who wore wire-rimmed glasses and stood very erect with the help of platform shoes. On a good day he was probably a good five feet, five inches, but his officiousness and mannerisms knew no bounds.
The school I attended was right out of 18th century England, all stone, and with classrooms that one had to walk down two steps to get into. I guess the classroom could almost feel like a dungeon except for all the clamor and laughter of twenty boys who were always into mischief.
Algebra II was the first class in the morning and as almost everyone was at least half asleep or totally disinterested in math, the Colonel had placed numerous clocks perfectly synchronized around the classroom to tick away all the moments of boredom.
As we slowly approached the end of class with everyone desperate to escape the four walls of the apocalypse, he would look at his watch dutifully and proclaim, “By my watch, class is dismissed.” All at once everyone would get up and run for the door. Just as the first student would get to the exit, the master clock, ringing throughout the school to alert everyone of the change of class, would go off.
The Colonel thought this was hysterical. He had timed it perfectly. Every clock in the room was perfectly adjusted. Three seconds before the end of class he had dismissed us. He was a master of precision, a Colonel to our buck privates, a master to his slaves. He would laugh mightily to himself, proud that he could be so punctilious.
This trick happened week after week, and all of his stupid boys (including myself) would fall for this trick over and over again. The more we would run for the door only to be met by the general dismissal, the funnier he thought it was.
The idea of escaping this boredom early was just too great a temptation, but slowly revenge was brewing in the devious minds of these adolescent juniors. To be tricked once was o.k. but to fall for it over and over again was unthinkable.
So it was to be, near the end of the semester, before Thanksgiving break, four boys and a hose who were never discovered) struck once. It happened late at night while the campus was asleep, only to be found out by a large group of us going to class the next morning.
As we all generally arrived at class together, coming from breakfast, we opened the door to the classroom and found that the entire classroom had been flooded. As the classroom was down about two steps, these boys had flooded the room with considerably more than a foot of water. All the wooden desks were floating freely around the classroom with papers floating freely around the water. Everything was in complete disarray.
When the Colonel saw the state of his classroom he went apoplectic. His face turned bright red and he started to scream for revenge. Ultimately the classroom was emptied and nothing that I am aware of happened, except a great laugh for many nights.
This was a small part of my life. I had gone to school with extremely privileged boys who had no fear of growing into eccentrics. They didn’t conform because they didn’t have too. Unfortunately for the most part they became as banal and uninteresting, “as the mass of men who live lives of quiet desperation.” But then there were the very few who struggled their way into being truly original.
By my watch it is time for all good things to start again, for beauty to replace importance, grace and style to replace fashion, and finally to once again to hear originality in one’s voice.
September 24, 2012
Living in New Haven, Connecticut in 1970 changed my life in so many ways. My self began to assert itself more confidently, although not without enormous tantrums and anxiety. Onward and upward I was growing, fighting unseen enemies, evolving my own style and slowly beginning to find the life I wanted to live.
I knew that I needed a new role model, one that fit my tortured soul and one that fit a more artistic lifestyle. One thing I was sure of as that it wasn’t going to be the life of my father. I was on a quest and I wasn’t sure how it was going to end. On the one hand, I loved the life of a man of letters, yet I also loved the romance and adventure of photography and I loved the pursuit of knowledge. How do you put the three together, integrating different inclinations into one lifestyle? The answer lied with my in-laws.
As one of my favorite playwrights (who happened to be my father in said) once said when asked by a journalists what his average day looked like, “Yesterday I put a comma in and today I took it out.”
The artistic quest is not about how many hours you work or how productive you are (although you are usually quite productive if you do something long enough). It is about the quest to expose some small private truths that become universal as they meet the light of day.
One of the benefits of living in Connecticut in the very early 1970′s was my in-laws. They lived in the western foothills of the Berkshire Mountains in northwestern Connecticut. It was rural, very beautiful, two hours away from New Haven and filled with writers, painters, actors and musicians. It was an intellectual and artistic ghetto that I grew to like and from which my own life learned and developed it’s own rhythm. I was watching very carefully the lives, not of the rich and famous, but the creative and artistic.
In the late summer of 1970, just a few weeks after moving into our tiny apartment on Park Street in New Haven, we went to my in-laws house in Bridgewater, Connecticut for the weekend. This was the beginning of many weekends spent in western Connecticut. That first Saturday night Bob and Teresa (my in-laws Robert Andersen, the playwright and Teresa Wright, the actress) invited us to join them at a party at William Styron’s house (the novelist) in Roxbury, Connecticut.
Now Bill Styron had always been one of my favorite writers. He was a native Virginian, a true aristocratic Southerner with a great patois of southern gentility, intensity, and depression. He descended from a grand swell of my favorite American writers, Eudora Welty, Harper Lee, Faulkner, etc. In short he was one of my idols.
We got to the dinner at the Styron’s house and it was already filled with talent. There was Arthur Miller, Vladimir Horowitz, Leonard Bernstein, Jacob Javitts, Clive and Francine Grey, etc., the list just keeps on going. I was among the literary elite, the immortals, and the conversation expressed this. Rose Styron, graciously welcomed us in, and immediately introduced me to everyone and off she went into the kitchen to prepare a lavish feast for all.
In one corner was Leonard Bernstein screaming about modern music and his love of The Beatles and in the other was Bill Styron giving me a tour of the house. There were signed letters to him from J.F.K. and when I asked him what he was working on, he mentioned his new novel was about a slave rebellion in Virginia in the very early 19th Century by Nat Turner.
When the party was thinning out, Francine Grey (a writer) asked me to give her a ride home. She told me she lived just up the road and she had shown interest in me as I was studying theology and she was writing a book called “Divine Disobedience,” about the Berrigan Brothers, two dissident Catholic Priests. I of course had nothing useful to add to the conversation.
Well I quickly got her home, that was the easy part. Getting back was a different matter. For three hours I drove in circles until finally someone in a car must have noticed how bewildered I looked and stopped and asked if I needed help. It was all pitch black, with no road signs and street lights. I asked if they knew where the Styron’s house was, and they did, and I returned just in time before the police were called in. They must have thought I had fallen into some ditch. Everyone seemed relieved to see me.
As time went on, I would play tennis with Rose Styron and continue to meet new people and watch the ebb and flow of the new life I wanted. It was the artist life, where solitude, discipline, and creativity merge into a particular day.
Today was a productive day for me. I decided I liked a picture I didn’t like yesterday.
September 17, 2012
In the late 1970′s when I was very young and very poor, there was one thing that I didn’t feel I was deficient in, and that was my knowledge and wisdom about photography.
In my soul (I must admit this feeling has not abandoned me, even to this day) I felt I understood way down deep to my bones what great photography constituted and what efforts were required to achieve this.
When I would listen to academics, curators and visionary’s talk about photography, I found myself flabbergasted. I usually just wanted to go into a corner and throw up. These people generally had no idea what they were talking about. It all sounded sincere, intellectually worthy and extremely knowledgeable, but in fact it was just words. It was my opinion they had NO idea what it meant to be a photographer nor did they seem to have any idea what struggles Steiglitz or Strand or anyone else confronted in their quest to realize greatness.
I remember vividly thinking that this was something I knew well. It was in my blood and has remained my life’s quest. I know this probably seems pompous and probably it is, but this how I feel.
Well I have ranted enough, back to my story. In the late 1970′s as I mentioned earlier a number of people began to notice my interest and knowledge in photography and slowly with out me soliciting it, began to ask me if I would purchase photography for them as an investment. This all happened without my realizing it. Somehow by listening to me, certain people began to realize that photography had the potential of a great investment. You must realize this was a time when the Yale Art Gallery would not give Ansel Adams a show because it felt photography was just a craft and not a legitimate art form. Oh, how times have changed.
So without quite realizing how or why, I began to buy photography for a number of people. I would take a commission and as often as I could afford it, a print would be my compensation.
One afternoon I made my way to the Marlborough Gallery (which primarily only sold painting) but I was on a quest to find a Robert Frank photograph, and if I remember correctly, Marlborough must have represented Robert Frank. Some months earlier at another gallery, not only had I found a Robert Frank photograph, but it was the actual picture that was used on the cover of “The Americans.” It was in perfect shape and signed on the back.
I had found out that Marlborough now represented Robert Frank, so with checkbook in hand and my best tweed jacket and tie, I went on a quest to buy.
When I got to the gallery I was met by the curator/director, who will remain anonymous. He quickly showed me the print I was interested in and started to ramble on about its merits, making one mistake after another.
Finally when I could not take all the misplaced ramblings any longer, I asked him if he noticed anything unusual about the condition of the print. He looked at me quizzically. I then asked him to look carefully once again and after further examination he still offered no insight.
I told him the print was extremely yellow and had not been fixed properly and that over time the image would fade into almost nothingness.
With this he looked at me and said, “As long as you have the signature, what does it matter?”
Well I never bought the print nor have I ever forgotten this story. Please remember, if your stock broker, real estate agent, insurance agent, doctor, lawyer, banker knows as little about what they are talking about as this curator did, God help us all.
September 10, 2012
It was the eleventh commandment in my parents’ home that we all dress for dinner. This meant at age ten and up I had to wear a coat and tie, beautifully pressed shirt and slacks to a dinner that usually included three to four people (my mother, father, sister and myself).
We would all sit down together at this very formal table, and like German clockwork, Martin, my parent’s Butler, would serve food to this bunch of elegant misfits, from a beautiful first course to an elegant desert, interlaced with finger bowls and towels.
My father and I were always in a rush to go nowhere, and by the time the first course had made it’s way around the table, he and I were through, and ready for the next course. No leisurely dinners for us. We went from start to finish in Grand Prix time, excused ourselves and went our merry ways, before my mother could even collect her thoughts and admonish us for our bad behavior.
She tried; she really tried to civilize these two hyenas who consumed elegant refined food as if it were two Big Macs with fries. My father would be in a hurry to end the meal without too many words, grabbing his enormous cup of tea and exiting to the library for T.V. or phone. I, who would follow him anywhere, was simply just rushing with no place to go.
The idea of enjoying a meal, or of sitting gracefully while others ate, and leisurely commencing in conversation never entered my consciousness, it was simply eat and run. By not talking, none of us were any wiser at the end of our meal, only fuller. This beautiful highly polished table, with beautiful silver and setting, could not have been given to two less appropriate people. We all liked the table and what it meant, and the companionship it was supposed to provide, but for some reason none of us could enjoy it.
So having been shipped off to boarding school at age fifteen, I without realizing it, became equipped to handle some of the roughest details a young boy could face.
I have already described how 200 boys in the early years of the 1960′s could eat dinner by candlelight dressed immaculately in blue suits and ties, in a refectory that looked like it was right out of Harry Potter’s Hogwart’s.
What I have not described is how my life was fashioned, or fixed permanently from what began as small habit I had learned at home, into what I later found had developed into an permanent disgrace. This habit, by the time I had graduated from boarding school had twisted itself into my psyche and had sat down right beside me at every meal I consumed.
At boarding school every boy had to take his turn as a waiter. This would occur for a week at a time throughout the year. On one occasion you would be an A Waiter, which meant that you had to get up at 5 a.m., set the table for breakfast and come to dinner early to set the table for dinner. If you were the B Waiter, you would have to consume your food in one gulp, continually running to the kitchen to get seconds and clear the table. The B Waiter though, could sleep a little longer in the morning.
So for whatever crazy notion that filled my pea-sized brain, I decided that I liked being the B Waiter so that I could sleep a little longer, and throughout my four years of boarding school I traded whenever possible with other students so that I could be the B Waiter when my time was called.
I had already learned since childhood to finish eating before anyone began, to have seconds waiting before they had even finished their firsts, and with four years of this dutiful training I have perfected the art of eating without tasting, thinking, looking and definitely without enjoying anything.
Today I am the world champion consumer of food. Before you even realize your food has been served, I am finished. I don’t even taste what is before me. I am still ready, like my father, to complete the meal way ahead of schedule. I have learned not to talk to anyone, as I am so busy eating and running. So next time you sit down to a meal with me and it looks so beautiful, the flowers are arranged, the silver and glassware are perfectly in place and you are expecting to have a leisurely meal with great conversation, remember who you are dining with. Before you know it, perhaps before you have even taken your first bite, I’ll leave you to your meal. See you next time.
September 5, 2012
Set deep into the foothills of the Blue Ridge mountains, folded into the red brick of Mr. Jefferson’s University, was a small classroom that I wandered into in the spring semester of my sophomore year of college in 1968.
I’m not quite sure what lured me to this room, other than the syllabus title of “Theology and Literature”, along with the reading list of Faulkner, Hemingway, Graham Greene and other 20th century writers. I had wasted a good deal of time on English classes, looking for some voice that could reach me either in the classroom or from the text. I loved English, but the teaching of it had been whittled down to all surface and no substance. It was a literal interpretation of the writer’s meaning, filled with metaphor and symbolism, but oh no feeling, hurt, frustration or any of the seven deadly sins. If any of these emotions was touched upon, it was purely in an academic sense, to be dissected and analyzed. There was no mystery, romance or allure.
So with my usual skepticism, and with the uniform of the day, a coat and tie, I walked into this small class and began to listen to the lecture. Something happened to me in that first 50 minutes. To this day, I don’t know exactly what. But what I do remember is that I was changed. A lightening bolt had struck me and I was no longer aimlessly wandering. I had found a new home to park my troubled and confused feelings.
A serious academic man of letters was speaking to me in the language of nuance, mystery and feeling. There were passages in Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, where a small town became a place of solace and peace during a time of great chaos and war. There were passages from Faulkner, that instead of providing me with the answers, only showed me the path forward. Everything tingled and I was alive. My heart was beating faster with wonder and curiosity.
So who was he? He was young, received his BA, PHd and Master of Divinity at Yale, briefly taught at Smith and was then brought in to start a religious studies program at a very secular university. So those are the facts, which have nothing to do with my attachment to him. He was an enigma to me. Mysterious. And though he answered every question I raised to him with great consideration, there was never an answer I expected. They were always confusing and almost like a Zen koan. Although he was a devout Christian, in fact a minister, his responses were like a Buddhist monk. Every response elicited a new question.
With only questions in hand, I introduced myself, and for 2 1/2 years I befriended David Harned, my teacher, who became my mentor. I gardened with him, went to movies with him, spent weekends with him and his family and even spent two summers at his small home in Massachusetts, all in an attempt to understand this man in order to understand myself. He spoke a language that was foreign to me — he might as well have been speaking Swahili.
I loved this. Although nothing was ever resolved, it all felt like it had a purpose and intention. Again, what did he say or do that was so profound? In his fashion, he was leading me on the path of knowledge and self awareness. I had not realized how lost and hungry I was for understanding and wisdom. It is not something as simple as the correct answer, the right pill, the right formula. It is more like the search is the answer. Although everything for three years remained elusive, confusing and at times disheartening, I never once felt I wasn’t on the right road.
So life has a way of repeating itself. As I began to teach in my early 20′s, and up to the present, I have found that students are looking for answers, not questions. This all feels like much of contemporary art, where its all about surface. People are looking for a quick response to a complicated question. Modern art is like what I encountered in the English department. It is soulless, empty, conceptual and lacking any depth. It looks good but it doesn’t wear well.
For the people who write me and ask for answers, or who are looking for the right process to make better pictures, I implore you to realize that there isn’t any ONE right answer. There is only your particular answer to be found and only you can find it. This is no easy task. As you are confronted with obstacles, confusion and diversions, if you are able to learn the right set of questions, then all else will follow in time. Wisdom is like a house. It can be seen from many different perspectives. It has many doors that enter into different spaces. They are all accessible, but many lead nowhere. With the right guide or teacher, one that will help you choose the right door to enter, you may eventually, at the end of your long quest, be able to find the right door out.
August 29, 2012
I’m reluctant to wade into the troubled waters of women’s beauty, but the water temperature seems right, so I think I’ll go in for a deep swim.
For years, I’ve been going to castings for models, and interestingly enough there is a large difference between men and women. Oh, what a surprise! With men generally, what you see is what you get. Their demeanor is as it appears at the casting, their looks don’t radically change, and as a second fiddle to the women, they rarely (but not always) have pretensions or large egos. I choose men who are good sports and fun to work with.
Now on to my favorite subject; women. Rarely, what you see is what you get. The models arrive without makeup, outfitted in old unassuming clothes and look totally exhausted and sometimes disinterested. Their portfolios rarely speak to me and it is purely by instinct that I pick a girl for a shoot.
I must see something in her face or her demeanor, and I realize this almost the moment I notice her, as she is walking through the door. I go through the motions, but generally I know immediately if she is the right one.
Ironically, a girl’s (I don’t know how to refer to them, as they are barely 21. Are they girls or women?) presentation in these castings, although the culture would refer to them as natural, they appear to me as almost unnatural. They seem almost lifeless and uninteresting. Perhaps there is a natural beauty and all these girls are beautiful, but when I first see them, they appear without style and usually without grace and definitely without all the accoutrements of our culture, which help transform them from girls to women. Something in these castings is missing for me. They come looking dead on arrival.
So it is with faith and hope that I choose the girl or girls to be in the shoot.
What happens next is the crux of this story. It’s all about transformation and metamorphosis. It’s where great style and fashion merge into something extraordinary, and the banality and vulgarity of our culture is transformed into something timeless, beautiful and serene.
But before we get to the end, I must start at the beginning of another tale, a tale of a different sort and a different ending. A tale that is unrelated, yet related. One that is infused with celebrity, insecurity and bad karma.
In the spring of 1998 I was asked to do a campaign for Estee Lauder. It involved three days of shooting with Elizabeth Hurley, the spokeswomen at the time for Estee Lauder. For those of you who don’t remember, she was an actress, now model, English and Hugh Grant’s girlfriend at the time.
I was asked by her kindly boss at Estee Lauder to try and make my style of pictures with her. He said try quite often and I was beginning to realize there was something I should know. His final words to me were good luck, and with that and a signed contract, I began on my three-day adventure with Miss Hurley.
If I recall correctly the shoot started at an estate on Long Island. I had my own team, and Renate (the wonder of 29th Street) was the stylist. She is such a good person, and one who finds no fault in anyone, which is nothing like me, who finds fault with everything and everyone, had already met Miss Hurley and had spent a number of days working on the wardrobe.
She came up to me the morning of the shoot, and she too, at the end of our conversation said good luck. This was truly becoming a sign. What sign I had yet to find out.
It all started in the trailer. After Elizabeth and I had met, we began to choose the clothes. I chose clothes that seemed elegant and refined; she chose clothes that were vulgar and demeaning to her. I tried to tell her that I was asked to do my pictures, and she quickly informed me that, “she knew how to sell lipstick to people in Oklahoma, and I didn’t.” Also she informed me that I should simply back out on most decisions concerning the wardrobe and listen to her. I refused to do this.
This started the morning out with a bang, and I definitely was not in the mood to start singing “Oklahoma.” I told her again that it was important that she take my direction and try to trust me.
Well that never happened. We fought for three days, got kicked out of the estate for her telling the curator that their furniture was made up of fakes and that in England they had real antiques. In Central Park she played nice to all the paparazzi (who had found out we were shooting there) smiling, laughing, yet as soon as they were gone she started one again not to follow any of my direction.
By the third day we had a very shallow piece. She would partially go along with me in clothes and direction, but we barely spoke and obviously had very different ideas on how to sell lipstick.
She wanted what she was sure was sexy, uninhibited and with no hesitation to remove as much clothing as possible to capture a sex appeal that she felt she had. She felt she was empowering women while I thought she was demeaning them. She was beautiful before, but now so unattractive to me. Even when she would agree and try to do some pictures for me, by using the clothes I chose, it barely worked. She wanted overt sex and I wanted beauty and elegance. Maybe someone could unite the two, I couldn’t. I wanted something to believe in, something mysterious and alluring, and not something directly in my face. I needed foreplay and she was willing to abandon it.
So unlike Elizabeth Hurley, the girls I choose in a casting usually start out in the morning of the shoot as slightly messy and sometimes unattractive. They are like an open slate. We start with the hair and then the makeup and then the clothes and the shoes and this scruffy diamond in the rough emerges as a real beauty. They become elegant and graceful with long legs and delicate fingers, and a sexiness that is all in the potential. They are women at their finest.
They become what Elizabeth Hurley never could. They go from unassuming to powerful, beautiful women, while Elizabeth started with intrinsic power that slowly dissipated and dissolved as she chose to have more and more arrogance, insecurity and fear.
In this culture, what is beauty? Is it the ability to expose yourself and pout at the camera, and feel that this is power? Or, is it to walk very softly but have great style and carry it with ease?
August 20, 2012
Enter these enchanted woods and fields, you who dare. -Anonymous
In the early spring of 1980 I packed up my bags and all my cameras, and with my wife and young son in tow we left for Wales in the United Kingdom.
Somehow I had found a small farm in mid-Wales to live on for two months for very little money. But, before we get to Wales I must backup to the early 1970′s.
It was my way to photograph two to three months a year and the rest would be spent processing, printing, thinking, teaching, gardening and all other means to nurture this person who is me. All of this became entwined with a wanderlust and need of adventure. And with all these feelings and thoughts, I came up with the idea to beg, borrow and plead with people who had houses in far away places, to allow me to stay there during the off seasons in exchange for work I would produce there. This worked on many occasions, usually every other year. This system worked well for me, a penniless, young photographer who loved to get away to places where the hand of man was apparent. I was not interested in the wilderness or in the Grand Tetons of this earth, but rather a more civilized location that had history and patina. For these reasons I was generally drawn to Europe or the Middle East.
So upon landing in London, and after driving eight hours, we arrived at a small sheep farm, sheltered in the hills of mid-Wales. It was scene right out of “How Green Was My Valley.” Other than a few gasoline tractors, nothing had changed since the 19th Century. It felt perfect. Completely removed from my life in Connecticut and the modern world that both appealed and repelled me. Life’s regulator was not the alarm clock, but rather the call of the sheep.
It was lambing season and my young son was adopted by Colin, the families’ twenty-year-old son, who looked right out of central casting with his Harris Tweed jacket, plaid newsboy cap, and green wellies.
Quickly word spread to all the other farmers that an American photographer was taking pictures, and at first they were all reluctant to let me in or to have their pictures taken. But, by the end of my stay I was being beseeched not to leave before I took their picture. Somehow mistrust had grown to trust.
On most days we would get into our tiny rental car and off we would go looking for adventures and pictures. My son had school homework to attend to with my wife as his instructor. We would drive around until I would find a spot that appealed to me. Sometimes it was a farm or a landscape, but whatever it was I would usually get out of the car and proceeded alone to find the next great picture. My wife and son would stay in the car working on his homework. As I was shooting with a large format camera, I couldn’t venture too far from the car, but I would venture through fields and streams looking and more looking.
One afternoon, I saw something (and quite honestly I can’t remember what as I never got the picture) way across a farmer’s field. The farmers always warned me to stay out of their fields because there were bulls in the adjoining fields. I, in my inevitable New York manner, felt I could somehow avoid trouble. I had gotten used to checking the fields to make sure there were no bulls. I also would always check all the gates to make sure they were closed, but obviously on this occasion my eyes betrayed me.
So of I went with my camera, tripod, and film on my back to the other side of the field, where I set up my camera and slowly lost myself under the black cloth to a world that is seen upside down, which ironically begins to feel appropriate after some time. It’s all a very meditative experience. It’s a process that slows me down and allows me to focus clearly on my surroundings and begin to feel a sense of oneness with the world I see in front of my camera.
Just as I was finding the right spot and feeling completely isolated and at peace, I heard a large grunt, which immediately woke me from my reverie.
I poked my head out from under the cloth and there twenty feet from me is an enormous bull with huge horns, grunting and stamping his feet at me. Just the week before I had heard at a local market that a farmer had been seriously gored by a bull. They weren’t sure whether he would recover. With this knowledge and my natural innate fear I grabbed my camera, which was on top of the tripod and swung it toward the bull. He seemed startled for a second and at that moment I started to run across the field with my camera and tripod. Stopping every few seconds to swing it around while the bull began to speed up and come closer to attacking me. He definitely seemed very angry. I on the other hand seemed very scared. All this time I was screaming for my wife and son (although I have no idea what they could have done) to wake up and help. They were in the car with the windows closed working intently on homework, oblivious to the charade that was going on outside.
I was running, the bull was running and finally I was just able to get to the fence and jump over it. Just at that moment the bull right on my heels, smashed into the fence, which finally startled my son and wife enough to look up.
I was completely a wreck, my camera was somehow still intact and the bull never seemed more content. Now that I was gone, he was ready to be my best friend. He left and my wife and son had no idea why I was sweating and shaking.
I had ventured in dangerous territory, which is typical of me. All someone has to say is that something is forbidden or inappropriate or unnecessary and I will be the first to be wandering in places I shouldn’t be. The cardinal rule of photography, as I am sure most of you know, is it is easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission. Luckily this day I was still in enough pieces to be able to mouth the words of thanks be to God for letting me live.
August 8, 2012
This is a very difficult and extremely embarrassing story for me to tell. It’s funny that today, this story seems almost comical, but at the time I was totally humiliated and deeply embarrassed. It obviously still bothersome to me, as there is not more than a few people in the world who know what I am about to tell you. I now think it’s good to begin to air all the good and the bad that has permeated my early life. As we are opening up my secrets, and in the interest of being completely open and honest, what is going on at present will be forthcoming in future blogs.
This story that was a large part of me in my early twenties, when I was ravaged by fears and fighting a breakdown in my abilities to function in the world without help. I feared I simply could not do it alone. I always needed someone around me, yet I always felt totally alone.
At meeting Jerry Rosencrantz and Inge Morath, I was quickly and very briefly introduced to Burt Glinn, who was then the president of Magnum. Burt was a Harvard educated photographer, who much to the chagrin of the other members who were strict journalists, Burt did a great deal of corporate and advertising work. Magnum was always broke and it needed additional income to function. He was probably the most financially successful of the group, and at that time you paid a portion of your income (a tithing of sorts) to the cooperative based on your income. The wealthy supported the poor.
He had become a member of Magnum in 1950, and when I met him, he was so busy traveling all around the world on assignment, he felt completely out of reach. But like all things that I truly love, he was very funny and very self-effacing.
I remember calling his apartment in Manhattan on numerous occasions, catching him almost out of breath as he was rushing to catch a plane to some far off place in the world. He would often say to me, I’ll be back on a certain date and you can catch me between 5:00 and 6:00 PM before I leave again. He was a total whirlwind, but he tried very hard to help me. I will always appreciate his generosity.
He told me when I finally would lasso him for a few minute talk whom I had to meet, whom would be the most difficult, and how the whole crazy politics of Magnum worked. You simply had to pay your dues, which could take some time for somebody so young as me, meet all the members, make sure they see your work and remember you and try to be a good guy.
Years later on occasion I would bump into Burt throughout the world. We would be staying at the same hotel, or I would meet him with only enough time to shake hands and have a cup of coffee at some airport.
The last time I saw Burt Glinn, just a year or two before he died, was in my neighborhood, there was a house for sale and he was coming to look at it. We said our hellos and without my knowing it, that hello was really my last goodbye.
So I guess things at Magnum could have potentially worked out for me if the Gods were all in alignment. I am not sure if the other members would have liked my work, or considered me worthy of acceptance, for they never had the chance to even meet me.
Oh by the way, the photographer that Burt told me I would have the most difficulty with and whom he had often tried to hook me up with as they were both good friends, was Elliot Erwitt. It’s ironic that Elliot is almost a relative of mine through marriage. I see him on occasion, yet to this day I do not know if whether on those fateful days in the early 70′s, whether he would have voted yea or nay, but like everyone else he never got the chance.
So this is where my sad but true story comes forth. It is kind of perfect because there was (and still is) a person who foils and on occasion even destroys many things he wants. I am not sure if I even had the metabolism for Magnum, but I never gave myself the chance to find out. I was very isolated and alone, surrounded by people, and yet my fears not only manifested these fears, they perpetuated them. I guess I was my own worst enemy.
Well here goes. In fact I only went up to Magnum a total of five times over a period of a number of months. I never met other members other than the one’s I’ve already described. Nobody except these few people even knew I existed. I never met the other members, as I was never there to meet them. Members would come and go, and disappear for months. It would have been weeks and weeks of work to meet and greet everyone.
You might ask why, what’s so bad about that? What happened? Well this is the sad story. Magnum as a poorly financed organization was in a derelict, old building in the 40′s of Manhattan. The elevator that took you up and down was this disgruntled, tiny space that no matter how hard I tried, I could not get into alone. It was like a small coffin on a track and I would hyperventilate and have fits of fear just being in the space alone. Having the door close slowly behind me would set off an anxiety attack that was beyond my control. I feared I would never get out and no one would come for me. It was my worst nightmare. The stairs were locked and unusable from the ground floor. There was no way I could get up. So in the end it was simply the elevator that destroyed me.
Secretly no matter how much I wanted to ascend to the lofty heights of Magnum, in the end, I withdrew and was left standing on the ground floor.
But don’t cry for me. In my fashion I succeeded. What I had loved most about Magnum was what I was most craving. It was the laughter and the camaraderie of photographers. The pictures were great, but I did not want to learn about photography. I wanted to hear stories of their escapades and be part of these romantic figures, and ravel in the romance of great photography meeting the great unknown.
In my head, I could imagine all their laughing upstairs, but I never participated. As usual I was in a solitary occupation, all alone. I guess the last laugh was on me. There may still be a few old pictures of mine in the Magnum library, but they are probably not even attributed to me. I guess it all came and went and for that I am deeply sorry.