AJ on a Ladder

I know your screen is small, and it’s hard to see the text in the upper right corner.  It reads, “We’re all in this alone.”

This picture reminds me of something my ex father-in-law, the playwright Robert Anderson, once told me: “You’re always weaving; you just never know when you’re weaving in gold.”  This picture was shot very spontaneously on a regular day of shooting.  We had just shot the following picture in a field using this coat and hat.


It was actually quite cool that day, so AJ, the model, was still wearing the coat as we were preparing lunch.  Just as he was sitting down, a workman from the stables where we were shooting walked by with this ladder.  Without realizing why, I decided to shoot a picture with the ladder against the wall. During this period, which extends to the present, I am so used to shooting the figure in a landscape, that it seemed incomplete to have a ladder without a figure. After convincing the workman to lend us the ladder, I placed the ladder against the wall and asked AJ to quickly climb it. He stopped where you see him.  It all seemed perfect.  I shot the picture. The whole process took less than three minutes.  The ladder was returned, and we went on to lunch.  It was not until after the shoot was over that I remembered I had even shot it.

This seems to me indicative of other experiences in my life.  When I least expect it, and I’m not looking for it, when I seem to let go completely, something wonderful happens.  The more I trust my instincts—which are a combination of intellect and emotion—the more I like the experience. The more I hold on, the more fearful I become, the more controlling I need to be, the less I seem to get.  Particularly in photography, you have to learn to let go and trust your instincts.

This seemingly offhand decision to shoot AJ on a ladder has over the years turned into an iconic picture of sorts. For many, this picture connotes looking into the future, or knowing what’s on the other side of the wall. It’s as if the figure in the picture has some sort of special knowledge that the rest of us are unable to access.  None of this was conscious to me when I shot this picture.  It may have been in my psyche, but it was not in my awareness.

Another quality of this picture is its timelessness. Many people have often mentioned they are unable to place my work in a specific time period.  This particular picture was shot fifteen years ago, but many would not be surprised to hear it was shot last year. That is a compliment in my mind.  As I’ve written in an earlier post, I believe classicism never goes out of favor. It may not be au courant or fashionable at the moment, but it actually never goes out of style.