Not Giving and You Shall Receive


In the early nineties when there were large numbers of Masters of the Universe filling Wall Street, and power and money oozed through every poor of the cavernous streets, I found myself one morning in the midst of all this money and power waiting to meet one of the large scions of Wall Street to take his portrait.

As usual, his name will be withheld to protect the guilty, but at the time he along with very few others controlled billions if not trillions of dollars that coursed through every exchange throughout the world.

Wall Street was booming. He was booming and it was imperative to quickly get back to making more billions. He had no time for photography, or did he.

At this point, after photographing many of the worlds CEOs and Power Brokers, I had become very adept in getting what I wanted, which was time away from the office. If I could get these men (and at the time it was almost all men) away from their work and their office, they behaved graciously and seemed to enjoy the experience. We would get along very well and some even became my friends.

My secret was my little box. Enclosed were prints of portraits of their contemporaries that I had taken and quite often after a great deal of work and enormous effort I would either get to meet the CEO in his office or on occasion over lunch or dinner and show them the work I had done of their contemporaries. It was implied that they too could look like these other men if only they would give me enough time and the right place. If they accepted this promise like a flash of revelation hostility towards me would mostly dissipate, and the rest of the discussion would be the appropriate location and how much time I needed. The conclusion of lunch or dinner would go something like this. See you in London, or in the Bahamas, or in Aspen, or in Paris etc. If they were going some place I thought interesting I would tag along and they would usually find a day for me.

But here I was waiting in the most mundane boardroom imaginable waiting for our subject. The entourage that surrounded him never let me approach him before the shoot, and it had been determined that I would only be allowed fifteen minutes with the man of the hour.

I had learned over the years that all this play for power and control was simply fear. These men were very public figures and equally as vain as most celebrities. They wanted to look good but only if they could control the situation. They were afraid of something they did not trust or control. If in the end you could earn their trust they were willing to be truly vulnerable and powerful subjects.

So on this early morning in the early nineties, our subject walks into the room and says to all around, “I’m busy, so let’s get this over-with as fast as possible”.

Now, it’s time to provide some background music. Every job is filled with anxiety, some more than others. In this case, the marketing director of the firm was terrified that the CEO would not like the photographer as in years past, and he or she would find herself severely reprimanded for hiring the firm that hired me. The firm that hired me was nervous that if I failed in any way they then they failed too and therefore their job was in jeopardy. So as everyone stands quietly and watches you could almost feel the pores of sweat forming on people’s foreheads until, this ordeal would be concluded, and they could graciously slip away and sigh with relief.

So when our impatient CEO walks in the room and utters his comment the silence was roaring. Everyone stood motionless in fear.

I ask him quickly to stand in one place, to look directly at me, and I take one frame and put my camera down, and announce to him that he is finished and can now go.

He stares at me with shock and amusement and even a little annoyance and asks again if I am serious that this session was truly done.

I tell him “I believe he has a competent picture equal to the effort he has put into the experience, and I realize he is in a great rush (there are millions of dollars at stake) and I am a willing to accommodate his need for speed. If in the future he had more time and was willing, together we could produce something of far more substance, but for now one frame was enough”.

With this comment he laughs, thanks me, and walks out of the room.

Everyone left standing in the room doesn’t know whether to cry or laugh but to avoid this uncomfortable situation everyone quietly dismisses themselves and leaves as quickly as possible. Nobody knows what to say. Has this been a good experience or terrible. They are all praying this one frame was worth its weight in gold.

I too pack up quickly and am just about at the elevator door when our subjects’ secretary comes running over to me and tells me the CEO would love to see me in his office.

I join him in his beautiful mahogany filled office, and he begins to show me pictures of all his houses around the United States.

At first I’m not sure I understand but soon it becomes clear he is asking me to reshoot his picture at one of these locations where he would have more time.

It is never my intent to be arrogant, although I often am, nor to be tough or rude or inconsiderate, but what I will do is fight relentlessly for the picture. The picture is bigger and far stronger than me. It is almost sacred and it is worth fighting for. A portrait requires full participation by all involved to even begin to have the chance to produce something truly special. If one opens up to me I will give my heart and soul to them.

What our subject only offered at first was a handshake but in the end great portraiture requires an intimate embrace.

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Wow. Thank you for sharing that. I so wish we could see the picture you produced, but I understand.

  2. Fabulous! Your words are as intoxicating as your images.

  3. Wow Rodney, this is an incredible story. I can’t even begin to describe the wealth of knowledge I’ve encountered through your recollections.

  4. Thank you. I’ll be thinking on this for a while now 🙂
    as I am wanting to learn how to give 100%+ with confidence. You are inspirational, that sounds redundant, but I can’t think of a better word;
    liberalizing and yet refined.

  5. I remember you told us that story in a work shop in Santa Fe in either 91 or 96. I was there for both. I have remembered it often. I am no longer a full time photographer. I am a Realtor. Your story has helped me in both of my seemingly unrelated jobs to deal with people who don’t know what they are doing but think they have to be in control. Those people are what connect photography and Real Estate – and lots of other things.
    I have a friend who is a professional ballroom dancer and looks fantastic in tails and a top hat – and lots of other hats. I remembered your hat book and let him borrow it. He LOVES it, of course. I thought I’d look you up to see what you are up to these days. It is so good to find you have a blog and get to read that story again! I can’t wait to read more!

  6. Great mix of words and visuals. Very interesting stuff.

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