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Till We Meet Again

“Hold on, I’m coming” See you starting April 6.

Onward and Upward

 

For two days I’ve been sitting at my desk staring at the walls in the hope that some profound thoughts will jump out of my hat. And to no avail. I seem to have lost my way for the moment. I’m very sorry. I am trying to find words of wisdom, something exalted that will transcend the melancholy. The world is full of enough despair, and ugliness so next week I will write something from a more gracious heart.

Rodney Smith

La carte sentimentale

 

In the Fall of 2013 I received some questions from a young photographer named Kohann Tensen in France that I felt where so insightful, and intelligent that I have often thought about him, and have often wondered how he became so wise.

After I finished his interview he wrote me, and asked me as a final wish to fill in one or two line responses to the following questions. They were to be spontaneous. He called this questionnaire “la carte sentimentale” or as he described it in English “a romantic passport”. He referenced Proust, and wished me good luck and thanks.

So in order to get me once again into the meandering stream of my weekly posts, I thought I might begin with my responses to his request. Here following is my la carte sentimentale.

 

the most beautiful song : My Romance

a music genre : Classical, but I like most music except rap.

a male singer : Pavarotti

a female singer : Ella Fitzgerald

an art movement (in painting) Hudson River School

a painter : Vermeer

a painting : Anything by Sargent

a writer : John Steinbeck

a book : Grapes of Wrath

a photograph : Spanish Wake

a photographer : W. Eugene Smith

a movie : Out of Africa

a film score : Days of Heaven

a director : Roman Polanski

a music composer : Samuel Barber

an actor : Cary Grant

an actress : Audrey Hepburn

a superhero : Superman

a superpower : contentment

an element (earth, fire, water and air but also sea, sky, wind, rain, thunder, fog, sand…) : fog

a letter : A

a number : 7

an animal : English Sheepdog

a tree : White Oak

a flower : Tulip

a sound : A Peacock’s Lament

a smell : Guerlains Jicky

a country : England

a city : Charleston, SC

a famous character you would love to meet : Jesus

an invention : automobile

a cure : cancer

a monument : Lincoln Memorial

a word : buoyancy

a verb : reclining

a habit : criticism

a relevant and insightful question : Who are we?

an essential thing : Light

an amazing thing : Trees

an enjoyable thing : Green grass

a success  : living

a quote : “Thanks to the human heart by which we live”

a mood : Melancholy

a deep regret : Not knowing my father better.

A Room with a View

 

I’m sorry but it seems like I can’t win. I think I’m going to only write about dead people, or myself. I don’t mind revealing my inner workings, but obviously others do, my daughter for one. So for the sake of family harmony I have removed this last post, but I will be continuing to write hopefully on a weekly basis. See you next week.

Ketching Up Again

 

In 1988 I was once again asked by the H.J. Heinz company to photograph more of their most senior management at various locations around the world, but this time I was going to start my sojourn in Ireland, photographing Tony O’Reilly at his home Castlemartin in Kilcullen, Ireland.

Terry, my friend, my assistant, and my confidant, and I traveled first class one spring day on an Aer Lingus flight to Dublin.

As we settled back into our seats and began to quench our thirst with Irish beer, I already began to feel the need to dance a small Irish Jig to celebrate my newborn success at photographing the world’s CEOs.

The New York Times had done a front page business story on the photographs I had shot for Heinz the previous year, and new work was slowly beginning to come my way.

I was transitioning to a corporate world of the late 1980s. America felt strong, even boastful and powerful and you felt this in the advertising, and in a lot of the communications. Design and Advertising took risks that have not reappeared since. Money was to be found in global expansion, and the world felt full of opportunity. Everyone seemed to be running in every direction. Money didn’t seem to be the obstacle to most adventures as it does today. It was the best of times and it was the worst.

Against this background I began to have new adventures. I went from being penniless to making a nice living to ultimately as years went on to being quite successful.

I began this manic high with a new found energy, enthusiasm, and even my humor seemed to return. I finally felt I was wanted, even desired, and most importantly appreciated.

As the plane touched down one spring morning in Dublin, Terry and I were met by Dr. O’Reilly’s chauffeur, Arthur Whelan, better known as “Wheels”.

In a shiny black Rolls Royce we raced through the Irish countryside approaching 100 miles per hour with Terry, and I holding onto our seats in a desperate attempt to stay upright as we made our way through hedgerow after hedgerow of beautiful Irish countryside.

Wheels loved speed. It was as if “Odd Job” had been recreated in an Irish gentleman. He looked the part in his perfectly tailored hat, and charcoal grey suit. Just what you would have expected.

We reached our destination at Castlemartin, and after making our way down the long circuitous driveway, I saw a large tent being installed for the evening’s festivities.

We were greeted by the staff, and Mrs. O’Reilly, and went into the living room, and met Tony O’Reilly once again. Without blinking he said welcome Roddy, and said to me “The pictures can wait.” Tonight I want you to join the party, and tomorrow I want you to go with me to some friends for lunch, and then on to Dublin for a rugby match.

At the party there were dignitaries, Irish royalty, cabinet members, Irish movie stars, and food. I remember meeting a beautiful young Irish woman who trained horses for Dr. O’Reilly. She invited me to come to Tipperary after the shoot, but time was limited, and afterwards I was off to Mexico.

So the weekend went on from one festivity to another an I felt honored to be included, but still I couldn’t seem to get a few hours alone with him. He was definitely the man everyone wanted to be around.

Finally, as I was watching one of the trainers bring a horse around the front of the house from the stables, I saw the picture.

I ran inside the house, brazenly interrupted his conversation, and begged for just a few minutes. I grabbed a chair from the house and placed it in his front yard, a mere few hundred acres of fields, and asked him to sit. In typical O’Reilly fashion he stared me down like I was the competition in a rugby match. I tell him this, and he smiles, and says “I like it.” So do I, and I quickly take a few frames, and over time he grants me the time I need, and I take other pictures. But in the end this is the one I like the best, a man sitting peacefully in his front suburban yard.

So life continued at this pace for a number of years, and I slowly learned the ways, and means of many of the world’s CEOs. Some I liked, some I loved, and some I detested, but for the most part I found them extremely interesting, complex, and somewhat misunderstood. Terry and I had fun, and great adventures, but in the late 90’s it all came to an end as I began to transition to doing other work.

Slowly, as time meandered it’s way through the late eighties and nineties,  I was allowed many opportunities to get closer to these men, and have a chance to understand them more. I think without realizing it though, I was also finding a way to get closer to the one man who I needed to understand the most, my father.

Ketching Up

 

“Just when you think the gods have totally abandoned you, they send you a gift.”

Anonymous

 

In late 1986, finding myself in desperate need of separation and income I was offered, unbeknownst to me, the job of a lifetime. My life almost on cue began to slowly change fundamentally. The H. J. Heinz Company was looking for a photographer who did not shoot commercially, to go around the world and photograph the presidents of all their divisions. I was also to photograph Anthony O’Reilly, the Irish CEO, Chairman, and Chairman of the Board of the Heinz Company. He was often referred to by his contemporaries as the Holy Trinity. This was appropriate, for at the time, I was looking for any spiritual guidance I could find.

O’Reilly commuted to Pittsburgh from his large estate, Castlemartin, outside of Dublin, and this is a story of my initial meeting of one of my favorite CEOs of the 1980’s. This is also a story of my withdrawal from my life as I knew it.

Tony O’Reilly at the time was already a legend. He had been a world class Irish rugby player turned businessman, and had quickly made it up the ranks at Heinz to CEO. He was one of Ireland’s great contemporary figures, and was adored all throughout the country.

As we were just beginning to map a three month itinerary to photograph each president at twelve to thirteen locations throughout the world, I received a call from Mr. O’Reilly’s office one afternoon informing me that everything had changed, and I was to quickly get to the Marine Air Terminal at LaGuardia Airport by 4:30PM that afternoon, and catch a ride with Mr. O’Reilly as he leaves New York on the private jet, and fly with him to Ireland. I would be let off there as he continued on to Egypt, and I would make my way to London to start photographing the other presidents.

I would have a few hours to introduce myself, and talk with him, so that at the end of my journeys I could return to Ireland and spend a few days with him at Castlemartin.

As it turns out I made it on time to the airport, but as typical for the Holy Trinity he arrived very late, in large black Mercedes limousine, and uttered his first words to me “get on the plane we’re leaving”, and with those profound words of wisdom I began my new career photographing CEOs.

I boarded a brand new Gulfstream G4, the premier corporate jet of the time, the door closes and within five minutes we are airborne and rapidly begin climbing to almost 50,000 feet.

As we all start to relax (Mr. O’Reilly, his daughter Justine, his friend the owner of Guinness Brewery, and myself), and dinner is being prepared by the steward, I begin to talk to Mr. O’Reilly. He unclasps his tie, and begins to tell me about his day. He is in a very jovial mood. He thinks he has discovered a way to have a vending machine that can keep french fries fresh, and hot for long periods of time without becoming rancid. A Frenchman has discovered a process to prevent the oil from breaking down. He is going to put one of his french fry vending machines in every college campus in America. Heinz owned Ore-Ida potatoes so he would make a profit on the potatoes, the ketchup, everything. He was going to make a billion dollars on this deal, and he felt a lot richer that afternoon. Forget the beer, let’s get to the good stuff.

As the light begins to get very low in the sky, as we jet at almost mach 1 toward the east, I see there is enough light to take a quick photograph of the man of the hour, at work on the company’s jet. I ask him if it’s ok, and he says fine, and I take a few frames of a legendary master of the universe as he jets his way home after a days work.

We all agree to meet at Castlemartin in a few months where he will give me as much time as I need.

Off I go in Dublin along with Mr. Guinness, and Justine, and off he goes to Cairo to meet with Mubarak about some food deal in Egypt.

When I returned back to New York, and Bennett Robinson, the Art Director saw the few frames I shot on the plane, he said “This is it. No need to go any further.”

For some reason he felt this to be the quintessential portrait of a CEO of the 1980’s. I, on the other hand, thought this a simple picture of a man by a corporate jet window. But Bennett would hear none of this. He was sure this picture told it all. A powerful man at work, diligent, dedicated, energized. With Bennett’s words to my ears I started a new career that helped me extricate myself from my marriage, and my previous life. I began a whole new chapter of my story.

So I never got to Caslemartin that year, but I did the next as I was invited back to do more work the second year. There are stories to tell of the rich and famous, but this will have to wait until next week.

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