Archive for the ‘Memories’ Category
We’ve all been lifted up lately by the shows of daring, stamina, sportsmanship, and excellence in London. In the midst of all of them, a tiny Olympian with a huge smile and an embracing manner defined the term “grace under pressure” and spun, whirled and smiled her way to the all around gymnastics title. Little Gabby Douglas, aka “the flying squirrel” lifted the whole room (the whole room in this instance being the world) with her performance and heart warming demeanor.
That smile harked me back to my very first assignment for LIFE magazine, in 1984, when they sent me out after the LA Olympiad to capture another pixie who had leaped, double spun and vaulted into our hearts…Mary Lou Retton. As bubbly in person, off stage, as she was in the public arena, we spent just a few hours together after the Games were over. My mission, obviously, was to capture the smile and the personality….and the medals.
Mary Lou won the overall gold and several others of different shades to bring her medal haul to five. At that point, as I recall, she had yet to be photographed with all of them. So, in the brief period we had together, we conjured a hat in honor of her training home in Texas and figured out a way to rig the medals on it. (This was quick, direct magazine photography at that point. No stylists, makeup, smoke machines or art directors out there with us.)
Made the frame, and the one below, on Kodachrome, just flying blind with the light and moving fast. Needed a twofer, and the effervescent Mary Lou had a blast with the stuffed bear. It was the picture above, though, that got the most notice.
One of the reasons the pic with the hat and medals was important was the fact that she had not been shot with all five of them prior to this. We made some frames, and Mary Lou was as easygoing and gracious as could be. But then, the reporter I was with fielded a phone call from her agent, who demanded that I surrender the film and leave it behind. Evidently there was a big deal going down with a sponsor, behind the scenes, and the exclusivity of a pic of Mary Lou with all her medals was a talking point. Needless to say, the few rolls I shot came with me, back to LIFE. (Mary Lou couldn’t have cared a whit, by the way, about all the backstage shenanigans. She was as fun to photograph as the pictures indicate.) But it does get interesting when the agents get involved. (And by the way, I’m totally with the Olympians in terms of sponsorships, support, you name it. They labor, intensely, largely in obscurity, for a sliver of a chance at success that comes along once every four years. If they do well, I say go for it!)
The pictures never ran in LIFE. When I got back to NY, I found that the assignment had taken a different direction, and it was pulled from me, and my pictures were killed. Another shooter was assigned, who went on to photograph Carl Lewis as Hamlet and other more elaborate constructions. I thought, well, that was a brief, but interesting career at LIFE that I just had. One job and done.
But….and here’s the vagaries of the path you walk as a shooter, the very next month. I got a phoner from the mag and assigned to a far bigger job, on the art scene on the lower East Side of NYC. Similar in a way, as I was once again photographing something gold.
Poppo, from Poppo and the Go Go Boys. Painted gold, on a roof at sunrise. As I always say, stuff like this happens down on the Lower East Side all the time:-)
Memorial services were held recently for Micron Chairman Steve Appleton, killed in airplane accident earlier in the year. A stunt pilot, scuba diver, surfer, off road racing enthusiast, and a black belt in Taekwondo, he pushed the limits on a pretty continuous basis. “The older you get, the more risk you should take,” he evidently told a reporter once during an interview.
I met him, briefly, in Mexico. I was hired by Micron (who makes Lexar digital media cards, which have been a staple in my bag since I picked up a digital camera) to shoot (briefly) the Baja 1000 back in 2006. I have to suspect that it was Steve’s enthusiasms and urgings that got Micron involved in this crazed ritual of off road driving prowess held every year in very rough country. It was a massive undertaking involving dozens of crew, multiple cars, mechanics, tractor trailers, helicopters, and of course, teams of drivers. I had exactly one day to shoot the race, which meant I riccocheted around the dusty back roads of northern Mexico, shooting what and when I could. I think I intersected with the race three times, and shot the Micron cars as they zipped past me in seconds and vanished in the flying dirt. For my part in the actual race coverage, I saw the Micron vehicles for less than a minute. Steve, of course, piloting one of the cars, won his division.
Pretty amazing accomplishment given how nutty the race actually is. As you can see below, the cars get air quite frequently, and there are no guard rails or crowd controls. Lots of spectators are drunk by, say, 9am. I made the below while dodging beer bottles filled with pebbles that were being thrown at the photog guy who was standing in front of everyone.
I abandoned my fruitless quest for the Micron cars at a pit stop lit with torches in the interior of Mexico, around midnight.
Also managed to squeeze a camera inside one of the Micron cars, and it made the 1000 mile trip.
Given the dearth of race coverage I could provide, the impromptu portrait session Steve graciously agreed to loomed large in my coverage. We went driving together, and when he was rocking that car over hills and rocks and through the blinding sands of Mexico, I saw his face come alive. Not the typical CEO portrait session. Not the typical CEO. Godspeed.
As we approach, somewhat unbelievably, the 10th Anniversary of 911, I’ll be posting some of the work my studio has done over the years relating to that fateful day. Just postcards and notes, really, from that time of dust and destruction, to now, a time of healing and resurgence. All these updated photos, complementing the Giant Polaroids of Sept/Oct 2001, have been a project that has taken most of our time this year. They will be on display at the Time Warner Center in NYC, starting August 24th, and running through September 12th.
From the book, Faces of Ground Zero: 2001
Father Brian Jordan, Church of St. Francis of Assisi, midtown Manhattan
In the days and weeks after the attacks, Father Jordan, who succeeded his fallen friend, Father Mychal Judge, as FDNY Chaplain, ministered to workers at Ground Zero. In a special ceremony, he rode a crane bucket up to where welders had mounted the cross-shaped girder from Tower 1, then blessed the impromptu monument. “We have seen evil at its worst, but goodness at its best. I worked to provide hope and healing–to give comfort to the living and bless the dead.”
Ten year later, Father Jordan, still a champion of the labor unions, immigrant workers, and the working people of New York City, remains busy. Almost too busy for this photo. I trailed him onto the subway, where, predictably, he was still in his trademark sneakers, moving fast, helping people.
Claire at the shore….awaiting a storm.
And memories of the Jersey Shore. Quite a number of years ago, a photo magazine sent me a query about my favorite place to go in the world. It was, I believe, further refined a search than that. It was, as I recall (and my memory may be a tad awry here) about my favorite place, at my favorite time of year. Something like that. They evidently sent it to numerous photogs, a survey, if you will, seeking their thoughtful, well traveled wisdom.
I believe they sent it to some pretty high falutin’ shooters, and I can only imagine the responses they got from this group of urbane, worldly folk. Well known to be highly impressed with themselves and their exploits, they were the type to not be disinclined to inform others of the excellence of their own personal adventure. Unspoken of course, between the lines of their responses, would be the overriding sense that their particular, nuanced appreciation for the finer things was finer, well, than yours’.
“Cannes in the fall is marvelous. The streets are filled with energy and delight, and there’s this little coffee shop on Rue D’Ego, where the espresso is made from beans grown in soil matured with the dung of sacred cows. Not to be missed.” And so forth.
Sigh. I’ve never been much for surveys, especially ones where virtually everyone responding is a teller of tales. I dutifully sent mine back in and said simply, the Jersey Shore. When my kids were small, we would trek there, our own version of Operation Desert Storm. Minivan, beach umbrellas, Little Mermaid towels in tow, we would take the beach in no less a determined fashion than if we had arrived via an amphibious assault craft and rolled onto the sand in a fully armored Humvee.
The wind and the whitecaps were always good companions, and the only sounds louder and more piercing than the screech of the gulls would be the squeals of kids as a chilled wave from the North Atlantic would catch up to their mad scramble back up the beach. My globe savvy buds at National Geographic would always cluck their tongues and mock my pedestrian choice of vacation spot. Bill, my editor, would query me as to my expertise in the breaststroke, as he fancied it the only stroke applicable in those waters, which he imagined to be virtually teeming with hospital waste and discarded syringes. You would presumably push back the floating refuse whilst keeping your head staunchly out of the water.
I took all their ribbing in good grace, as I (along with thousands of others) was onto the fact that the Jersey shore is a rightfully celebrated place, with rough, relatively clean waters on the ocean side, and smooth waters on the frequent bay sides of various islands and peninsulas projecting into the Atlantic. Those calm inland waters easily accommodated a rowboat filled with children bent on crabbing. A long string, a large safety pin, and a raw piece of chicken were all you needed to attract a hungry crab, who would resolutely cling to his chicken nugget as he was hoisted into the boat. The only truly rough seas ever encountered were self generated as inevitably a crab would get loose in the rowboat, and nearly cause a capsize by single-handedly spinning four or five kids into a maritime version of the Penn Relays. Tough to actually run in a rowboat, but they managed. Worse would be the days when no crab was interested, and the children would sit there grumpily, string in hand, patience melting away like a snow cone in the hot sun. The kids would always have one of their grandfathers out there, a veteran fisherman and shore dweller, and he would wink and tell them, quite sincerely, that “This is the exciting part about fishing.”
I always found the exciting part to be the end of the day. You would pick up a floppy hatted, sun block slathered baby out of the sand, much as you pluck a sugar cookie out of the tin on the kitchen counter. Sand everywhere, and I do mean everywhere. I have thought of marketing the idea of zwieback toast actually dipped in beach sand as better than a binky for teething babies. The kids would get cleaned up, the sun would dive into the bay, and the wind would do it’s nightly acceleration, blowing in storm clouds from the sea. Exhausted children, basically asleep in their dinner plates. Nighttime would call for a hoodie and a glass of red wine, and some thinking. (Why does staring out to sea always feel like the most pensive thing you can do?)
Haven’t been to the Jersey Shore in years. The waves and the wind are echoes now. Kids are grown. Making different memories now, just as wonderful. But, when summer arrives, I do remember the shore…..more tk…