True Photographer Stories #1
Crosby Street, New York
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So today was blisteringly hot. As soon as I stepped off the train and walked four city blocks, streams of sweat were running down my face. Ducking into Starbucks for a tall glass of iced tea was of order. I ended up sitting down at a table in the back, between a group of young, attractive women in advertising, and an old, unkempt man working on a Macbook that had undoubtedly been in more real-life conditions than my camera. When I say old, I mean old, say, mid 60s-70ish. All black clothes, greasy hair. I won’t mention any other descriptors because I don’t want to give him away. But speaking of cameras, he had one, an older Pentax digital with a old, manual-focus lens. “What are you shooting with?” He casually asked as I gulped down mouthfuls of my tea. I told him. He smirked. “You don’t know anything,” he said, half-smiling.
OK, he was old.
But he looked familiar. He just stared at me.
“Don’t you know who I am?”
I was pretty sure I did. And then he told me. And then I thought, Crap, this guy is kind of a big deal.
“Everybody knows me…” he started out, before telling me about the celebrity he shot the night before in a mock-candid set-up (as in, PR people tell celebrities to be at a place, photographers to be at the same place, and voila, candids). He went on to tell me how his setup is better than paparazzi because he gets all of his exclusives this way. Never mind that paparazzi get their photos the same way. Perhaps, because I had an 85mm sitting on the table, he thought I was pappo.
Whatever, I thought, this guy’s been around forever, it’ll be cool to pick his brain a little and have something to share on the blog.
“I’ve been at this longer than Bill Cunningham,” he continued, before going down the line and gleefully assassinating every notable photographer standing in between what he shoots and what I shoot. Except Scott Schuman; he was pointedly neutral about The Sartorialist. But he went on to tell me how all of his assistants quit working for him because they couldn’t keep up, how much more money he makes than everyone else because of his licensing deals, and how boring it was shooting celebrities, but that shooting press was where the money was at. Which I suppose are all very good points, if it weren’t coming from someone voluntarily reminded me over the course of 45 minutes that he was the best, no less than twenty-five times. The F word was his favourite, but he cleaned up just long enough to look across the table the most attractive of the advertising girls wand go, “Hey Girl—look at me; do you know who I am?”
“Yes, I know who you are,” she said bluntly. But everyone sitting at the table knew who he was; he had this uncanny way of inserting his full name into his sentences as a way of referring to himself and yet, managed to do so without ever being in the 3rd person. (And I’m not gonna lie, that takes talent.) Anyway, after about twenty minutes I was fast looking for a way to escape, but then he went to the restroom and told me to watch his stuff. Yes, you just read that right.
When he returned, he started feeling rather generous, so he had me look at the photos he was working on. They were about were what I expected; decent portraits that didn’t inspire me at all. He kept emphasising his Photoshop skills, and in a way, it occurred to me that this was a man who probably was very high quality in the film format, but has found himself tirelessly working away in digital as a way to remain relevant. But his best Photoshop work was pedestrian, at best. He may have all of the connects, and he very well may make all of the money, but for someone who had no problem touting the artistic merits of his work, he was way out of his league.
This is perhaps why I didn’t immediately recognise him; he had little to offer me, artistically speaking, and I’ve never studied his work despite knowing his name. (In fairness, most press photographers aren’t in it for the “art”, if you know what mean; but in his case, this is how he rendered his fashion work too, which was… quite perplexing.) While this was going on, there was a lot of, “What do you think?” followed by “This is great, isn’t it?” followed by “I’m the best; I know I’m the best.” As he flipped through a few of his choice cuts for the day, he would pepper his commentary with statements like, “See how I got that shadow to fall onto her face? Beautiful. You probably don’t know anything about LED lighting—you probably still use a flash like all of the other amateurs.”
OK, so he got me there.
And then he said, “You can’t shoot like this. You’ll need to shoot for 40 more years before you can shoot like this.”
Uh, whatever you say.
So there was 45 solid minutes of that, and the only three questions he ever asked me was 1) what equipment I had, 2) what did I shoot, and 3) did I think X and Y photos were great…???
At some point he got bored with himself and dismissed me, which in of itself was pretty great if you had been there to see it. He had the decency to walk me to the front door, but as soon as I started to say, “It was a pleasure to meet you,” he just turned around and walked away.
Of course he heard me. He’s just one of those.
I stepped outside, back into that damned sun and ran into Jaredt Robinson, someone I’d photographed before. “It’s crazy hot out here,” I said. Jaredt laughed. “I woke up this morning and tried to figure out the least amount of clothes I could get away with at work,” he said, “and this was the sluttiest thing I could find.”