6:41 pm 6/8/16
This evening was supposed to be a date with my wife.
I've been in complete standstill traffic for over an hour inside a pitch black tunnel in Manhattan. Somewhere between 33rd street and 40th street on Park Ave. This tunnel opened in 1834, 143 years before I was born, 160 years before I got my driver's license, and 182 years before this afternoon.
I started learning photography when I was 16. Photography was invented in 1822. 12 years before this tunnel was unveiled. Without any perceptible forward movement, I'm left to ponder my place in the world.
Duane Michaels shot this iconic art photo in this same tunnel in 1968.
I'm driving a 2016 Honda CR-V, that I leased, through it.
I remember meeting, 18 years ago, makeup artist Jesus Abreu. He was very happy to tell me all about his close friendship with Duane Michaels over many decades.
I think of Jamie Hankin, the photographer that got me obsessing over context and legacy.
It's pitch black, save for the lights in the Cadillac In front of me, and the headlamps of the Tesla that's crawling up the shoulder from behind, because why shouldn't he get there sooner.
I'm back to the time I assisted Arthur Elgort, on a long slow drive from the Bronx to his Soho loft. We talked about his childhood, his parents' mixed marriage- Jewish and Italian, and early career. I assisted more than thirty photographers on my way to shooting and making a living. That car ride is one of the more memorable moments. I look him up on wikipedia, which says that Arthur is "an iconic photographer". I remember an old ambitious photography project idea about iconography that I never did.
I met Jamie Hankin, photographer, ten years ago at the Saks 5th Avenue photo studio.
I was shooting there as his hire. We had, and still have an ongoing conversation about photography, ourselves, the contextual realities. Yesterday was film, today is digital, tomorrow will be robotic models and "operators" who snap the picture.
I tell Jamie that the daguerreotypists probably had it easy when their mode of photography became obsolete. Mainly because developing a daguerreotype requires fumigating the latent image with mercury vapor. So, by the time that their time was up, they were mad as hatters...literally.
I posted today to Facebook lamenting the adoption of robotics instead of live models and experienced photographers. Whoopee.
When I was 20 I had this idea to remake, in photographs, a book that was printed in Italy in the early 1500s. (Around the same time that Jewish men were forced to wear yellow hats, Jewish women had to wear a yellow kerchief, and they were forced to live in a "Ghetto" that was locked at night, from the outside.)
Cesare Ripa's Iconologia; an artists guidebook for iconography for visual representation. I even had a college friend, with access to a later edition containing the original etchings, photocopy the whole book and mail it to me (thank you Miriam Lapson (née Parker). You can view on request an original edition at the Frick.
The idea for the photo project was good, but the scope and production necessary was totally above my abilities. Ten years later, I related to Jamie Hankin, photographer, the project idea, and he happily showed me, on the spot, an iconography photo project that he had poured years into. Kindred spirits. This was the same conversation that brought up our desires for legacy...professionally speaking.
Children are the true legacy, our only connection to infinity, but that's a discussion for another time.
I think that my pursuit of iconography has become manifest in portraiture. I think.
I started out today's present portrait adventure while shooting at Saks for Jamie Hankin. The call, to shoot the Prime Minister of Uganda at the Waldorf Astoria, came in at 3pm. I hired an assistant to go to my place, grab the gear that my wife prepped for me, and drive to the Waldorf. The shoot was scheduled to start at 7pm. I had to drive from 23rd and 5th, to 49th and Park. It took one and a half hours, Obama was at the UN, all streets shut down. The Prime Minister never showed, even though he strung us along until 11:30pm. The man who was arranging the meeting with the PM was Motti Fried, a chassid of Belz.
My wife's grandmother survived the holocaust escaping Poland at the advice of the Rebbe of Belz, Aharon Rokeach Z"L. (Around the time that the Jews were forced to wear yellow six pointed stars, and live in ghettos.)
I owe the previous Belzer Rebbe for my wife's existence, and my children's for that matter.
Motti Fried was very nice to meet and talk to for four hours. He runs an organization that pays medical bills for people who can't pay and need extensive treatments. That's his portrait up on top of this post. I took it in the hallway of the 16th fl. of the Waldorf while we waited for the Prime Minister of Uganda to show up.