How to Spend and an Inordinate Amount of Time with Alex Clare

I really didn't expect to take so much of his time, but, Alex was a gracious subject. And who says Mondays aren't awesome?!

 Photographed in JZD Mansion on Prospect Park West, Brooklyn, NY March 6, 201711:15pm

Photographed in JZD Mansion on Prospect Park West, Brooklyn, NY March 6, 201711:15pm

I'll say this first, I usually don't research the background/life story/achievements/fame/notoriety of the portrait subjects that I approach. I try to stay away from all of that noise because I'd rather meet and interact with a subject in a present, unfettered way. I like to think that getting to know someone for the first time is a timeless event, no matter who. There's this great chance to have a unique experience disconnected from history and future. The classic form for an interviewer is to know as much as possible about the subject, and then prod and push to get some juice out of them. In my way, I get to create a portrait that is of the moment.

Now that I've said that, I'll give you some Alex Clare background, in brief:  Born 1985, London. Colorful upbringing. Became musician. Dated, for a time, a famous singer in her own right. Struggled for his art. Had a huge hit single in 2012,"Too Close." Alex continues to write, perform, and tour. Alex is a Frum (orthodox) Jew, and he blew off a record deal and many concert organizers (I'm sure this never felt easy) because he does not work on the Shabbos. He Lives with his wife and children in Jerusalem.

Alex agreed to a portrait sitting months prior. He was in Israel. So, we conditioned the meeting on the chance that he will be in or near New York City.

Motzei Shabbos, March 4th, 8pm. I was looking at facebook and saw that Alex appeared in a video, posted moments prior, performing the Havdalah ceremony ending his shabbos in the Poconos at a "Project Inspire" event. I immediately dispatched a message to him asking if he will be stopping in Brooklyn before heading back to Jerusalem. Alex messaged back saying that we could possibly shoot the portrait Sunday night, or Monday. Sunday didn't work for me so we settled on Monday night. Monday day, I had a shoot for a commercial client, and kept loose tabs with Alex throughout the day. I got the feeling that the shoot might not happen. My wife steadied me and said,"Prepare, it's going to happen." 9:15, I got a call from Alex, asking if I could pick him up in Crown Heights. I told him I'd be there in a few, packed the car, confirmed with my friend that we will shoot in his house in Park Slope, and ordered up my assistant Daniel to meet us at the house of the shoot. I didn't tell Daniel who we were shooting.

I picked up Alex, who was visiting family. He greeted me with a huge smile. Popped his bag and guitar (classic) into the back of the car and we drove off to the location. We spoke a bit about our histories, really just a little, and arrived in Park Slope. Daniel, a bit dumbstruck, shook Alex's hand, and we all shlepped the gear in to the house, to the second floor. I told Alex it will take twenty or so minutes to set up. Alex took out his Talmud, and sat in the adjacent kitchen and studied, with singsong, until I had built the set and invited him over.

The next hour went by without notice. And for almost that entire time, Alex retold stories of tzadikim (righteous) men from centuries past, all of them with intricate detail and finesse. It became clear that the inspiration that Alex draws into his Judaism is tightly intertwined with these stories. Stories that are rife with Kabbalah, and intrigue. Looking back, I think that if I had kept shooting, the storytelling would have gone on indefinitely, but as it was, I was already feeling guilty for the indulgence of his time. For the portrait's sake, these stories infused the images with the essence of Alex.

It was 11:30pm when I closed the camera and started to pack up. Alex went back to his Gemara. Daniel and I got everything out to the car. Daniel went home, and Alex and I started to drive.

"Where to, Alex?"

"Cedarhurst, the Five Towns. I'm hungry, know where we could get a bite?"

"Sure, let's take Coney Island Ave, and stop at Schnitzi's, I'm pretty sure they're still open."

We drove for a few minutes, and there we were, at midnight, eating the greasiest chicken and fries known to the Jewish world. Good times had by all. We had a great conversation about praying, learning, Hassidus, and our respective travels into the spiritual life of orthodox Judaism. We bentched, drove to Cedarhurst, and continued our convo.

We got to the house where he would spend the night, and parted ways as friends.