Wednesday, November 19, 2014

November 19, 2014

November 19, 2014

I served as an assistant to the photographer Louise Dahl-Wolfe, and I don’t think I ever held a conversation with her beyond her telling me to get a certain hat from the wardrobe department or to bring her coffee or water.  When she is shooting in a studio, there is a certain amount of calm that she demands on the set.  They say when you work with someone, that is when you know them best.  But in this case, I think that is not true.   Louise was always a mystery to me, and when I see the finished project by her, she still remains a figure that comes and goes in my life.   When I’m not doing anything on the set, she expects me to be quiet.  I pretty much stand behind her, handling the extra film and delivering the drinks. I just have to read her body language, because verbally she doesn’t talk to me.   She is usually looking in the lens of her camera, and Louise would dart out her hand towards my direction, meaning I should hand over the film to her.   My other responsibility is to deliver the models for the shoot.  I would have to pick them up, and then drive them to the studio, which was located on West 34th Street. 

I have always been fascinated with fashion photography, not because of the clothes or even the models, but more in the juxtaposition of these figures in the landscape.  It doesn’t have to be a real world, but one that ‘hints’ that there maybe another dimension out there - somewhere.   Even if the shoot is a real and iconic location, it is still transformed into something else.   It’s magic, and working with Louise I still don’t know how she does it.  I think because I see an image for what it is, but she sees it as an entrance way to a better world or where one can pinpoint their desires.  On one level, it exists to sell the merchandise, but I truly do believe that it is more than that. 

The one person I remember picking up for a shoot was the actor Clifton Webb.  I had to go to his hotel, the Algonquin, and I waited for him at the bar.   He came upon me, and he was in a bad mood.  I felt I knew him, because I’m a fan of his work.  I imagined him being prissy, and I wasn’t disappointed in the ‘real’ Clifton.  He got in the back seat of the car, and didn’t say a word.  When I brought him up to the third floor of the studio, he immediately sat down and waited for Louise to provide him with some direction.   The thing is Louise told me what she wanted Clifton to do, and then I would tell him.   I always hated to be the middle person when two people were working together.   Sometimes she would have me instruct the models, after telling me in great detail what needs to be done.   Communication is a tricky thing, because the way one reads information from the other, can be totally subjective.   Louise would often get mad at me, because she felt I didn’t relay the correct comments to the model or at this specific case, to Clifton. 

The thing is with Louise and her work, I feel what she conveys in her photographs is nothing specific, but more of a mood.  Her use of color is revolutionary and this is something only Louise can do - so I’m hopeless in that situation where I try to convey her ideas and skills into something concrete.  As you can gather, I didn’t last long in this occupation.   I never do.  Everything I touch, or do, has the desperation of failure attached to it.  When I see Louise’s photographs, it reminds me of a world that I very much wanted to be part of - but alas, I can’t. My other big attraction at that time was watching the Dick Cavett Show.  He always had great guests on, and to me it was always the best of Manhattan.  Of course filtered through Hollywood, but still, it was an indication of sophistication - and again, just my mere moments of touching such a world - but never grasping it to hold forever.   Oh damn…
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