Here’s the story. It was a beautiful day out–bright sun, not too hot. I was going to the TV studio to take pictures of Ron B on the set of his show. Singer/songwriter Aaron Paul was going to appear, and showed up in a worn black leather vest with a bunch of colorful braids around his wrist. There was something just right about the look. The leather was faded just enough to be cool, the bands added a touch of color, and Aaron, being Aaron, had enough natural style to carry the whole thing off. Anybody else would have looked like they were trying too hard and seemed silly.
There have been some unusual guests on Ron’s show. One time a tall performer came in off the street wearing a white cape with antelope skulls attached to his shoulders. He was very nice and reminded us all of a slightly pale Elvis, but you don’t often see that look on the same block with John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Law enforcement folks don’t dress like that. Flashy to them is a big important-looking hat.
Back to Aaron and the vest. I thought it was a great look for him. We had done a shoot in July out in East Williamsburg and he had showed up looking like the epitome of an urban hipster. He had a cocky hat, horn-rimmed sunglasses, crisp shirt and vest. We started out on the train tracks that run across Morgan Avenue, then ventured out over the rickety (okay, in my mind it was rickety) bridge over the polluted waters of Newtown Creek. The bridge was see-through. It was made of crisscrossed metal grating, with a railing that seemed awfully open to me. Aaron wanted to go into the train yard and take a picture on the engine car, but they waved us off.
We survived. We didn’t get run over and we didn’t fall in. It was a fun shoot, and we got some great shots, but the pictures seemed a little clean. I thought Aaron had darker stuff in him, so while on break at the studio, we stepped out onto 59th Street and went up the block to a white wall that looked like a great open background.
We took some pictures there, then went up the block and grabbed some shots in front of an iron fence, then in front of a chain fence. The whole thing took about 15 minutes, but it had a good feel. Sometimes that happens. You put in long hours on a project, you sweat it, then you do something else twice as good in half the time. Maybe the first go was practice, sort of a dry run.
Later, as I was leaving the studio, I said, “don’t pick anything for the cover till I send you these.” I sent contacts the next day, and a shot was chosen. I wasn’t quite sure why they chose the one they did, but the designer had a vision for it and did a good job. Here is the image they used:
As Emerson said, chance favors the prepared mind…and the very well-dressed.
All photographs ©Catherine Kirkpatrick, Album cover art @Reginald Todd
I came home today tired and a little shaky from the heat. Okay, I swam too much and ate funny, but hey, it’s summer. Sat down to eat more bad food, catch up on email, and what did I see? A Google alert that led me to a New Yorker article on the wonderful Meryl Meisler book A Tale of Two Cities: Disco Era Bushwick…where I had been quoted. Am happy and thrilled. (Here’s the New Yorker link again, just in case you didn’t get it the first time).
Seriously, writing is really hard. First you have a vague idea which is fun because it’s new and exciting. Maybe you jot some notes, maybe you let it swirl around a bit more. At this point, it doesn’t hurt. Then you start fleshing out the story, plot, outline, whatever, and suddenly it gets hard and it gets very stubborn. There’s something in there and it wants to come out a certain way, like a baby with a very decided personality. And you want it to come out a certain way–good! There’s this terrible struggle to honor the jagged idea and smooth it out some. It has to be right, ride the edge between being imaginative and free, and cohesive and smooth enough for others to get. Even for short pieces, there’s always a massive struggle and pain in the ass because you sit on the chair so long. You put in so much time, so much lonely effort. Sometimes things don’t even see the light of day. There are huge projects you work on in secret, and short projects like blogs that seem to pass away in the blink of an eye. You get discouraged and wonder why you began in the first place.
Then you see something on a page or screen and it works. The words flow, they mesh with the pictures, they communicate and tell a story. And all the angst and fear are forgotten and for a moment you are proud. Then you get down off your high horse and go on because that’s what you do. What we all do. Every day, every moment, every life.
And now I must go see if there’s anything left in the refrigerator….
A few years back, a transgender friend invited me to her performance at NYC’s GLBT Expo. Wandering around, I was struck by the number of blue chip companies, including the New York Times and Morgan Stanley, that had taken booths and were pitching services. It was clear times had changed, that the once overlooked LGBT community was regarded as a significant market by major corporations.
A subset of that market is the estimated $1.5 billion dollars spent on gay weddings and related services, including photography. While you might think photography is just pointing a lens, it is a whole lot more, especially when you are charged with capturing someone’s biggest day and most personal feelings.
Kathryn Hamm and Thea Dobbs knew the gay wedding market was underserved. For Hamm, the “aha” moment came when she realized that images submitted to GayWeddings.com (of which she is president) were good, but rarely great; that some indefinable quality was lacking. Thea Dobbs, a photographer, felt photo education needed to reflect new social mores (and opportunity). Together they created The New Art of Capturing Love: The Essential Guide to Lesbian & Gay Wedding Photography.
It is an excellent book: a good reference, an enjoyable read. There is a quick review of photography basics (rule of thirds, lighting, unique perspective), but photo competency is presumed, and it quickly moves to the human side of things, talking frankly about the subtle issues a photographer may face with a same-sex couple.
First and foremost is a heightened and specific sensitivity. As the authors point out, many same-sex couples “have an entirely different timeline and set of experiences” than traditional couples, with “expectations, joys and fears that are related to the development of their identities as members of a marginalized group.” Their families may not support them, and in some states their unions may not be legal. They are also more inclined to opt for unusual and personal ceremonies rather than the traditional kind, reflecting their unique, often fraught journeys. A photographer who tries to force straight wedding customs upon them may lose their trust and get less than stellar pictures.
In addition to psychological differences, there are real in-front-of-the-lens differences (and similarities) to be dealt with. How do you arrange a shot with two women both in wedding gowns? A male couple wearing similar suits? How do you coax people who have learned to be very careful about displays of affection, to relax in public for great candid shots?
Hamm and Dobbs provide a lot of solid, specific advice about posing, choosing locations, and establishing mood, but like all good teachers, they work through guidance and suggestion, and inspire by showing. The book is lavishly illustrated by work from thirty-eight photographers that shows a wide range of creativity and technique. There are indoor and outdoor shots, long shots and close ups, relaxed informal images, as well as some with a more traditional feel. Tech specs are provided with each image, but are secondary to the short caption describing the setting and mood the photographer was trying to establish and capture.
The book gives photographers permission to think and see in a new way. Which is good artistically, and also smart business. In recent years, photography had taken a hit as amateurs with high-quality, easy to use digital SLR’s ate into the bread-and-butter jobs professionals once relied on. With same-sex weddings an estimated $1.5 billion market, it makes good financial sense to pay attention.
Same-sex couples are increasingly particular about choosing a photographer. Being “gay-friendly” isn’t enough anymore. A strong portfolio of same-sex engagement and wedding images is a must. The bar is moving higher and photographers need to be prepared.
The New Art of Capturing Love is a wonderful place to start. With thoughtful text and beautiful pictures of loving souls, it serves as great introduction and reference for anyone looking to tap into the burgeoning gay wedding market. And really for anyone seeking to take better pictures of people–whatever the occasion, whatever their orientation.
Disclaimer: I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review. (But I liked it anyway)
Very delighted to have 2 pieces in an exhibit at the PH21 Gallery in Budapest. Really wish I could go. Though I’ve never been to old European cities, I dream about them because they are so beautiful. For me, distant travel means a couple of stops out on the L train. Or maybe a trip to Hoboken or the edge of Long Island City.
But through reading and pictures, I visit them from afar.
I am thrilled to be participating in Bushwick Open Studios 2014! Please visit me at 274 Morgan Avenue, Studio 5G to see work in progress and celebrate the publication of Meryl Meisler’s A Tale of Two Cities: Disco Era Bushwick for which I wrote the introduction. And check out the article I wrote on the Arts In Bushwick blog!
(ALERT THERE ARE SERIOUS STAIRS TO CLIMB. = 4 DOUBLE FLIGHTS)
Subway: Take the L Train to the Grand Street stop, then walk east past the Chase Bank along Grand Street to Morgan Avenue (about a quarter of a mile). Cross Morgan Avenue, and walk about halfway down the block to #274.
Arts in Bushwick, Benefit, Bushwick Open Studios, catherine kirkpatrick, Coleman Downing, Hoarder Barbie, Meryl Meisler, Naormi Meijia Wang, photography, Photospire.org, Saturday 10-20-13 #5, Shinee Day
Sunday night was the benefit for Arts in Bushwick. It was held on Ten Eyck Street in Brooklyn and it was packed. Artists, writers, buyers, gallerists, supporters and lovers of the arts all turned out. It was rollicking and fun. I went with my pal, Meryl Meisler, known as the “Legendary Bushwick Photographer,” a title she has earned. Working as an art teacher in the area in the 1980’s, she began photographing scenes of rubble and ruin on her way to and from the train with a disposable camera. She also photographed the famous discos and clubs of the era like Studio 54, Xenon and Les Mouches, though with a regular camera.
I wasn’t going to go. I had contributed art, but was nervous it would wind up sitting along on the wall at the end. Couldn’t bear the shame. Too much. Too tired. TV and the comforts of home called. But so did Meryl (okay, texted). She was driving, did I want a ride? Whenever offered the opportunity to be chauffeured anywhere, I always say yes, so wound up at the benefit.
It was jam packed, but with a good crowd. A lot of artists, a lot of art enthusiasts, with some memorable characters sprinkled in. I told her I wasn’t going to stay. Once around the room to look at the art and out. But I couldn’t get out! There were too many people! And it was fun! Lots to look at–on the walls, on the floor, plus the lady standing on the table who kept promising the raffle was going to start in five minutes.
Finally it did, though of course my ticket didn’t come up early. But that’s okay. The piece I donated, “Hoarder Barbie,” sold! Yay! And when my turn did come, I got the pieces that were highest on my list: Coleman Downing’s “Saturday 10-20-13 #5,” and Naormi Meijia Wang’s “Shinee Day.” They are in my home right now.
The benefit was a wonderful experience. I left calm and happy and proud. And with some really great stuff! Wooowhooo!
For the people of New York, it has been a dark and dreary winter. There was snow, then more snow, then snow upon ice and ice upon snow. We got very tired of it. Now the sun is shining, but it is still very cold and windy. Came back early from Brooklyn yesterday a.m., and it felt like January. Sun out, houses bright, buds beginning to sprout, but we’re not quite there yet.
Here’s a (slushy) walk down memory lane:
When will it stop? Like Noah’s flood (should that be capitalized?) the snow in New York just goes on and on. So pretty when it first comes down, then it sits a while and gets dirty, then it gets cold and turns to ice, then more snow falls and the cycle repeats all over again. I am so looking forward to spring! Can’t wait.
Isn’t this pretty?! Wait till tomorrow when its gray and mushy. Tramp, tramp, tramp…
I know John Milisenda through incredible photographer (and wonderful human being) Flo Flo. We sup together from time to time, and I’ve seen his subtle B&W prints of the train yards in Pennsylvania, the streets of Sunset Park, and of his family, particularly his developmentally disabled brother Dennis. We put together a narrated slide show of this body of work and posted on the PWP blog. It is beautiful and subtle. Take a look if you get a chance. Slide show direct: Dennis, by John Milisenda. Blog post with background on John.
Pssst, she’s also on the Professional Women Photographers’ blog. Come on, have a look. You know you want to.
Swimmers and New Yorkers take note: aquatic critters floating in and amongst NYC landmarks.