I don’t really recommend what I am about to share with you. Not that the world won’t be a better place for it. But whomever said there is no gain without pain had it right. I’m currently in the A part of “P A I N” I think. At least I hope I’m that far along. Much of what we do in life is a product of Inerita: something happens for a reason which may not be the true ‘raison d’etre’, but because it IS that way, we just stay with it. Over time it takes on the force of law (even in the Supreme Court there are doctrines about “established law.”) I used to see that in my pictures. Some image would be chosen by Time or Life to run because it seemed to be the best to illustrate a certain story. Often it wasn’t really the BEST picture (yes, that is subjective..) but because it had been published, it began to take on a certain weight, inertia, if you will, as the definitive image of that story. Other magazines, seeing the first publication, might ask for that picture, and because there is a certain amount of ‘cover your ass’ in publishing (i.e. 87%) they really wouldn’t want to see your ‘better’ work, they’d just want to see what was published. God forbid they try and go outside the already established guidelines. Eventually it could happen that the first published picture, although perhaps inferiour to others, might become the ‘signature’ shot, the one asked for, the one demanded.
Well, in the 22 years we have lived at our cozy little abode on Upton Street (in Arlington VA), there are cases of inertia which have finally been challenged. I will tell you that were it all up to Iris, this would have happened when Reagan was just leaving office, Bush I was measuring curtains for the Oval, and Bush II was still trying to figure out how to lose money in baseball and Oil. But, in that “inertial” spirit, things were just the way they are, because things were just the way they were. We added a wonderful little studio to the house in 1988, and though it was mostly used to shooting more intimate pictures, I tested a LOT of cameras, film, and lighting in there over the years. For nearly twenty years, the big ole chair has sat in front of the grey mottled backdrop (from a PhotoExpo in 1989 in New York) and that ‘look’ became emblematic for the house, the family, and in particular Jordan.
We have taken the New Years card picture there for the past 18 years, shot in black and white, hand tinted by Iris (she does this once a year), and sent out to friends and colleagues, many of whom came to know that our studio WAS this backdrop and chair. For nearly two decades, parties at the house would end up with attendees sitting in the chair, being photographed with a pal or spouse, and you can’t believe how many of those pictures ended up on mantels of homes “.. the best picture ever taken of us…” When I was assigned to photograph Art Monk for the Washington Post Magazine (he was an all-time record holder Redskins wide receiver) at training camp in Carlysle, Pennsylvania, I took my lights, and my backdrop with me, photographing him catching a ball, in a make shift studio at the college. At least a half dozen people asked me, the next week, “How did you get Art Monk to come to your house?” Well of course, the house came to Art Monk.
Befitting a failed Wizard, the question of what was behind the curtain began to catch up with me. Storing cameras, bags, bags and more bags (shout out to Jim Domke, ladies and gentlemen!), lights, seamless paper, batteries, filters.. the list goes on, behind the curtain on shelves and rolling tables reached what is known in the Space shuttle trade as “throttle up to 110%” levels. You would think things cannot exist in amounts greater than they are. But, like the rockets on the Space Shuttle, the amount of stuff I had grew to a place where, jigsaw like, there was no easy way to get AT anything. The stuff just overtook the other stuff. It was, in short, a frickin’ mess.
My “office” in the basement, carved from a 14x10’ space opposite the washer & dryer
(that rinse cycle is music to my ears), is where I have printed pictures, done paperwork, and filed away thousands of documents. Low ceiling, ugly, visually annoying, it finally reached the tipping point this fall. Iris had the brilliant idea of “getting you out of the basement.” I will admit that I was by that point very understanding of the Hermit mentality. “I’m in my cave, just throw a lamb chop thru the opening a couple of times a day, and leave me alone.” Why not, she suggested, turn the back of the studio (i.e. “… that rat’s nest..”) into the office, and make the basement photo-storage? Well, the light finally went on a few weeks ago, and we ‘re now one PODS closer to making that happen. The hardest part, and this is really a killer, is the necessary mess created as you move massive amounts of Stuff from one place (the old place) to another (the temporary one) before you relocate it (the final) to where it will live. I think a picture or two here, and as of yet they haven’t been published, so you can choose which, if any, are the ‘definitive’ ones, might help explain. As part of the ‘move’ we are cleaning, painting, and generally trying to sort out things. I have discovered piles of pictures which, like tree rings, describe a historical narrative. One stack of slide sheets in the basement: I grab a handful (all this to ‘empty the shelves’) and realize I am in the early 90s, pictures of Bush and Reagan. Below that, the Dukakis campaign. Above, the Clinton campaign. It’s almost as interesting as it is painful. But so far, painful is really winning. Up late, moving stacks of stuff (dropping no longer wanted photo mags and books at the library) from one jammed location to the next. I cannot believe that in the digital age (don’t believe we are yet living in the ‘computer age.’ Maybe in ten years, but so far we ‘re only toying with it) I have so much, dare I say it, “analogue” material. Analogue means film, by the way. Thousands of slides, prints, 4x6s and jumbos, signed prints from Presidents, Vice Presidents, and one from an Asst. Atty. General whose name I do not even recall. Shredding old tax documents yesterday kept me near the trash for an hour. I have a baby shredder, and it’s fun the first fifty pages, but 500 pages later, you wish you had one of those annoying ‘Shredder-Saurus’ trucks which wake us in New York at 7am, devouring thousands of financial and legal documents from neighboring law firms.
The Studio at D-Day +1
You Can Start to See the Light at the End of the Studio
I have turned down several jobs, knowing that I cannot leave here before the job is done. To do so would create a “Lost World” which, to come back TO, after time in the outside world would be the most crushing of mental challenges. I’m sticking with it. Israel, our wonderful contractor/carpenter is moving along only about 18% slower than I wish (in home improvements, that number is usually 40 or 50%) but he is good, and when it’s done, it’s really Done.
So, wish me luck, and let this give you a bit of inspiration that things don’t always have to be the way they are, just because they are the way they are. (Fix that sentence, Dr. Bergen Evans!) We’re just sayin…David