“To continue doing something with determination or resolve despite difficulties or an unlikely chance of succeeding.”
But there was a deeper life there in the confines of the park. So too I had deeper questions than school coming up. That I was headed north to Canada, that I would be taken a step that I could not take back. On one check-up with my mom I arraigned to have the show of my work at the bank sent to me. In another I learned officially that I was to be drafted. I told my mom to tell them at the draft office that I would wait till after Labor Day traffic to head back. Even then it would take me a week to get back to San Antonio.
For myself I was buying time to figure out were to go in Canada. All that I knew of the place that it was cold in the winter. That the world fair was held in Montreal, Quebec were they spoke French. I also had heard that they had welcome Americans fleeing the war in Vietnam, called the anti-draft league. This was the undercurrent to my life, played close to the chest. I didn’t want to kill someone who had done nothing to me personally…, the government had an entirely different view of things.
Meanwhile life unfolded each day, with the two older girls gone for the week, the little sister became the center of life back at their camp. She reveled to her task, she was queen of the ball now that her sisters were gone, when they returned a week later she was crushed. Like I said I had my own affairs to deal with. My portfolio of prints arrived via general delivery toward the last part of my stay. So it seemed have been settled, I would head north after Labor Day. Now was a day, a time of ending.
After my jaunt back to Boston I stopped at a diner that had just opened for the day. The poor waitress explained that the cook had overslept, the grill needed time to heat. I asked is there coffee? So I had time over my paper and never ending coffee to enjoy both. The drive back to the woods of Maine was very lighthearted. I even had a chance to think back to the hitchhiker’s I picked up on the way down. Got them at the hostel where we showered on the Appalachian Trial. Two nice Boston Babes who were so taken by my poems that they took to copying them by hand. Man was I ever pleased with myself and my quick mind, my way with words you can bet.
Back at camp the youngest daughter was shooting murderous looks at her sisters. I put a protective arm around her, told her to just wait a few years. There was the end of year feel to the party. The coming Monday was drive day, everyone would leave for another year, the park would be empty of all people.
We had a sing-a-long, I was even given a second beer by the dad as an alls forgiven, then it was time to pack up the cars. I was back at camp getting a second load when I heard a gut wrenching scream of pain from the cars. One of the dad’s had tripped over a post in the dark and twisted his back badly. So bad his family had to pack up that night and get him back to a doctor in the city.
The next morning I woke with a start, overnight people had left me with half empty coolers. All the treats and goodies that people take to camp outs. Plus all there left over beers, all sorts of beer. One by one my friends would stop and say goodbye and leave there goodies. I stayed on for a few days, during that time a nice Canadian family said that anytime I got out their way to be sure to stop by. That was the first I had heard of Nova Scotia.
My first gig as an assistant was gotten for me by my mother. After I had tried working with my mother, doomed from the start. Working with my mother doing collections was hell, she found a small pillow in the closet that she accused me of storing there. Again and again I told her it wasn’t mine, she thought I’d had girls up to her office. One of her girl’s finally said it was hers, I turned on my mother and told her to apologies. I told her that the word she was trying not to say was I’m sorry; no apologies I walked out.
I wanted to do theater work for the school, and since working with the AV Department junior school, now I would be working on school plays. But that wasn’t good enough for the dear, I got the word just as I was about to climb up into the catwalks on a newbie the tour. I did not know what I wanted to make my life work, but I’d know it when I found it, it sure as hell wasn’t working in a 9 to 5 environment. So to make it up to me she found a friend who had a photographer brother. So began a life long obsessions.
I had seen the ”Blow-Up”, the movie loosely based of the English photographer Harry Benson I believe. I learned very quickly that as a lowly assistant, I was not the one to roll around with models. But as the owner of a set of keys to the studio it had it’s benefits. I have always found a draw to the human face, female faces in particular. Throw in an old building with a window I will find a model. So my knowledge of the basics of photography and the darkroom got me hired.
High school friend, black hair very cool girl and a beauty.
Along with my basic knowledge, and knowing how to answer a phone got me an introduction to the duties of an assistant. Clean the toilet each morning then sweep the place, and making coffee. As for shooting that was accomplished with the aid of hot lights, so I needed to know how to change a HOT light bulb. This was seat of your pants photography, most was daylight setups. I learned how to develop film as well as prints. Many long hours spent over rolls of 35mm film both Back and White and of Transparencies. One summer he hired another guy to work there as well, that summer we cleaned the drum drier canvas belt. That included putting the damn thing back together with the weight roller to provide tension.
We both got press passes that allowed us onto the grounds to Hemisfair, the state’s attempt at a worlds fair. The extra bonus was that having a press pass allowed us into the Press Club just for journalist. They allowed all journalist to drink, though the state did not. Same thing for the main Press Club just for journalist and their guess’s. But the real draw of the press pass was access to places without paying the admission to. We used those passes for all they were worth. We practically lived at Hemifair that summer.
But all things come to an end, I soon left the photographer I worked with, went on to the local newspaper.
“To continue doing something with determination or resolve despite difficulties or an unlikely chance of succeeding.”
I did mentioned that there were girls there? I should also let you know that these were sweet girls of the 60ish to the 70’s kind of girls. And their dad’s did everything required of a 60’s right up to the 70’s dad; add a dash of 50’s thrown in. But they were fine girls everyone of them, among them some really cool sister’s. Sixteen and seventeen I believe, high-school girls, and their little sister came in as any between thirteen to fifteen. I do not remember meeting them, suddenly they were a part of the general group of young I was apart of.
The older girl and really hit it off, we grew into best pals pretty quickly. She had a guy that she knew from the camp growing up. Eventually I met the parents, and of course was asked to stay for dinner. The mom was everybody’s mom, very warm and friendly, the dad was the more reserved, but he did have 3 young daughters to defend. Once his got to see you react to his wife and daughters he was pretty cool for a dad…, who did have daughters to defend. I found out they did have an older brother who was out traveling. Probably as a direct result of a disagreement with dad, so the mom was paying it forward; but we didn’t have the name for it then.
One afternoon when we all came trooping in to their camp, I got the feeling that I wasn’t being invited to dinner. One too many mooched meal, I came back to my cold little camp. About 5 minutes later the girls came up to get me. Mom had won that round! That’s went I learned about the brother and being out and alone. I do have to mention, I did my part of the dance…, I chopped and fetch wood, fetched water, anything I could help with. In particular attention to dad in all of this dance. I had to let it known that I was make life easier for him and just not brown-noshing him. And I treated the women in his life with the respect too. Vising required a level of finesse so instead bringing a bottle of wine, I offered to do a task. Sometimes that even helping with water duties with all the daughters by themselves.
One afternoon the older girl seem real distracted so naturally I asked what was going on in her life. Turns out that the guy she was dating at the camp had forced himself on her that afternoon. Got her alone, had taken advantage of her culottes and had forced his way on her. I was shocked at the idea, forced! So we took a long time discussing why not tell her dad. She did not want tell as her dad might get hurt in any fight he got into with this rapist. Of course she was afraid to get pregnant, what were the possibility
So the relationship grew with them, that brother relationship grew with them as a family. So when the time came for dad and his older girls to get registered for classes the girls and I made a plan. We decided that I would come down to Boston to see where they lived. So down I drove I had that V-W bus so the gas wasn’t bad, so I picked them up at a ball game their dad was coaching. His eyes really did a number on me as he said hello at the ball game. The girls had timed that really well, he was distracted by the game. By the time he had for the game to be over, he had time to figure out how to approach this fly in his ointment. Naturally the girls and I stayed up all night talking. I just had laid my head down when the dad woke me, saying that he wanted to give me coffee before I got lost. I’m not quite clear on what words were used, but I remember the point, it wouldn’t be fair to the girls my staying alone with the girls. Ever resourceful the girls had already made arrangements for me to stay with a girlfriend of theirs to get some sleep.
“To continue doing something with determination or resolve despite difficulties or an unlikely chance of succeeding.”
I want to speak about my van in the manner of John Steinbeck’s “Travels with Charlie”. It was a VW van that had been outfitted by the previous owner from a camper he had found. It came with a closet, pull out bed, another seat/storage area, and a water-tank/refrigerator. I had packed my foot trunk with all the things I would need for my new life. Some years before, during the Cuba Missile Crisis my father bought a camp stove, I had gotten a sleeping-bag, and a survival inflatable boat. Of course I had packed my cameras, and all my other photo gear so I was all set for my trip/new life. The van was outfitted with Wonder bread polka dots curtains.
My only real decisions was did I have the determination to make the move to Canada. The only thing I knew about the palace was in Montreal had a world’s fair that year. I figured that I would learn French at the very least if there is were I’d settled. Part of my cover story was I wanted to see some of my country before I was drafted into a war that I didn’t support. I had made up the cover story to cover my tracks if anyone asked about my reasons for going. I knew that if I did this there was no turning back once I cross that border, that I’d be stuck in my decision for possibly the rest of my life. At twenty-one (21) there was a lot of years left to me so I had to make an important decision.
As I prepared to leave Virginia Beach I assessed the time I had to get to my next stop. The bulk of my trip was done in the hard driving I had survived. The remaining state were compressed so that I had some time to explore site I had noticed in the area. Top of my list was a telescope array I had seen, I figured it had something to do with NASA. So down a lonely road I drove to a site that was ripe with these dishes that were point up in the air, no trespassing sign abound. I walked around the fence tried for a better view, but then it occurred to me that I was probably doing something that would bring the cops down on me. As I headed back in the direction I had come a jeep full of soldiers came driving up to give me the once over. But they didn’t stop me and soon I was back on the highway heading north.
Again this was back in 1969, the Democratic Convention riot had just happened, the city of Philadelphia was not high on my list of places to be. Neither was New York city, I was intimidated to drive there. So I figure that Trenton was okay because I knew I’d have a place to park my van at least. There were two brothers who were family friend who had a place there, they were kind enough to put me up at their motel. I stayed for about two (2) days to rest and relax, I remember getting a packet of Oreo cookies and milk. I attempted to try New York, but all I did was buy gas for my van and drove on to Rhode Island.
Providence was a sleepy little seaport town then with cobbled streets and narrow roads then. I drove around to reconnoiter, drove past the church and on out of town. Found a park were I could walk around and a place to park were I wouldn’t be disturbed. Made some dinner and settled down for a good night. In the wee hours of the morning I heard tap, tap, tap on my side window, a voice call “You can’t sleep here”.
A sense of elation…, freedom greeted my passage through Houston as I saw the last sign announcing at I was leaving the city. As I opened a cold brew I was already drunk on my sense of freedom. I was entering the unknown, the furthest I had ever been from home. Now without a doubt I had entered an adventure. That adventure lead me to New Orleans late at night, I pulled into a gas station. I asked the station attendant who turned out to be the owner if there was a safe place to pull into to get some sleep. He very kindly told me that I could sleep there, but to be gone by morning. July was hot and muggy, filled with mosquitoes for a sweat drenched fit-filled sleep.
Next morning I found a lovely park where it was cool from the night air. My plan was to make coffee and hit the road, but a big burly cop pulled up and told me the park was closed. My water was just starting to steam so I told him real nice if I could make my coffee first and he would be welcome to the first cup. He sort of smiled and said I’d better not be there on his next round and left. Thus started my relationship with road cops all there to enforce the local rules, I would ask politely for their help then move off. All done in a self-serving spirit of not wanting to provoke a search, or other encounters. My greatest fears of the road was cops and bigots. Here I was a Mexican driving on their turf far from home. I was also twenty one (21) with a van that had some pot and a wad of hashes I had been given as a going away present. So I was always very pleasant and easy to deal with in all my encounters.
As I was on a short time fame to get to Rode Island for the folks festival and driving through the south, I knew that I would be in for some hard days. My next stopping point was in the panhandle of Florida at a state park I saw on a sign. I pulled in from a hard rain late in the evening, there I had the luxury of a place to sleep undisturbed, and bathrooms. I remember going to the washroom in my poncho, seeing myself in the mirror. Like a young medieval monk I looked back at myself in the bathroom mirror. Dripping water I could hear the thunder and see the lighting as I washed up for the night. My first real wash in two (2) days and nights. I fell into a deep sleep with the thunder as my background.
A word on the gear I had taken from home for my journey, I had a camp stove to make my coffee and hot meals. It was a two burner with flaps to keep out any wind, it served my purpose very well on my trip and beyond. Coffee became my peace maker, I’d offer fresh hot coffee to any official trying to run me off, or to buy a little time. Even served as a measure of common humanity to make it apparent to all that I was just like them in this regard. Just leave me in peace until I make and get coffee poured.
I want to address my timeline here before I get to the assisting proper. I’m starting just after high school because that when my assistanting story begins. I was also a shooter for my local newspaper for about a year after being an apprentice for a local shooter. When I was twenty my world change for me, some would say for the better, some the worst. My life has been one of being addicted to the news. I started as a very young man and of course as the war in Vietnam was played on most television sets in American, I became an avid watcher. I watched as Walter Cronkite slowly turned against the war, and was willing to say so. I listened to friend’s who I knew who had a firsthand knowledge, told the truth about the war that no one on television seemed to acknowledge. I knew that I could not in good conscience would not and could not participate. My country was willing to send me to kill…, send me a half the world away as long as l killed people who had never done wrong to me.
So it was clear to me that I needed an excuse to cover my fleeing to Canada to save myself. The popular sentiment with people in support of the war was, “America, love it or leave it”. So my decision was made, I would flee to the wilds of a country I did not know, but who supported my stance on the war. My cover became that I was taking a trip to see the country, and by happenstance I was going to the Newport Folk Festival. One last chance to see some of the country before I went off to war. I was going to go by bike, a 10 gear bicycle on a trip of over 1000 miles. My first hurtle, one of many, was to convince my mother!
Some 50 years later I can still see the events of that day clearly. I met her in the cafeteria in the basement of her office. She telling all the reasons that I wasn’t going, she had a list full of reasonable reasons I was not to go. I said not a word, safe in my resolve that come hell or high water I had no choice, but to save myself and my conscience. I could see in her eyes that she knew beyond a shadow of a doubt she knew I was leaving. So while she plotted ways to stop me I begin to train for the trip.
I rode everywhere that bike would take me, I learned to take racers turns leaning far into my turns. My friend and another Michael trained with me, we rode day and night. My friend was fond of taking risks, riding down a hilly twisty street at full speed trusting fate that there was no car on the road. I made the mistake of showing him the bike of my dreams that I could not afford. He bought the damn thing because he could. Then one night ride he got a cramp in his neck that made him drive right into a curb and wrecking the front tire…, much to my delight. He also decided not to come on the trip with me for reasons I am unsure of. Unfazed I kept to my training riding far and wide.
As the day for my departure approached my mother offed to get a van for me. A VW micro-bus with poke a dots curtains like a wonder bread truck. It had a refrigerator/water tank, a small closet, and a pull out bed; a home on wheels for my trip, and a safe haven for her so she wouldn’t worry so much. Now if she had been less supportive I would have realize the limitation I faced. I hadn’t face really long distances before, I was just getting to those trials.
My preparations included buy a packing trunk, all my so call winter gear when in there. I stored everything I could possible need including all my darkroom gear. If anyone had bothered to check there was no way I was packed for just a summer trip.
The problem is that young women are not prepared to understand or handle a situation like this, an older man with power and influence was carrying on, saying this is the way its done in the business. To me its not surprising because the higher functions of the brain aren’t developed until later stages of development. That is the concern I have about expecting young models to think through all the ramification of posing nude. I also have problem with thinking these “kids” as full grown women. That they should be treated with all respects as fully grown people at any age is a given, early twenty are still kids. I don’t want to take advantage of them at that age, I run the risk of being seen as paternalistic, yes I will shoot young women, but my preference is 24 at least. Yes I do get a release, but to think that gives me the right to ruin someone life because they agreed doesn’t mean I can use the images indiscriminately. Maybe because of my younger man’s experiences, kids don’t make the smart moves at that point. That’s why I still ask the women who are in contact with me if I can use their images for whatever I am trying. Having developed my own brain has given me an appreciation of the not yet developed brains. I know a lot of photographers who say “well I have a release!” To my way of thinking, yeah you do, but you should ask first…, maybe she has a reasons (like kids) not to want to be exposed like that, or to use identifying information with an image.
I had a model who was 24 at the time, but a young very naive 24 yeas old, She came from a farming background, wanting to make up for lost time. I could see that she was testing herself, testing her limits. We’d been shooting nudes, she was tired of that, too vanilla.., so I said, partly in jest why not masturbate for the camera. NO she said, but I could see she was thinking about it, was she brave enough. Now don’t go jumping to conclusions, I knew she was ripe for someone to take advantage of her. I also knew the way I worked, knew that I would be willing to protect her and her images. She said yeah but I have to get comfortable. So I got some really lovely stuff mainly because she didn’t know any better than to fake it, so when she left she was happy as a clam. Only after she had second thoughts, asked her friends, they told her she was nuts, that her job was in jeopardy. I told her not to worry, I wasn’t going to do anything without asking first. I kept my word, but still doing that was her concern, what did I think of her really.., she wasn’t that kind of girl. Finally a few summers ago we had the chance to really talk. That I had thought of all the ramifications before we actually shot, that I was willing to protect her, while someone else might not. Told her that I didn’t think that she was that kind of girl either, that I respected her, that I was still protecting her and her images. She was so relived that I didn’t think poorly of her. We went though the images again, told her how proud of was of the both of us, that she needed an outlet at the time that wouldn’t harm her. So all is good between us at long last.
Not everyone works the way I do, with my past mistakes of my own, made when my brain wasn’t fully developed, I have learned a hard lesson. I think of a shoot a little like the Stockholm syndrome, a model gets so comfortable with a photographer, that she wants to please him or her. Then has second thought, but its too late by that point; any damage has been done if she has signed that release. I don’t want to be that photographer…, ever! I want to do the right thing by my models then and now. I think that’s the reason I haven’t had problems. I do the right thing, even if it cost me money. I have found that the rewards far outweigh any monetary harm.
Easily my youngest model, and most at risk. Just turned eighteen (18) with a toughness beyond her meager year. Already getting involved in the sex business, her portfolio was full of images that featured very intimate images. We made arrangement to meet, look over my work to see if she was interested in working with me. I told her point blank that her portfolio was showing too much of her, that no one was looking at her face. She very frostily informed me that she already had a manager. She agreed however to pose for me.
She came out of the bathroom in the cuties little bathrobe, smoking a mile a minute, her foot beating out a quick tattoo. Let out a burst of blue smoke and read me the rule for working with her. When on for at least five minutes, “any questions” she asked, taking in another lung-full of smoke. “ Yeah do you get naked?”, sure said she throwing of her bathrobe, giving me the feast your eyes on this look . While she preened for my benefit, “naw” I said, “lets get you in a dress!” She burst out laughing like the girl she still was, having been caught. In taking her down that peg, we became friends…, I showed her I could play as well.
We began in that dress as promised, soon she was nude, and man she could pose.., interesting stuff with very good moves. I asked her permission to shoot more anatomical shots, she agreed, but she didn’t want me to show them, they were for my own benefit. I had an idea, just in the formative stages of what I might like to do with them. She probably thought I was going to use them for my own enjoyment if you get my drift.
Many years after, after I had a stroke, many long years recovery I finally had worked out that vision of what I wanted to do with the more intimate images I had captured. I worked over those images getting them just right. Then I sent them to her for her approval, want her to know that I wanted to donate our work to some groups who work for a positive sex culture, asked her if she agreed. To my great relief she agreed to let me use them. Working in a collaborative fashion is not for everyone, but I feel great that it works for me and my models.
One wonderful summer in NYC we had a Danish Summer. Many of the young women who were trying to break in as models dropped by on a “Go See” were of the Danish persuasion. The first of the ladies who pose for me, who’s name I can’t remember was a swimsuit model. We set a date for the weekend so as not to interfere with business. I arrived early to set the lights, and the reflectors I used. The model also arrived early and asked if we had an ironing board. I got her setup and continued with my own preparations.
We started the shoot with her in a yellow smart suit, then rapidly got down to business. She wore a black sports-coat with a lacy black bra…, then just the bra. I shot a Polaroid, and was waiting for it to develop. She on the other hand was ironing something wearing the lacy panties alone. I had the cured Polaroid in my hand, watching her iron…, studying how her body moved and looked. I told myself that they were only breasts, I had seen lots of breast in the course of shooting. Yes but these were lovely breasts in the prime of her life. She looked up catching me studying her, I smiled…, clutching the Polaroid to my chest and said I think you are going to love this.
Together we studied the image by the open window, her bent at the waist with those beautiful breast bathed in a soft light. Across the street, from the other building where anyone could see her didn’t matter. She did love the look of the image I had captured and we worked on trying different ideas we had. After the shoot a quick kiss on both cheeks as is the European custom, and she left. A few days later she dropped by again to see the film I had gotten developed. The only criticism she had was she was on her period, her eyes were too puffy and that ruined the shoot for her. I knew her eyes wouldn’t matter in the long run, it was the look and the feel of the images that make those images sing.
I have recounted this story many times since to many women. Only after I mention being on her period do they see the puffy eyes.