Simpler than most of my titles, n’est-ce pas? Simple title, very complicated subject. Ask any current or former model to wax eloquent on this topic and I daresay you would receive wildly divergent, yet passionate responses. My experiences are the only ones I can recount for you here, and what a wild and crazy ride these relationships can be. The right model can be a photographer’s muse and greatest inspiration. The right photographer can push a good model to reach deeper and push harder than she’s ever done. There is a huge adrenaline rush that comes from the anticipation of what’s cooking in the chemicals in that darkroom. Was this shoot the one that will give you your career all-time favorite photo; will it become famous in the business? Will clients and other photographers who see it feel both jealous and curious about how you got that particular shot?
In the eight years that I was a model in New York and Milan, I worked with photographers of every skill level, from piss poor to genius, to world-famous. Of all of them, two were my absolute favorites, yet their work could not have been more different. Because I respect their privacy, I will alter their names in this post. I met Paul Lawson when he was just establishing himself in NYC, sharing a studio with a food photographer. He had the weathered look of the Marlboro man, and a craggy, brusque manner to match. He was living with a Jewish woman named Johanna and was madly in love. I met him for the first time shortly after I returned from Europe, and from our first test shoot together, there was magic every time. His style was pared down, clean, simple. I don’t think I ever took a bad photo with him, and we soon became a prolific duo. I think he booked me for every job he had that didn’t require a black or Latino woman. Below are some of my favorite photos he took.
Not long after we met, Johanna left Paul, and that was one crushed and shaken man. I became his bar buddy and we’d hang out after a day of shooting and he would pour out his soul and his sorrow to me. It was inevitable that we would soon fall into bed together, me because of a huge crush on this amazingly sensitive and gifted man, him solely for comfort. This was the in-between time in the final days of Boy, and prior to meeting Jack.
One of my favorite photos came on a stormy January weekend in the Hampton’s, shooting a fashion layout for Calvin Klein.
The snowstorm quickly became a blizzard, so the snow you see all around wasn’t studio generated fluff; this was the real deal. I was standing in snow up to my knees, and my eyelashes kept freezing. Several times an hour Paul would look through the lens and announce, “She’s turning blue; thaw her out!”. The makeup artist and stylist would hustle me into the trailer to thaw me and my frozen clothes out with a blow dryer so we could keep shooting. We spent the entire day in that storm just to come back with a picture of one outfit! It’s crazy when you think of the money and resources that go into something as simple as a single ad page in a magazine. There were makeup artists, hairdressers, and clothes stylists who might well have paid their entire month’s rent from that single gig. I often think about that when I flip through a magazine, about how many man hours went into getting a one-page ad for a single outfit. It’s a crazy business.
Oddly, my working relationship with Paul was completely unaffected by our becoming lovers, my marrying Jack, and his beloved Johanna marrying a successful French chef. We remained a team up until he relocated to San Francisco to become a photographer for The Gap. In a strange twist of fate, the French bistro owned by Johanna’s husband became one of my favorite places, and it was there that something eery and discombobulating occurred some seven years later.
I’ve always pursued airy, fairy, hippie-dippy, New Age interests. I had been avidly studying Tarot cards and this often became an impromptu entertainment at various parties. My friend Cat was having her birthday party at Johanna’s bistro in Chelsea, and it was that time of night when things are getting quiet and still after dinner has been eaten, birthday candles blown out, and a few guests have started to trickle away. Cat suggested I bring out my Tarot cards. I did a handful of readings, which were light and fun and amusing. Then Johanna, who had just given birth to a son several months earlier, sat down and asked me to read her cards. As I laid them out I kept looking at them over and over, not trusting what I was seeing there. Then, for the briefest moment in time, there was a visual flash, like a smokey hallucination, of the image of her baby boy being diagnosed with a terrible cancer at age three, and then a scene of his mother at his funeral, sobbing, bent over double in grief.
Johanna, sensing my agitation, inquired as to what I’d seen. I was obviously upset and distraught, and couldn’t even speak coherently. I mumbled some ridiculous excuse about not having studied this for very long, and it was all just a parlor trick anyway. I wrapped up my cards in a silk Hermes scarf and exited the restaurant as fast as I could. I went home and burned the scarf and the cards in a cast iron skillet and dumped the cooled ashes down the trash compactor.
I have never, to this day, fooled around with Tarot, nor would I ever again. There is a strange power there, and it was something I never wanted to come face to face with again. I am very sad to say that Johanna’s son did succumb to a virulent form of leukemia at the age of 3 years and 8 months.
Next time I’ll tell you about my other favorite fellow, Lars Underwood, whose pictures of Jessica Lange were instrumental in her being cast in the 1976 remake of King Kong.