"Taking photographs and writing is my way of saying, 'I was there. I saw this. It happened.' "



When you arrive in NY at night, it is a different reality. Totally alive, but you really cannot make out people’s shoes in the darkness. Waking up in Soho, where I get to stay (thanks to the infinite generosity of my friends Kay and David) the first steps out are on cobblestone. I love that. Love the sound of shoes on the street. The light and shadows, stops and starts.


NY is a series of continuing conversations. Once in my life it was daily, now every few months - some of the conversations spread over years. If I am lucky I get to speak with my guardian angels. They come in all kinds of bodies. The day started with my newest client, assigning me with one the greatest opportunities in my career - all with the words, “We want your vision!”. That was the complete creative brief from one of the largest companies in the world. At lunch I met with one of my favorite photographers of all time, Duane Michals. We have seen each other through the years, but never really spent time together. When I was at RISD - I went up to MIT one night to hear Duane speak. I made a really bad recording of the talk on a cassette recorder. Duane spoke really fast. I spent the next week transcribing the talk onto a legal pad. Those words became my creative bible. It is not that I wanted to be Duane. I just wanted to know that part of Duane that was me.


Yesterday at lunch -with our mutual friend Marcia Lippman (who I met at a Duane photo workshop in Pittsburgh) I talked about never imagining my pictures as objects on a wall. I talked about how much I loved writing - and saying that to one of my favorite poets was a conversation I had imagined so many times but never really expected to happen. I talked about a young African American kid I had photographed on a football field in Pittsburgh rubbing a powdered sugar donut all over his face. We are both from Western Pennsylvania. That was my proof.


Mostly though it was the conversation I never had. Rambling through stories of joy and fear and longing to sadness (Duane had lost his partner Fred of 50 some years two months ago - Marcia was going through some work trials) and redemption (Duane has dozens of projects all going at once - new portraits books, videos, even a highly political pop up show). When Duane’s hamburger came, he used it as puppet and the hamburger started making jokes. Every idea was a jumping off point for silliness and marking the moment. I had to get some things out -but that was just for me. The idea of getting together was to bounce ideas as my mother calls “creative playtime” - springing from our well oiled lives with abandon. The tears of sentimentality were essential but brief. Our accomplishments were something men share then hopefully let go of. Marcia allowed though moments knowingly. For two hours, I was as free as I get - with the man who taught me all about creative fearlessness.


When I told my son Jackson (who is almost ten) I was having lunch with Duane Michals in NY he immediately said, “Get him to sign the Storytellers book!”. I am not into getting autographs, but I may have to make an exception for Jackson. He saw Duane’s show at the Carnegie in Pittsburgh several years ago and has heard me talk of Duane many times. If any parent wants to know why we take our kids to the museum...here is lesson 1. There is a picture at that exhibit of Jackson in front of Duane’s writing that reads, “Taking photographs and writing is my way of saying, 'I was there. I saw this. I felt this. I heard this. It happened.'”


I assume many of you don’t know who Duane Michals is. But you should.


I was born in Pittsburgh 23 years after Duane. I am from from my parents - but I am also from him.


(the picture is was taken after lunch by an ex assistant of mine who was the maitre d. He said he knew how to use my camera….normally I would have helped whoever was taking the picture with focussing….but I just have to think Duane taught us all about blurs….)

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