I Worked With Karsh ~He Says

“And Ansel Adams, and I spent a bit of time with Avedon before he took himself so seriously.” The bald and slightly round Assembly Line Portrait Photographer says as he fiddles with the shutter of a Hasselblad.

“Really?” I say, not believing a word of it.

“Yes, really.” He says and gives me a level look. “I also showed Mapplethorpe that trick with the light he liked so much.”

I am wondering if I should ask what advice he gave to Mathew Brady or Alexander Gardner, but he just keeps rattling off names of famous photographers I have never heard of and how he made them what they came to be.

“But my real claim to fame is that I helped invent Photoshop.” He says as he snaps the camera together with a triumphant little smile. “My name is on the credit screen if you don’t believe me.”

Anyone who has a copy of Photoshop knows that a long list of names forms the credit’s screen. Sure enough, one of the names is the same as this old man I met at an Assembly Line Portrait Studio where he was making about $8 an hour. I tend to doubt that it was his name I saw.

I have meet the occasional Real Photographer and countless ‘professional’ photographers.  I tend to think of Real Photographers as people with names I am familiar with and whose work I have seen in the real world of publishing and fine art.   Standard issue professional photographers who have a small studio in town and have taken every-one’s High School picture for the last fifty years don’t impress me all that.  Other Assembly Line Portrait Photographers don’t impress me at all.

I met one fellow who was a War Photographer and I had seen a number of his images.  He had real War Stories to tell, but I had other people to shoot and didn’t get to talk to him as much as I would have liked.

I’ve met a number of people who have done what I do-to lessor or greater extends.  One couple shot Cheer Leading Meets and traveled hundreds of miles a week to cover the different regional competitions.  Others have worked for now defunct Assembly Line Portrait Companies.  Others used to travel and do a good business before The Big Box stores and cellphones made professional portraits seem kind of silly.

I don’t know too many current hot names in portrait photography-and I wouldn’t recognize Annie Leibovitz if she walked into my Studio, though I might notice the name, if I actually read it.  For the most part Photographers are just one more person wasting our time, they don’t buy our portraits-why would they?  They can take their own.

I’ve meet the occasional musician looking for something for the cover of a CD or something cool for their Myspace page.  Myspace? Really?  But they are seldom really happy with the results.  A good album cover is a serious work of art and needs both pre and post production work.  Just slightly out of my field of expertise when I have ten minutes to work and people waiting.

And I do meet a lot of people who love to tell stories.  People who love to drop names and talk about how they helped make this portrait or that portrait-how they moved the light or suggested a certain f-stop or happen to have just the right lens in their bag.  Some of these people may even be telling the truth, all great photographers have dozens of people working around them.  Someone had to sell Ansel Adams that mule he used to schlep his camera up the side of the El Capitan.

But when I meet fellow Assembly Line Portrait photographers who have tales of The Glory Days-I tend to think of them all as lairs, at least when they talk about working with Helmut Newton and Yousuf Karsh.  Not that it’s completely impossible, it’s but a bit unlikely.

I worked for a local movie studio at one time-one of those dream jobs taking the stills-no wait, I was just a rent-a-cop and never got to take any photos.  But I did get to meet Tom Cruise and Eddie Van Halen and Valerie Bertinelli.  I got to watch them do the dead boring business of making a couple of films.  Did I ‘work’ with them?  After all, we were all paid to be in the same place at the same time-though on slightly different scales.

I think a number of people like the whole idea of Working Off Broadway-saying they were acting in a play in a High School in Fort Worth, Texas-which is, in fact, Off Broadway.  So by that bit of logic I have worked with some of the best photographers of all time, we just never happened to be in the same place at the same time.

The saddest bit is that they are trying to impress me-taking pictures of new borns and pets are the only rungs lower than the one where I reside.  The fact that they are not impressing me must make it all the worse, as the stories get more and more hard to believe.  My own stories tend to lead to the more self deprecating side-I am not trying to make more of myself by pretending I worked with Andy Warhol at The Factory.  But it would have been a bit of fun, don’t you think?

We all share our stories about customers and companies and shoots and how one of these days we will be doing something else.  And once we do leave -will anyone want to hear our stories about people scamming the company for freebies?  Nah, but maybe if we had worked with, oh, I don’t know-maybe Karsh?

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