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Get There Early

I get there early. What can I say? I was raised Irish Catholic, so I feel guilty about stuff I’m not even responsible for. If I’m not in the parking lot two to three hours ahead of my appointment or assignment, I feel guilty. If I’m ever outright late, I feel like I gotta recite a frikkin’ Novena.

This has benefits as an assignment shooter. You get the best parking spots at events, for instance. The security guys can’t believe you just showed up at 6:00 a.m. for an event that evening, but no matter. So many people think I’m odd, I’ve given up worrying about it.

  • “Turned around, and there was Jason Robards rehearsing his lines. Stuff like this happens in New York when you’re there early.”

Even for local jobs, it’s good to get there early. In New York, I was assigned to shoot a bunch of actors doing public readings in an effort to save some of the older, historic Broadway theaters. It was cool. Some very famous theater people gathered and gave stirring public readings to save the old playhouses.

Didn’t work, of course. Money was at stake, and when that goes down, even having Lauren Bacall on your side don’t matter. The furry creative types are swell, but it was like sending shovel-toting peasants up against the Vikings.

The theaters went down, but the readings were great to shoot. It was like having a play for free right there in the street. I got there way early and ducked into a coffee shop, eternal refuge and impromptu office of the freelancer. Turned around, and there was Jason Robards rehearsing his lines.

You have to choose your strategies here. Years ago, I was assigned to cover the circus-like trial of Sid Vicious in New York City, which basically meant hanging around the courthouse all day to no photographic avail whatsoever. I mean, there were no pictures except for some of Sid’s punk friends who were hanging around as a show of support for their crackpot, unwashed, misogynist leader in spirit and kind. So I followed a group of these into the greasy spoon of the courthouse cafeteria, sat at the counter across from them, and ordered coffee. After a moment or two, I quietly snapped a frame with my Leica. This produced a baleful glare. Another snap.

Another glare. Another snap, and this time a snarl: “If you fookin’ take another photo of me, I’ll fookin’ kill ya!” At this point, I’m in for a penny, in for a pound, and I reach down to my camera bag and pull out a motor-driven F2 with a Vivitar and start pounding flash pictures. He came right over the counter at me.

There are, perhaps, better ways to break the ice. Like walk right up to your subject and ask.

Mr. Robards couldn’t have been more gracious, or more wonderfully oblivious to being photographed.

Stuff like this happens in New York when you’re there early.

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