A Surplus of Possibilities
It’s amazing that my nose is still as large as it is since I have “bitten off my nose to spite my face” so many times.
Around 1953 or 1954, I called Life magazine and told them that I would like to photograph a geodesic dome that Bucky Fuller was going to build in Huntington, Long Island. I pointed out that, although I was new to the game, they had seemed to like my work when they saw it. I also pointed out that I had a relationship with Bucky Fuller and that would be helpful in doing this thing. Furthermore, I explained to them that if these things worked out, they were going to be used for the DEW Line. That stood for Distant Early Warning, which was a system of domes around the world which would be placed to evaluate incoming missiles.
Life magazine’s response was to send a more seasoned photographer to do the job.
- F*¢% them!
- Screw them!
- The hell with them!
- I’ll show them!
I told them I’d never work for them again. They would suffer. Somehow, they survived.
Years passed and personnel changed. Sean Callahan became one of the editors. He called me and offered me a “Speaking of Pictures” spread in the magazine.
Then I got a call a few years later to photograph an artist named Dale Eldred and his work. I took the job, met Dale, and we hit it off. I ended up shooting 60 rolls of film in two days. Now, this wasn’t just because I was insecure, which I was. It was also because this was film, not digital, and the work was all about light and color. It was so intense, and other times so subtle, that I had no idea what the exposure should be. There was no protocol for this kind of thing.
Among other things Dale had done was to put of hundreds of 10-foot 2x4s on the median between two highways. Each 2x4 was covered with 3M micro prism, which reflects light. The color changed radically as you moved one inch this way or that way. It also changed if you got higher or lower. It was loved by all, except for those who got into accidents on the road while looking at it.
I had the film (Kodachrome) processed and showed it to Life magazine, and they seemed to like it. A few days later I got a call to come back up. The guy that called me said, “You’re in deep trouble. We’re really pissed at you.”
“What now?” I thought. “What possible bulls#[† reason could they have?”
When I went up there, the guy said, “We figured you’d come up with a few good shots that would end as a one-page thing. You screwed up the whole book—we laid it out for six pages. You made everybody work overtime.”
“I have such compassion for you hard-working bastards.”
Dale was a great artist. All I had to do was show up and shoot what was there. Over the years he’d write, and one of the last notes I got from him before he died was an intensely red piece of paper about 8.5x11" with a scrawled note that said, “Just like to keep in touch.”
He was a great artist, as well as a great man. As Ring Lardner used to say, “You could look it up.”