film festival diary '97
Day 1 > 2 > 3 > 4 > 5 > 6 > 7 > 8
Day One
   As a photographer, I work hard maybe once a year. I know that doesn't sound too flattering to my career, but it's the truth. That time is at the beginning of September, when the Film Festival takes over the town. I wrote the following journal last year, and posted it to a topic on the Well that I started, mainly to talk about the nitty-gritty of life as a low-level commercial photographer. (This was just after the Lady Di incident, and there was a lot of attention being paid, for once, to photographers, though mainly paparazzi. I wanted to make a more realistic record of what "celebrity photography", at least at the most basic, local level, was about.) 

   My busy season resumes again soon, so I thought it would be interesting to put this  up now, as a way of providing a contrast between my attitude to my work a year ago and now. I'll provide marginalia whenever I feel a need to talk about the changes I've noticed, or to give the eventual outcome of any "cliffhangers". 

   My first entry is about the kind of work I'm called upon to do for the free weekly paper I work for.

   - Rick McGinnis, Aug. 1997

  2002 update: When I wrote this diary, I was still single, and burned with a frustrated ambition that, frankly, seems faintly embarassing today. Since then, I've left the "leftist" free weekly where I worked, gotten married, and moved back into writing. I no longer rely on photography alone for my income, which was a great sacrifice, since photography is far more economical than freelance writing. I've also moved away from celebrity portraiture -- initially not my choice, I can assure you -- and more toward still-life and landscape work. Photos without people, in other words. You can draw whatever conclusions you want from this. I hope you enjoy this slice of a freelance photographer's life, from the last years of the 20th century. 

   - R. McG. March 2002.
 

>>I took a bit of shit on the Well for this comment, but I still stand by it -- Gay men define the popular masculine ideal. Most straight men I know feel complimented to be taken for gay, if only because it means they look good, put together -- like palpably sexual beings.
 
THE PAPER I WORK FOR is doing a story on gay sex in public parks. I'm asked if I can provide the models, but I honestly can't think of anyone I know who'd do it. They set me up with a friend of the art director who promises to bring along someone else. We agree to meet by the restaurant in High Park at 2:00. 

Blair and his friend certainly look right: tattoos and muscle shirts, wallet chain, baseball cap, boots and lumberjack shirts. Why is it that gay men look so much more butch than straight men?  We wander down by the park stage to some pathways, stand around waiting for some children to stop playing and move on, while I keep my eye peeled for joggers. The last thing I want is to get busted -- it would be awfully hard to explain.

>>In the movies this is called "day for night".
 
I'm supposed to make the shot look like the middle of the night; the catch is that very few people know what a photo would look like taken without artificial lighting in the middle of a park at night (a hint: close your eyes...). I carefully position Blair so that the sun plays on the back of his jeans and the wallet chain, and put his friend further down the path in backlit silhouette.  I've got to print the hell out of this one to make it look like moon and/or lamplight.
>>The day this shot ran in the paper, I got an e-mail from a friend of just one line:  "Please tell me it was faked."
 
Finally we do the "money" shot.  Blair's friend stands with his back to the camera, and I do my preliminary focus and composition. I scan the paths, and signal to Blair to get on his knees in front of his friend with his hands on his ass.  I knock off a half-dozen shots in a few seconds while they giggle helplessly, then implore Blair to get up. The whole shoot has taken about ten minutes from meeting the subjects to packing the camera case.
>>I've since become obsessed with this working method. Every shot I print is exposed through gauze and tissue and filters. I may have found my "look".
 
In the darkroom, I pull out sheets of Japanese rayon and rice paper, burn sections of the prints in, and pull the prints in the developer so they look light and "bleached"; unevenly developed.  I've treated my subjects like elements in a still life -- graphic elements, nothing more. 

This is photography as illustration. I think there'll be more and more of it in the future, as the specific gravity of the studio portrait gives way to "snapshots". You can see it in magazines like Raygun and Bikini (2002 update: Raygun & Bikini: R.I.P.). It seems that the image-literate public has gotten so hip to the artificial constructs that inform posed portraiture -- makeup, retouching, subject control, specific references to other portraits/personalities -- that they're happy to see the rules broken, if only to show that the magazine and the photographer respect their insider's knowledge.

  Photos and writing ©1997 Rick McGinnis.  All rights reserved.

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