film festival diary '97
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Day Six
NOT MANY PHOTOGRAPHERS talk about days like today, when you never touch a camera, but end up accomplishing more than after a ten-hour shoot.  I'm talking about the darkroom, and the work done under the red safelight. 
>>My darkroom was a jerry-built closet when I moved into my place.  It measures 2 1/2 feet by 8 feet and contains shelves, drying racks, a table for my developing trays and my enlarger.  It fits one person and still doesn't have any ventilation. (2002 update: My current darkroom is a dank basement room, but much bigger than the closet. No running water, though, and still no ventilation.)
 
My darkroom is a shithole. A converted closet with no running water or ventilation (very unhealthy, I know -- you don't have to tell me), that feels like a cross between a mini-sub and a Dow Chemical plant. I spent the whole morning and much of the afternoon in there today, printing most of my week's shooting under deadline. The contacts were done yesterday, and the Fashion mag called this morning to ask for three prints. I decided to start with the NOW shoots, in order to warm up for the Fashion prints. 

Amazingly enough, there was a beautiful shot of Robin Wright-Penn on that contact sheet, and a very nice one of the director. 

>>I hate the darkroom but I'm never as happy as when I'm printing a good batch of pictures. I used to think it had something to do with my horrid darkroom, and thought about having someone else print my photos -- if I could afford it. I realized that it would take too much of the pleasure away for me.  This is as close as I get to the feeling a painter has, I suppose.
 
The Jarmusch shots are more about texture than anything else, and I print them that way - high contrast, burning the background to the same density as his skin. The Thom Fitzgerald shoot has the prizes, though. One particular shot of him with a rose in his teeth and his head drawn back in a laugh is the kind of thing I can imagine making any art director rub their hands together. I'm awake and excited, and the printing goes really well; no more than a few warm-up prints before I get to the final version. Very economical.

Finally, I get to the Fashion shoot.  I work on this one longer than the rest. I boost the contrast to the max, hoping to increase the drama in the shot and bring out the different textures in her clothing. It's a good decision: her face becomes alabaster white, and the scarf and the pinfold pleats on the Miyake shirt take on fantastic, complimentary textures. I vignette the background with some careful burning, and darken her elbow and hair to get rid of any distracting highlights. By the time I'm done, any misgivings I had yesterday about the shoot have disappeared, for now. They have to see that this is good stuff...don't they?

>>I made a mistake here. I'd sent out 2,040 assignments as of last year. As of this writing, I've sent out 2,100. I've actually printed and sent out closer to 8,000 prints in the last decade. This doesn't include transparencies, or contact sheets, or gifts or exhibition prints.
 
I label the prints and assign each one a number, recorded in my print log-book. I started this ledger book eight years ago to keep track of my prints, clients, and assignments. As of today I've sent out 2,040 prints since October of 1988, not including gifts and exhibition prints. 

I hop on a streetcar and make it to Fashion's offices by 5:00. Fernando seems to like the prints, and I explain to him the Egyptian influence, hoping I don't sound like a pseud. I ask him if he really likes them, and he assures me he does. He tells me to pick up a few back issues of the mag on my way out, which I take as a good omen. Just as I'm leaving, I turn around and knock on the office door again, and ask if he'd like to see the other stuff I printed that day, explaining that these are a bit different -- really fast, five-minute shoots, hoping to let him see that I can do this kind of thing, if they need it. He likes the rose shot and the Robin Wright-Penn, as well. That's encouraging, I think.

I realize I'm probably trying a bit too hard with these people, but I really do want to work for them. Not because it's fashion, particularly, but because I think a fashion magazine is as good a place as any to to aesthetically interesing work, with editorial taking a back seat to the look and feel of the work. I'm not in love with the fashion world, but some of my favorite photos have been taken for fashion magazines, so I'd like to have my shot. The proof will be if they call me back. 

I head up to NOW, where Irene has already left, so I fan my shots out on her desk, hoping that no one disturbs them till she gets in tomorrow morning.  I grab a copy of the new issue, and see that they've printed the "park sex" shot just the way I'd hoped -- really big, with a nice, acid-green tone.  The day ends on a note of accomplishment, and I decide to treat myself to a couple of books. 

Rumour has it that there might be a shoot with Jennifer Jason-Leigh on Saturday. She's apparently very uncomfortable around photographers, but I hope it happens; she's a pretty interesting actress, in spite of turning in the two most irritating performances I've ever seen in Hudsucker Proxy and Kansas City. I'd love to get the shoot, but she's a pretty big celebrity by Toronto standards, and the flaming hoops of shit I'll have to deal with from the publicists, not to mention the possibility that she'll be a nightmare, make me think that if it doesn't happen, I'll be just as lucky. 

A good day...with reservations.

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

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