A Blind Man’s Love: Jean Hélion

Imagine placing your coccyx keenly into the back of the fourth or fifth step of Paris’ Sacre-Coeur. Lean back and place your elbows back keenly three more steps… Stretch your legs, and take in one of the most glorious view of Paris.

In my mind I am in the center of the city. I am where I need to be. I am about to walk into my program for the day. But first I have to decide which stroke of energy will lead the way. I have dueling sounds running through my ears. On one side I have the possibility of engaging Vivaldi: Concerto for 4 Violins in B Minor. If I choose that as my companion. Then I must engage Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time”. This music and this collection will allow me to amble through the streets with a ton of considerations. Every sprig, shard of light, gathering of souls, footprints of buildings will amount to a story of Paris; past present and future.

In the other ear, I have George Harrison’s “Ski-ing” from the Wonderwall soundtrack. The barrage of disturbing guitar riffs, might give me the energy to tear through the streets with a raging madness. I would marry that music with Doris Lessing’s “A Briefing for a Descent into Hell”. That madness could electrify my creativity.

So I sit with this dilemma: amble my way… or pierce the heart of the city? It was like taking two separate yarns on a loom to weave the whole fabric of Paris with my camera. I am armed and ready with the visual language that might help me make sense of my upcoming portrait.

As I descended what I refer to as the Brassai steps from Montmartre down to the Luxembourg Gardens (a very long stroll) I more than at any time felt that I was a Tolstoy pawn as was his Prince Andrei in “War and Peace”.

As I danced down the Brassai steps I realized that I was like Andrei admiring the “lofty sky” with Napoleon in my sights. As a young man, Paris/Napoleon were bigger than the life known to me. I was in awe of what was and what was to be.

Paris has always been a visual palace that spoke to my heart. It is possible that I came of age as a photographer in this city. The dozens of trips that brought me here always spoke to a greater picture as a photographer. There was a bit of Proust in my camera, but thousands of books came to life when I looked to see what I might see.

i arrived habitually late for my session with one of the last of a generation of abstract/surrealist artists. Jean Hélion lived on Rue de Michelet near Luxembourg Gardens. The transition from Montmartre to the “…Gardens” is a bit like “War and Peace”. Both offer a historical chaos in Paris’ history.

Entering this world of artists was a goal for me. I wanted to photograph as many people that represented a style an idea a concept an agenda a game and an adventure to somewhere. I was after the living fathers of art history and everyone that followed them young and old.

Keith Haring was in his 20s, Basquiat was in his 20s and the world was talking about these prodigies. I was to photograph them as well. I realized that history was my light force. I wanted to capture the future past before it was someone else's recorded moment. I wanted this to be my legacy, capturing art history. The streets of Paris were not my obsession. Photographing the artists was my obsession: Cesar, Marcel Jean, Helion, Dubuffet, Matta, Andre Masson was my art history. I wanted the moment when I walked into the studios of not just artists but art. I wanted to see the canvas. I wanted the art in my camera...I wanted my story. 

Sometimes my story was what I expected... and then there were days where I saw the dekoonings or Miros and other maestros as if we were all the same age...wow what a shake up it was sometimes when my hero was 90 or 100. So you can imagine that I was totally flummoxed but in love when Helion's daughter still 20 years my senior said, “you know my father doesn't see but just a little. Let me walk you over to him.

There he was, his nose almost touching the canvas. A little man in a suit, tieless and a white shirt, nipping and tucking art. He was touching  the canvas with a bit of blue and glasses as thick as a doorknob. I was so much in love with the moment, I was unaware of my camera  weighing me down. I am still the kid with impressions that matter more than realities. My mind was clouded in dreams, because this is the dream I wanted to be real from the beginning. I wanted to stand one to to one with art history.

I am awash in colors. An artist’ life stood before me. A single shard of light, a cane and life's end posed before my camera. He took my hand after his daughter walked me up to him...and we strolled the studio through his memory. He was my eyes into his creations. I am reminded that I am a kid in my own eyes. I am wide eyed and just living a moment. Paris, Napoleon and more were just outside the walls of the studio.

I think I ended up photographing thousands of artists in my career. I witnessed what it was like to  stand in front of a blank canvas and decide what is the first moment, what is it I wanted to say. This is what the earliest cave drawings might have been about. Herbert Bayer once told me something like that...and I just loved the concept.

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Jean Hélion and I had a coffee and a chat. I awake from my dream. “Shall we make your photograph Mr Schulman? For me the conversation was as important as the image. They are so intricately intwined.

I snapped an image and another. I was thinking about the light sparring with his glasses. I was a mere 6-10 frames From completing one of the saddest 125th of a seconds in my career. I looked at a life disappearing before my eyes in the guise of this fantastic little man whose 80 some odd years I cherished and adored. Hélion made me realize why I was in this moment. I took him by his hand and walked him to the side of the bed facing the window with his cane by his side.

My camera delivered the moment, death. My camera saw Jean Hélion disappearing into the light and beyond. There was a spell that enveloped the room. It was a moment that mattered. Life was over for him and that had to be my image.

My camera experienced death, the end of a life. He was being transported into the light and disappearing for good, an artists’ life at the end. I went up to him and stroked his shoulders and told him I was done. He whisked a tear from his eyes maybe guessing what I was thinking. He whispered, “but that was so fast, I hope you got what you wanted”.

I left his studio enraptured by my afternoon. I strolled through the “Luxembourg Gardens without noticing a single sound. Thirty-Five years later the shot was the experience I discovered that day. I will never forget photographing death.

 

 

 

 

Peter Zumthor is No Longer A Ghost

Peter Zumthor

Peter Zumthor

Traveling from Vienna to Zurich was one of many photographic journeys that felt like an immersive journey into a world of architecture. The slow pastoral excursion through varied landscapes: hillsides and mountainous ascents and descents was exhilarating. With options of “Planes,Trains and Automobiles” at my disposal, the pacing I experienced on a train seemingly slowed the the earth’s rotation. My mind felt like the god Mercury racing up the sheer north face of the Eiger. Every image, every thought came hurtling through my brain like asteroids on steroids. Faster, faster and faster the world blurred before my eyes. But I was able to grab hold of the slowed earth rotation and relished my recent days making portraits with the famed architects Wolf Prix on one day and Hans Hollein on another. The generous time they shared with me enabled me to bring a fresh perspective on their architecture and architecture in general. I was given a green light to interpret as I saw fit.

Initially I had entered Vienna with Graham Greene’s “The Third Man” and Harry Lime as my visual template. When I travel I always use a photography navigational system to guide me through the streets and vistas. It allows me to view through a separate lens until I discover my own. Using Graham Greene to help me see Vienna was amazing. I followed the dark streets and shadows softened by fog. I saw “The Third Man” everywhere. My experience with the two fab architects enabled me to come alive. I was able to see what they felt. Graham Greene, Wolf Prix, Hans Hollein at once was plenty of ammunition to awaken me to what Vienna offers. Eventually I made my own Vienna. Looking back, I love what I was able to conjure with my camera.

Peter Zumthor

Peter Zumthor

Swiftly the Viennese immersion compelled me to realize that one experience does not make a life. It only sharpens your insights and prepares you for tomorrow.

The train was careening past Innsbruck and more Austrian charm. I was under a spell.

With all the bucolic wonderland before me, I was struggling with the vile creature in my intestines I met in the American Bar in Vienna. Bent over like “The” Hunchback... I arrived in Zurich.

I had many difficult moments to find the strength to move forward. Initially my mind was lost in another type of search. Tom Stoppard had me guessing that “Travesties” was everywhere. As in my Viennese apparitions, I was hoping for Lenin and Joyce at every turn, but I was too sick to find them. Zurich could have been a fantastic treasure hunt for my camera. 

Timing and Health prevailed. I had an appointment with a ghost. I was back on the train from Zurich to Haldenstein to meet the man who was famous for his creations for a Zen moment. At this moment, the architect Peter Zumthor was more mythical than real to the general public. There was always a prevailing whisper swirling about. He had designed fabulous projects. The whispers sang, “Did you see? Have you heard? Do you know?”. I understood that if I was to make a success of this mission I had to will myself into better health. My health was not ready for my will.

I traveled by train so I could spend some morning time considering what my camera may do with the ghost. I needed to choreograph the possibilities. Pre-visualizing truly gives a photographer a leg up when visiting new environments.

I arrived in Haldenstein  looking like I had a conversation with death. I was not a pretty picture.

Climbing the hills via taxi to my destination made me think about what I understood to be the extreme privacy for the  mysterious figure. I arrived at his studio. I entered with my equipment. Twenty people looked at me as if an intruder had interrupted their way of life. I explained my purpose. I had a date to photograph Zumthor.

Peter Zumthor

Peter Zumthor

The assistant scurried out and came back with, “Mr Zumthor has no recollection of this appointment”. I stammered loudly, “I am not leaving. I have traveled thousands of miles for this, and I have an appointment”.

My whole body was struck with pain from whatever befell me in Vienna. The master entered the room.

He whispers as if words from an Ewok, “I have decided against having my portrait photographed”. There is no such thing as a stare beyond incredulous. I froze for a few ticks. I then bellowed, “not only have I traveled thousands of miles just for you (I lied a bit), and I saw that you posed for that cheesy picture in Vanity Fair!” Our eyes met. He mannered an apology. “My PR people made me do it.”

With that, he asked me to meet him outside. He was heading back up the hill from his studio, presumably to his home (hopefully not to call the police). He said he would return momentarily.

I strolled to the end of the property. I looked out over a princely domain, the municipality of Haldenstein. I was able to stand erect. I needed to immerse myself in lives beyond... This was one of the great reasons I became a photographer.  Thousands of Portraits, thousands of buildings, and I still obsess about why I am a photographer, and what I need to do with my “mind’s eye” in the moment.

I heard some gravel race down the hill. Peter Zumthor walked to me with a tray carrying cappuccinos and cigars. “Do you smoke?”.  And then our session began.

We walked the grounds for about an hour, a cigar’s life. He spoke about his plans for his new atelier. He wanted me to understand the process and the concept for the materials as it related to his vision and the marriage with Haldenstein. He was alive. He was animated. He was speaking to me and addressing his passion(s).

Maybe it was the cigar, the cappuccino or simply the love for what I do...I recognized “god’s light” on my subject and my pulse returned.

We made an interesting collection of images that day. He asked me to stay for lunch. 

I felt I had come to see if the the ghost was real. Peter Zumthor was more than that. They say,”truth is stranger than fiction”. That day, reality was greater than the myth. 

Peter Zumthor was no longer a ghost. For that moment that day he shared his considerations for architecture. I was able to envision his future footprints/designs. As he spoke, they all appeared before me... I was/am privileged.

“Trains, Planes and Automobiles”. I headed back to the train station. The train ride allowed me to reflect on the morning. But the plane flight to my next destination filled me with the time to reflect on my experience.

Peter Zumthor

Peter Zumthor

Fernando Botero Redux

Botero at home

Botero at home

When one arrives in Italy to commune with art history it might as well be in a desert without a natural compass. There is no guidance system, there is only Italy’s cultural tapestry splayed across every fiber of it’s boot. You numerously thrust your diving rod into the depths to locate your baseline. There is only an imaginary baseline.

One might launch his/her life into art. At first it seems like child’s play. Yet in art like life, we learn there is no greatness without a price to pay. I think It is a dream to commune with greatness for artists. To engage in a symbiotic marriage is an act of clarity. The act doesn’t make the art. But the clarity allows you to see the past in your mind, and live it in the present.

For centuries, Italy has embraced the burden of beasts who wanted to live as artists. Those beasts live in her past and present. Fernando Botero is such a beast.

Many years have past since I last photographed Botero. I came to Pietrasanta to revisit our last dance in Paris. A dance in Paris now becomes an aria in Italy. The two worlds need each other, but they live apart.

My appointment with Botero is now a greeting of friends. There is a bit of magic to an embrace of old friends. I guess it is “what is mine is yours”. I am certainly a bit overwhelmed by his residence. The villa sits above the town like a deserving king. It befits his life lived. He is among the most famous contemporary artists in the region. Unlike our first meeting, I find that he has found his comfort in his skin, He no longer needs to impress. 

We sit for lunch and relish the view. If you allow yourself to be transported in time and ignore the tourism, and arts and crafts you can almost smell the marble being transported throughout the regions. Artists from around the world come to Pietrasanta to feel the spirit of Michelangelo. Yes they could stand under or in front of his great paintings. But to hear the call of carrara marble under siege must be exhilarating.

 We plan our time together. First I will make a series of portraits to celebrate this time together. Then the next day we will drive to his (Michelangelo’s) foundry.

Botero in repose

Botero in repose

The portraits at the villa are like framing stills for something cinematic. There is the artist and his work. Then his movements with brush and canvas. Then we are transported through a portal of time. We are in a fog of Italian centuries. It is a beautiful motion.

I have for sometime wished that was my lasting visual memory. But the next day we visit art history. We drive the 30 minutes to the carrara foundry. My host cannot be more generous. He  shared his extraordinary treasures of places to dine and see when I am not with him. Sometimes those moments are even more delectable when one adheres to the suggestive voice of a friend. 

Botero in his studio

Botero in his studio

We arrive at the foundry. I cannot appropriately explain my gasp. But when art is at its best, it needs to be seen in quietude. The replica of “David’s”penis was intact!!!

Yes a funny thought. But more, Italian sculpture for the past 600 years lives here! It was just a novice’s gasp...but one I will enjoy for a lifetime. 

Romance seemed to die like a car wreck on the highway. The foundry is no different than a local car mechanics shop. Has my romantic reverie for another time another way of living an artist quest been shattered? Nope! But jeez, so much cheap magazine pornography strewn from wall to wall. “David” and porn? Maybe. I guess the experience of art as a view into God’s church was squashed a bit.

I made my images of the Rabelaisian sculpture. Giant bronzes stood powerfully. Fernando was the proud father. I embraced my good fortunes. Life was good.

I think experiences can be ephemeral as in fashionable artists, or possibly my Botero experience will live with me as Michelangelo has lived with others for a lifetime. There was a prevailing wind like a lilting aria drifting through my snapshot of time spent with the artist. I no longer danced, but merely inhaled an artist’ dream. 

Botero in the Carrara Foundry

Botero in the Carrara Foundry

Fernando Botero’s Rabelaisian Effect

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The larger than life giants, Rabelais’ Gargantua and Pantagruel roamed the European continent. Their inconceivable bawdiness engulfed Europe. Human fat splayed over the un-suspecting. Then waves of  intestinal excess battered impoverished lives. Now you know you have felt the deluge of the Rabelaisian effect.

Fernando Botero’s art didn’t exactly gush across the  art world by storm. But the affect his work had on the art world was one of surreal wonderment. For years famed Latin American writers Marquez, Fuentes, Llosa and more had been trying to interpret his works. But the truth is revealed only when you meet the man in person.

I have photographed Botero a number of times. Each meeting offered a millimeter of change. But each time I walked away with an arm’s length of rewards. So let’s begin with my first encounter in France.

I arrived in Paris in 1983 to photograph a number of artists living in Paris and the South of France. The list of luminaries: Cesar, Arman, Chagall, Dubuffet, Matta, Masson, Helion, Soulages, Tinguely, and Niki de Saint Phalle were almost the core of French art from the mid 20th Century. The art world had moved to New York at that time, but the galleries and museums that marked the best of Paris were true romance, true history. 1983 was critical for me. I entered hundreds of artist studios. I was getting an education through osmosis. I wanted to caress art. I wanted to see what my camera could see. Studios were the places I could dream in. I wanted to feel the imaginations of others. Many artists from around the world came to Paris to live in that history to feel the romance of the city.

I walked along the Rue du Dragon. For me at the time the 6th arrondissement was the center of Paris. Dragon is a famous street, home to great photographs and great art history. The Colombian artist Fernando Botero’s studio was there. He was “the catch” at that time. He was good and bad famous. Very much acclaimed and popular but with a bit of kitsch. His work was always a bit of fantasy for me, more than cultural dissection.

I arrived. Botero greets me with pleasantries, and initiates the conversation with, “you are going to appreciate my studio. It once belonged to Brassai”. Considering that Brassai was arguably the most famous photographer of the 20th century...I felt enshrined. I looked for the ghosts.

This day was part of a realized dream. Three to four floors of Botero was a bit overwhelming. It was great. Fat people, fat animals, fat fat fat surfaced in dozens of executed paintings and sculptures. There was so much to breathe in. I wanted to touch each and every piece. These are the kind of otherworldly experiences I had dreamed about.

We danced through the afternoon. The paintings and sculptures spun through my mind. I was trying to learn what fat meant. I naively asked. “What’s with all the fat people?”. Botero kindly made reference to culture, circumstances of lives and suggested the more bloated the greater the story. Rabelais lives in Botero.

It was fun to watch and listen and shoot my camera as if we shared a mysterious waltz. Fernando watched my moves, I watched his eyes.

I had accomplished what I was after. I thanked this fabulous man for a great afternoon. He kindly nodded “thank you maestro”. I wondered when I might have an elegant session quite like that again.

I ambled along the crooked cobblestone street towards the Seine...I was in Paris.

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Herzog and DeMeuron : The Silence of Architecture

Phyllis Lambert, Jacques Herzog and Pierre DeMeuron

Phyllis Lambert, Jacques Herzog and Pierre DeMeuron

The photography of architecture is very complicated: you need to hear your own voice, and the voice of the architect(s).

Both voices speak with an understanding of two sets of voluble/visible footprints. To marry those voices into a single shot or a thousand becomes the pleasure of the gods.

It is a ride like none other. Imagine  if vertigo is triggered and you are helplessly falling somewhere wildly. Suddenly you discover the silence of architecture.

   I have made the portraits of hundreds of architects, and thousands of buildings, yet only some rare architects have imbued my mind with what that silence means.

I was introduced to Herzog and DeMeuron by one of their earliest clients Alfred Richterich, the Chairman of Ricola.

The Swiss architects had arranged to be photographed in the Prada headquarters NYC that they were designing.

The session was supposed to be Jacques and Pierre for my new book, Portraits of the New Architecture. 

56 Leonard, NYC

56 Leonard, NYC

This was to be a terrific moment. Something of importance was about to happen. The Prada assistant keeps my company and keeps me calm in a space in mid summer without air conditioning. She promises me a Prada camera bag to keep me relaxed(I never received that bag). I suffered through the anxiety until Jacques shows up sans Pierre. Jacques was three hours late.

I glossed over Jacques apologies. Pierre had other obligations.

At first I thought I would punish Jacques. It was a ridiculous notion. But I turned my lights brightly towards  the three layers of meninges around the brain and watched his skin singe.

Yes it was an out of body experience. It never happened. Though I think the visual notions might have compelled me to make the most unsparingly honest portraits of my career.

Those images are not to be seen today, maybe for another time. Jacques had  shown me a characteristic I had never witnessed/experienced before as a photographer. His apologies for tardiness were dismissing, but his commitment to this portrait session was of complete compliance. Every idea every position Jacques fully participated in.

I learned more than I was prepared for. The day was truly a photographic cathartic release.  Though I might have inadvertently caused some skin to burn. 

Parrish Art Museum Southampton, New York

Parrish Art Museum
Southampton, New York

Four to five months later I had been invited to the Herzog and DeMeuron retrospective at the Phyllis Lambert’s CCA (Canadian Center for Architecture) in Montreal. Phyllis Lambert is clearly the doyenne of 20th and 21st architecture. Her museum is certainly one of the greatest treasure troves of Architectures episodic history. I was fortunate to have made her portrait in her home earlier in the year.

When I received the invite for the rematch with Jacques and Pierre, I knew I had to approach the session cooler and calmer. The setting was the entry corridor to the museum. This was one of two images I was to make this day. It  was  unique to have Jacques, Pierre and Phyllis in one frame. This moment was to become more than a picture. It was to become my “Educating Rita”. This is where I learned that photography can be a static art without the deeper understanding of the “w’s of inquiry.

Architectural Photography has so many layers...so many needs and necessities. I rein in the camera to share the obvious, and dedicate the tools of photography to deliver more than the eye sees, to surprise!

The session is going smoothly until...

The afternoon was the very special preview for the throngs of well wishers and patrons. They push a bit frantically at the stanchions and red velvet ropes. The chatterboxes were trying to figure out what was occurring. I was in the midst of finishing my moment. The noise was getting louder. Calmly, Jacques stood up and addressed the room of hundreds. “When Richard Schulman is finished  shooting, you can enter”. For me I felt like the “Hulk” at that moment. My swelling confidence  splayed throughout the room.

I completed my portrait. My lesson was about to come to an end. I shook Phyllis’ and Pierres’ hands. Jacques grabs me by my arm. “I want to show you something”. He proceeds to walk me through the entire exhibition space. He says, “I want to share with you what our work is about”. He has me feeling, caressing each and every object in the room.

I am awed by the moment the experience. In this silent moment I said to myself, “wow, how silent architecture is”.

That lesson was maybe 30 minutes. But it has engineered a lifetime of photography since.

Architecture is not silent. Architecture has many sounds, rhythms. When you hear the matters of importance from one of the great voices of our times, you listen.

One stands with the silence of architecture until it speaks.

Prada, Tokyo

Prada, Tokyo



Gore Vidal’s Impulse

Gore Vidal inside his Beverly Hills Hotel Bungalow

Gore Vidal inside his Beverly Hills Hotel Bungalow

I remember landing at LAX filled with anticipation for my exciting shoot. I had this stellar commission to photograph the fabulous author Gore Vidal. I had been planning this for sometime. I came armed with dozens of things I wanted to chat with him about.

I arrived at the Beverly Hills Hotel. It sits like an architectural flower on Sunset Blvd. A parade of Palm Trees escort you to the waiting valets.

There was a message with the concierge asking me to wait in the (the famed) Polo Lounge until Mr Vidal is ready. I by chance sat at the bar next to Keanu Reeves. I was drinking a confidence glass of scotch, while Kneau attacked his bowl of salad like a frenzied wolf shredding a bloody carcass. He must have been in a hurry. I took my glass on an amusing roundabout thru the hotel until I was called for. I roamed the lobby thinking about the past glories of the hotel, Beverly Hills and more.

If at various moments in the 20th Century you asked someone who or what was the most recognizable American cultural representation…almost every artistic endeavor would take a back seat to Hollywood and filmdom: Charlie Chaplin, Mae West, Clark Gable, Fred Astaire, and a future litany of Hollywood celebrities.

Beverly Hills became associated with Hollywood as the home of movie stars. On any given day, (swimming through the portals of various decades) you might see Clark Gable driving his Duesenberg along Sunset Blvd, or Fred Astaire sashay up Rodeo Drive with a pink ascot shimmying around his waist. That was another time, another world. When you combine such novels as “Day of The Locust”, “Hollywood Babylon” and hundreds more morphing into “Less Than Zero”, our eyes begin to open to the eccentricity and capricious nature of our cinematic culture. A wild riff should follow on celebrity, filmdom and more. But the above is merely a canvas of ghosts that live in the dreams of hundreds of millions of people who fantasize about the unattainable.

The concierge motioned me to head to Vidal’s bungalow. I reminded myself about the dozens of personalities who could implicitly define our culture past and present, but there was one true “Zelig”, Gore Vidal. Gore’s east coast west coast DNA is made up of Hollywood/Beverly Hills, Newport, R.I, Wash.D.C and European breeding.

I wanted a one on one photography session with a voice that could share people, politics, cultural stories like no other public intellectual could. I got more than i wished for.

I knocked on the door. When Gore opened and greeted me I immediately felt the grip of a man who has lived to see it all. I had admired his literary power for years. Now we were face to face…and I needed to focus on the task at hand.

A photographer has to find the impulses of a subject to make a pic work. My space seemed limited at first. His companion Howard was in the living area, and here I was in the bedroom. We danced, we sparred and I wasn’t gaining any ground. I wanted to feel what I could do. A photographer has to utilize tools to find the button to push. I pushed the wrong button.

We were discussing his new work and how he was trying to get access to his subjects: The mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center attack, Ramzi Yousef, the bomber of the Oklahoma City Federal Building, Timothy McVeigh and lastly the infamous “Unabomber”, Ted Kaczynski.

Gore was planning to visit the federal penitentiaries where they resided. Of course my first instinct was to ask him if I could shoot their portraits for his articles. He at first ignored my interests. He went on to share with me the theme that linked the three men. He was poised to write some pretty outrageous commentary regarding them. He was essentially sermonizing to me for 10 minutes. I abruptly stopped him when he told me that he felt that Timothy McVeigh was a genius. I objected. I never met the man…the little I knew of McVeigh hadn’t convinced me that there was a genius hiding in the dark. Also it was incredulous to me that one of my literary heroes had just unintentionally undermined his own intelligence. I am smart enough to know when I am out of my element. Maybe I had allowed my own earnestness to cross a forbidden boundary. Maybe I was in the wrong. I had dreamed of having an exchange with Gore for years. But I said what I needed to say. Then it happened. Gore was standing maybe 10 feet from where I stood shooting while he sermoned me. He suddenly lunged at me with his fists and face afire. I backed up against the wall while he yelled at me that he gets paid for his thoughts and “you are standing here disagreeing with me for free”.

”Get out of here!!” he screamed.

I felt helpless and horribly slighted. I almost fought with Gore Vidal. I had zero fight in me. I automatically began packing my equipment. There was this dense fury between us. Our eyes never met. Minutes went by, and suddenly as whispering as a priest offering absolution, he offered, “lets take a walk”.

The Bungalows are not a secret at the Beverly Hills Hotel. But they are like a secret garden. I had been there before with a small party. But following Gore’s lead almost hand in hand…was quite eerie. With Sunset Blvd seconds away there was not a sound to be heard. Maybe I was numb.

Gore Vidal just outside his Beverly Hills Bungalow

Gore Vidal just outside his Beverly Hills Bungalow

We walked just for a few seconds when he turned to me with hand extended and apologized. The conversation we had for the next hour was the one I had hoped for from the beginning. He shared family stories: Jackie Kennedy/President Kennedy stories and movie star stories. It was a ramble that endeared me to him forever. It wasn’t the stories I needed. It was merely the voice I wanted. It was a beautiful embrace as we parted.

I popped into my car and headed west on Sunset Blvd

My Affair with David Hockney

David Hockney (1984)

David Hockney (1984)

GREAT ARTISTS HAVE A SECRET CODE.
DAVID HOCKNEY SHARED WITH ME THE KEY TO UNLOCK HIS CODE!

I was on my way east on Sunset Blvd. to photograph one of the most recognized artists in the world, David Hockney circa 1984.

It was an important day in my career…I had to create a bit of magic. Joan Didion once told me that she and her husband John used to travel to all points east in Los Angeles. They wanted to discover the grit of of the city. My agenda was simpler, softer. I remembered pre- visualizing the Los Angeles cityscape as an Italian Renaissance Mosaic painting intricately strewn across the hills, mountains and highways. All I had to do was take piece by piece, moment by moment and discover the “aha” shot.

Making my way from Sunset Blvd up through the canyons has always bothered me. You have one road in one road out. A fire or landslide is imminent. You are trapped! That fear of the unknown is not for me.

I love the canyons for what they offer: unique architecture, the Planetarium, the Hollywood Bowl and vistas unmatched in the Los Angeles footprint. But it is simultaneously halting and romantic. One feels for Michael Connelly’s protagonist, Hieronymus Bosch. He resides in a period romantic home…with jazz and vistas enveloping his world. Yet there is darkness and danger at every turn. The “Devils Lair” lives in those hills.

But Woodrow Wilson Drive is home to a collection of cultural celebrities…my mentor Julius Shulman and my subject at hand David Hockney were among the dozens.
As I continued up the road, I remember Julius telling me years before; “ David Hockney lives down the road from me”.

I arrived at Hockney’s home. As he greeted me, I shared with him what Julius Shulman shared. David responded giddy with delight, “I guess I might have to start wearing some clothes around the pool”.
Meeting famous cultural figures looking back more than 30 years in my rearview mirror is always daunting. They are famous for many reasons. Their orbit is theirs… yet they encircle a world history, a cultural identity that few experiences, and few share. Maybe Yo Yo Ma comes to mind as equally gracious with sharing his art and his self.

Hockney in his studio

Hockney in his studio

David walked me around his space. He was looking to make me comfortable. We shared mini stories about artists in common. By that time I had photographed a few hundred…and he had understood thousands. I let him lead the talks.

After a while, he took me over to a giant drafting table. He had these two possibly 17th-century Chinese scrolls. He made me promise that I would not take any pictures of the scrolls. With zero prompting he goes on this riff about the relationship between these scrolls and his photographs and paintings. It was electric to be one on one with a Hockney lecture. He was so passionate so giving. Inch by inch he created a reveal. Every motion of unfurling revealed a segment of the narrative and journey. With every motion, David turned to one of his works to point out the similarities and influences.

Somehow, my photography sessions often produce a seminal moment where I realize I am not merely with an artist but an artist who has a code about his art and life. He gave me the key to both in the most delicate of gestures. He placed my hands on either side of the scroll. He asked me to unfurl slowly, delicately, so I could personally unveil the natural beauty of the earth through this Chinese discipline. Each act of unfurling moment by moment gave me a slight window into David’s world, his need for understanding.

David Hockney examines his work as if he is experiencing a paranormal effect. He intellectually goes through portal after portal finding new dimensions to his work. That is also the “Artists Code”; a constant engagement to what may be more.

Hockney’s gaze

Hockney’s gaze

The day is done. I have seen dozens of Hockney photographs, paintings, and drawings. I made a portrait that for 1984 seemed to work for me for that day.

I shook his hand and he walked me out to my car.
As I got in he said,” can you play music, do you have a cassette player?.” I nodded.
He spun around and raced into his house….he came skipping back and said, “play this on your journey home, you will need to unwind a bit”. He told me to take Mulholland over the hills to Beverly Glen and then head south to where I was staying.

I had a convertible… I placed the cassette, a Mendelssohn recording in my player. He told me to return it when I got a chance.

I was clearly dazed and riveted by my afternoon. Hockney knew that I needed to reduce my adrenalin flow a notch or 10. My top was down the music played and the light atop Mulholland breathed the western light and ocean breezes into my brain…It was an out of body experience. I felt the Hockney influence…I was alive again.

I kept the cassette. I never got around to returning it. I am sure he never expected me to. It is a link to a great memory, and it also has David Hockney’s fingerprints all over it!

David at home

David at home

Architect Oscar Niemeyer Can Fly

Oscar Niemeyer in his Rio de Janeiro studio

Oscar Niemeyer in his Rio de Janeiro studio

I REMEMBER BEING TOLD A STORY ABOUT THE WRITER OF THE LITTLE PRINCE, ANTOINE DE SAINT-EXUPERY FLYING DOWN TO RIO DE JANEIRO WITH HIS FRIEND THE ARCHITECT CORBUSIER, TO PICK UP THEIR FRIEND  OSCAR NIEMEYER.

They were going to fly over and around Brazil…which became the canvas for Antoine’s “The Little Prince”.

FLYING DOWN TO BRAZIL IS ONE OF THOSE JOURNEYS THAT CAN PRODUCE MYSTICAL BEAUTY LIKE FEW PLACES ON THE EARTH.  THE DIMINISHING JUNGLE CAN SWALLOW UP DREAMS AND REALITIES IN THE BLINK OF AN EYE. THE PEOPLE CAN DANCE WITH YOU THROUGH THE NIGHT...THE FOOD, DRINK AND OTHERWORLDLY DELIGHTS CAN KEEP YOU AFLOAT ON DREAMS AND MEMORIES FOR A LIFETIME. MY DREAM WOULD BE TO EMBRACE THE TRIO’S VISION, THEIR STORIES ON THAT JOURNEY.

Flying down to Rio allows you to play in your mind every song written about Rio, Ipanema, Copacabana…

Once the playlist rolls through your head, your dreams of what is about to start to become reality.

I was on the plane flying to Rio to photograph Oscar Niemeyer and his work. I was also to photograph the Mayor of Rio, Cesar Maia and  Christain Portzamparc’s Cidade Das Artes in progress.

I was in my element ..." flying down to Rio”.  I was feeling exotic. Exotic to me is being on a surfboard diving towards life and death on the 50-foot wave in Nazare, Portugal or Teahupoo,Tahiti.... yes it is part of a dream... but suddenly my photography dream was becoming a reality.

Casa das Canoas. Oscar Niemeyer’s 1952 designed home

Casa das Canoas. Oscar Niemeyer’s 1952 designed home

I was visually diagraming in the sky how I was to photograph Oscar Niemeyer.  It was a previsualization moment. It is something I have done for generations. Niemeyer was a force of nature in the world of Architecture.  Few other voices have had an impact on the 20th and 21st Century built designs. Where conformist made great work Oscar created a template for architects to explore themselves and their designs. What was my camera going to deliver? I had to imagine what I might do.

I was suddenly nudged by my flight mate. It turns out he was CIA. We talked and drank for the flight duration. But that story and more is for another 10,000 words another day.

Back to my Dream:

In my life, the photographic experience is the visual realization of a dream come true…It is rare and it is memorable.

The Little Prince is a written dream.  A dream where reality seems within reach. This great story is about adventure and discovery. My camera has been my tool, my instrument my window to the same adventure and discoveries.

Casa das Canoas

Casa das Canoas

I entered his apartment…wide-eyed   not only in anticipation of meeting one of the great figures of modern Architecture but see with my own eyes the life of a design visionary in real time. As I entered my eyes danced around the studio looking at his drawings on the walls…and the ocean/sky horizon outside.

The giant entered the room:

I am 6’3” Oscar is about 5’3. To meet and greet him was kind of awkward. But he was the king…and I am not.

We got on with the pics…i just wanted the lens to absorb the room and sink into the film transparency like indelible ink.

I didn’t want to go “snippety snap snap snap” with my camera. I was supposed to be kind of important, otherwise, why would he allow me there?

I was like a kid. The chaise he sat on…the drawings he surrounds himself with…all  looked sort of old school,

but for me a life’s memory.

Maybe the most interesting part of our exchanges were his queries about all of the Pritzker Prize architects I had photographed. I guess the funniest/awkward moment was; “who is your favorite,? he asked”.

After our shoot, he took me by the hand into his drafting room.

The master placed a pen in my hand…his hand on top of mine on the drafting table atop a sheet of paper. He commandeered my control, and together we drew a beautiful piece together. I was metamorphosed back in time to the innocent I used to be. It was a beautiful moment.

Needless to say, after he signed it, I guarded it like a treasure trove of jewels.  It seems that I came home with many gifts.

I was actually in Rio a week before heading off to São Paulo to photograph Paulo Mendes. I made some architectural images that I am proud of.  Every day from the beaches and more I tried to imagine how my experiences mirrored the Little Prince and his friends.

My afternoon with Oscar lives in my lifetime of real dreams.

The Museum of Contemporary Art of Niteroi

The Museum of Contemporary Art of Niteroi

Philip Johnson Naked In the Glass House

Philip Johnson in the Glass House

Philip Johnson in the Glass House

Be Damned Charlie Rose

One night I was sitting just inside my porch on Lake George. I was watching Charlie Rose interview Philip Johnson on tv in 1998.

I loved listening to Philip's logic his tone his grace his quiet demeanor when Charlie went after him for being a Nazi sympathizer. It was very unnecessary, but Charlie wanted a moment...but didn't get it. Philip danced gracefully around the attack and the rest and past is history.

But what lured me in was the nagging question, why I had not photographed Philip Johnson one of the legendary architects of the 20th century?

Up to this point in my career, I have had the pleasure of being able to photograph almost any cultural personality I chose to pursue!

Here now I was thinking, 'Jesus I have to meet this man before he dies...90 something’. How remiss I would have been not to have included someone so significant so influential/iconic, almost otherworldly at the time. My immediate judicious step was to call my friend Richard Meier. Richard is a protective sort of guy. His world is his world…But he has always been generous with me. So he made the connection for me. I called and set up an appointment…fortunately, I found out later that Philip and his partner David knew my work and thought of me as the next Irving Penn…or so they generously said. Well, of course, I never became the next …but it was a subtle stroking that I appreciated immensely since Irving was one of my photography heroes. So in December of that year, I headed up to New Canaan Ct on one of the most gorgeous days. It was crisp fresh and perfect for my camera sans lights…

Glass House - New Canaan, CT

Glass House - New Canaan, CT

I remember taking the train from Grand Central. I entered the station at an early morning hour. For a moment I felt I had walked into a frame of the history of photography: the light streaming in through the windows of the station looking just like that classic Lewis Hine image. Geoff Dyer’s “The On-Going Moment” warned me of these engagements, where you are in the present but really a link to the past. I am on the train thinking about that Lewis Hine…thinking about Philip and what I must do to make something memorable something that people can talk about, something that means that I made a memorable moment with a memorable person.

I always enter a space wondering if this is the time that matters…all photographs matter. There is an inspiration that works. it works like a wand guiding light for your eyes to live and see the moment, to seize the moment. It is almost like asking your camera to do something extra for you.

My Pentax 6x7 has seen so many moments that you sort of ask if the camera can pull off one more dance move…a capture that you weren't prepared for but suddenly it is there. The moment is an experience that comes to life and becomes not merely an experience but something you have dreamed of seeing your whole life as a photographer. It is a ridiculous notion but any photographer worth anything, really does have that inner heart that speaks to the moment. When entering in the experience as if you are in control, what happens is that you and your subject marry an idea to get there. It is this sort of an orchestra conductor’s moment where you take control and something that just magically becomes the photograph. Think about how boring it might be if you take the same idiotic photograph everyday…but instead made a rubik dance between you the light the space your camera your subject. Faster and faster all the squares move around until everything comes to a standstill and you say; “Philip …” don’t move!”. You know that that is the image that is the dream. It is of course only for you. Nobody else loves the moment as you do. It is why one becomes a photographer to show the rabbit pop out of the magician’s hat! One day with luck, you will show it to everyone out there and have that aha moment, not for yourself but that aha moment to a discerning audience! Ok, So now I arrive...

Walking into the Glass House for the first time, is kind of like entering a cathedral of architecture. The House is almost folklore for the second half of the 20th century architecture. You breathe the past the present and the future in one inhale, your exhale is nirvana.. Philip sits at his desk engaged in a jousting match with Herbert Muschamp: The former NY Times Architectural Critic.

It turns out they had been discussing me. Philip and Herbert seemed to be bandying my name about like a shuttlecock. Philip hung up and said, “ Tell me, Mr. Schulman, where shall we begin?

For the next 3-4 hours, we raced through all of the structures on the property. Philip outpaced me in every way.

He was marvelously striding as if floating on clouds, I was taking deep breaths hoping not to show my immediate need for assisted living. I was huffing and puffing, taking this and that pic.

But from every word we shared about Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid, Rem Koolhaas and dozens of other architects…i was getting an education.

It was a life experience, a moment only the camera and memory would share with me.

The apex of the day was certainly in the Sculpture Gallery. Light speaks to photographers as light speaks to flora…we grow with every movement of light in a space of time.

We entered the space…I knew instantly that this was my space my moment. I made like a spinning top twirling down the steps to know if my mind’s eye was right. Shadows were dancing everywhere…. I raced back up the steps and had Philip stand in his/my light…god’s actually but …better, nature’s light.

I yelled To him, “Stop! where you are, face the light…I asked him. He was totally bewildered, but he obeyed, finally …and “click”.

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I went to him and grabbed his hand and said thank you. He was a bit stunned that the session was over.

I spun around and for one second I thought my light had a bit of a link to Hine’s Grand Central Station…a link to the “On Going Moment”.

Philip suddenly remembered that when we met I had told him that I had a special request.

He asked me to share the request. We strolled over to the pool in front of his Glass House. I stared into 90 years of a life lived.

I said, ”Philip, I want to shoot you naked”. This was a WOW! Factor. He suddenly looked like a cherub with a dream in his mind. His visage of 90 transformed into a 4 year old in an instant.

At that moment his partner David drove up. Philip told me that he needed to speak with David first.

After a brief chat, he came back to me and said he couldn’t do it. He thought it was the most amazing request. I tried to persuade him that Philip Johnson naked in the Glass House would be amazing!

’I don’t want to see your private parts, just the idea of the naked creator in the Glass House would be epic, I begged’.

“David wants to protect my legacy”.

I begged some more to no avail.

David later drove me back to the train station.

He said Philip probably had the best time with you out of all of his photography sessions!! “You are probably our present day Irving Penn, but I just cannot allow Philip to be shot naked in the Glass House…he mumbled with a smile, “ Philip Johnson naked in the Glass House….”

Yes, I could write another 10,000 words on that day…

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Arata Isozaki

Arata Isozaki: 2019 Pritzker Prize Recipient

Izosaki at the Guggenheim Museum- New York, NY

Izosaki at the Guggenheim Museum- New York, NY

Hold on to your space suits!

Have you ever felt the full force of tiny asteroids the size of diamonds flying with full force pelting your face into full shock...somewhere between a stoned death and/or a cryogenic freeze?

In 2003 After flying 15 hours from New York to Tokyo I was all jacked up to have an amazing photography experience shooting some of the most exciting voices in the architectural world?

Aside: A scary fun thought, all of them have been awarded the Pritzker Prize!

Ok back to my nightmare! I have arrived in Japan to photograph Tadao Ando, Toyo Ito, SANAA, (Kazuyo Sejima,and Ryue Nishizawa) Shigeru Ban and Arata Isozaki. I was in Tokyo to shoot for my book, “Portraits of the New Architecture”.

What a trip I imagined!!!!!!!!! Portraits of these great faces, and an imaginary escape ala Ian Fleming’s “Thrilling Cities” through the brightest and darkest spots of Tokyo. I wanted to find the aforementioned architects best examples of architectural design in Tokyo. Yes I could have traveled the earth claiming their most famous most known works, but making this about one trip one city one moment is truly better for me than following the myth of Ando or Brancusi; walking the land across nations to learn about Architecture or Sculpture.

Moca - Los Angeles, CA.

Moca - Los Angeles, CA.

I wanted immersion.

A funny thing happens to me when I travel for work,there is an electric gene that goes off and flips me a visual thought about photography. Nothing is off limits; lying on my back, camera dangling out of taxis, trains, planes and beyond to experience a new perspective.

For those who travel and those who don’t, there is the notion that we need to walk the streets endlessly to discover, ergo to know how a city breathes.

So, I begin racing through the streets to capture Tokyo with whatever my camera will allow.

I arrive at my hotel, a non distinctive place to rest my head.

Before I can breathe a note of joy, I call my first subject, SANAA.

“Sorry they are not available”. Hold on, what the &%$#@ effing are you talking about? I flew here just for them a (mini lie) and their schedule has suddenly changed?

Ok so now I hang up and dial one through six.

Looking back it is like being in a cloud of some drug induced confusion. Everyone of the architects changed their schedules at the same time?????.

So I played Sun Tzu in my mind.

I had a plan, I wasn’t going to allow for a mental breakdown to diffuse the larger plan.

Jet lag gripped me ...if I change time zones by an hour my body my mind becomes dis- functional by minutes, hours and years.

So after a delightful tasty collection of a sushi, sashimi tasty delight I went to sleep with a new attitude.

I awoke to an everything mattered mantra, every waking moment was a “visual feast”...my wife’s line!

I walked, rode the train, walked and rode the train some more.

At the end of the first day, I collected my inner Caesar., ”Veni,Vidi,Vici…”.

I telephoned each of my portrait moments.

“Hey I am here for just you...give me 10 minutes...in and out of your lives...and in my book!

Soulful responses poured out, a thousand apologies!

Everyone gave me the time that is emblematic of Japanese courtesy.

But why I am writing this blog, is because I felt I needed to share one of the more embraceable days as a photographer…photographing (iso), Arata Isozaki.

My last day, my last session made me think about something larger than my mere images.

A photographer’s life is defined by the experience at hand.

I arrived at “Iso’s studio.

Arriving in the Roppongi District of Tokyo was pretty electric. It was a bit like Times Square with a phallic Mori Tower flailing in the center.

But Iso’s studio is calm and discreet.

Warmly greeted, we began our sparring as almost all portrait sessions have a bit of a dance in them. I could write/speak for hours about the dance of a photographer’s session!

We spoke about many things...everything from the perception of light by a Japanese Architect and how that differs from a Western Architect. We playfully critiqued famous architects in general...some great zingers but also so many shares about architects revered. It was an exchange of casual intellectualism.

A short while in, he gets a call, he must speak to a client.

Palau Sant Jordi- Barcelona, Spain

Palau Sant Jordi- Barcelona, Spain

He apologizes, but then hands me a monograph on Herbert Bayer. it is a terrific edition that fortunately or not, I had to read for over an hour. To keep me occupied while I was reading Iso also shared a delicacy from where he was raised. It was some awful barely edible type of sweet potato.

But I survived and he returned and our dance card wasn’t up.

I proceeded to attempt to make a portrait that pushed the boundaries of light and camera. I wanted to explore what color and light could look light in a 10’x12’ office space.

Yes you will have to go to my website to see what I achieved. For me, it was a moment. For photography? It is what it is!

The whole experience lasted about 4 hours. It was much longer than the original 10 minute intended program.

But what separates this moment from the other 5000 portraits, is that Isozaki generously invited me to dinner at a British private club.

We with 2 of his assistants arrived at the club. He pulled me aside and told me that traveling alone can be trying and lonely, so he wanted to share a couple of things.

First: he wanted me to experience an exhibition of Corbusier paintings, drawings and sculpture. It was a mini retrospective. We collected a glass of wine and I listened to him share his thoughts on Corbusier, and the art itself. If you like or even appreciate architecture, you can bet that the time walking through the gallery was simply stunning and amazingly stimulating. The fact that it was a sharing experience is such a rare treat. Needless to say it was great!

Then he topped this generosity off when we sat down to dinner. We were on about the 20 something floor...he said, “I didn’t want you to be homesick for New York. I wanted you to have a New York experience in Tokyo in case you were homesick”. So there we were gazing over the city lights as I do in New York City.

Most of you might know that I am older than Methuselah...but it was truly a tender moment.

After a great meal, and more conversation we said our goodbyes. His assistants took me to some club which was for anyone younger than I was.

After awaking the next day I thought how I have traveled more than half the world, yet every once in awhile a true spirit makes one day out of a million a bit of heaven.

Isosaki’s Studio

Isosaki’s Studio