I Take What the Eyes Give Me

Portrait of Artist David Hare 1985

Portrait of Artist David Hare 1985

There is a particular patina that speaks to a well worn life. There is a stately rigor that the New York City Fifth Ave. Vanderbilt and Frick mansions strut. Then there are the threadbare remains of a life lived at East Hampton’s Grey Gardens. 

Youth has a way of blinding our paths forward. We are the most indispensable people on the planet, until we are not. Surfing the crest of a wave or motorcycling top speeds atop rain soaked highways come to mind when thinking about youth racing for life’s most exhilarating experiences. It is not reckless abandonment as some may think. It is freedoms’ call for the most we can savor before there is nothing left. None of the above means anything until the self-examination in the mirror recognizes the saddest or the most rewarding self. The life lived matters most.

From the early fall of 1982 to the early spring of 1985 I made nearly a 1000 portraits of artists (Dekooning, Jasper Johns, Miro, Moore, Warhol, Lichtenstein, Rauschenberg, Haring, Basquiat) and more. Shoot, shoot, shoot,I was having a ton of fun. If I was introduced to someone, it was, “Richard makes portraits of artists”. I felt I was a photographer. But I wasn’t. I was merely taking pictures. I was just this portrait guy. I never had much of a plan. Russia had not happened yet. London, Paris and Los Angeles were...

I started to realize that I had never made a photograph that I liked. Years of travel and personalities suddenly seemed threadbare. I was seeing with blind faith.

So one day, I placed my camera in my drawer. I needed to see a bit differently. I merely thought that I could clear my head. It was among the best and worst decisions I have ever made.

I have learned that photography is not something you can pick up whenever you want. It is tightly akin to sports. There is a rhythm that one needs to be in tune with. The way we see, they way we recognize life’s twitches are not happenstance. They are sensor recognitions. The mind’s eye recognizes a pattern that is no different than tennis, baseball, golf and dozens of other sports that rely so heavily on rhythms.

I first recognized the rhythm factor in the summer of 1985. I received a call to shoot a portrait of the sculptor David Hare. He was an Abstract Expressionist. His dealer needed something asap. It was nearly 3 months since I had even held a camera.

I raced to Hare’s studio. Arriving, I realized that I couldn’t quite remember how to make a portrait. I felt clueless. It was especially strange for me to try and fumble with my camera, and at the same time, prepare him for the moment. Hare was a bit difficult to handle. Feisty comes to mind.

After about 30 minutes of dancing empty handed. I saw what seemed to be an apparition. There was this light that I had not recognized before. I quickly snapped.

I looked at David Hare and said, “I am done!”. Only a few times in my life have I recognized the “shot” in one frame. 

Most photographers shoot anywhere between maybe 50 and 1000 images on any assignment. But I couldn’t for the life of me think what else I might want to do.

I grandly shook his hand. I packed my equipment and strolled to my lab to see what needed to be seen.

From that day forward, I embraced photography’s spirit. I reclaimed the rhythm.

I started to be a photographer.