Tuesday
Jun222010

Madison Berkeley

Madison Berkeley, 3, was in a car accident that killed her father. She was critically injured. Six months later, through the work of Children’s Hospital, she had nearly recovered from those injuries. I photographed Madison for a story about her ordeal.

The shoot day was in early April on an unseasonably warm, sunny day. She lives in Rockland Massachusetts south of Boston. My 13 year old daughter Julia came along to assist and to work with Maddy. Her house was a modest white cape among other modest capes in a flat suburban neighborhood. On that day, the still dormant brown yard had construction materials and toys scattered about. More stuff spilled out of the garage to the right of the house.

We went to the front door and knocked. Maddy’s mother, Lisa, answered and welcomed us in. The house was in a state of chaos. Clearly renovations of different parts of the house were underway all at once and disjointed. A torn out ceiling, stairs stripped to the bare runners, the furnishings and possessions either piled up or scattered around the house. The stale smell of cigarette smoke hung in the house and reminded me of the house in which I grew up. Maddy’s two grandparents sat in the kitchen.

Jane closed the door. Behind it, there sat Madison at a small desk playing on a computer. She was dressed as a pink princess. She looked up looked up at me and then smiled at Julia. The two girls immediately started playing the computer game together while Jane and I struggled to find a location that would work for the photographs.

We got to the playroom and in it was enough stuff to fully furnish three rooms its size. Lisa and I worked to clear a section of it and we made a space for Maddy to pose for her portrait. Maddy came in, struggling a bit to walk but mostly recovered from her two broken legs. She sat on a small chair and the photo session began. She was a delight from beginning to end.

While I packed up, Madison led my daughter back to the computer and began proudly screening a slide show photographs of her at the hospital. . .two broken legs, a broken arm, neck brace from her broken neck. Cheerfully, she then asked me to view them. Her physical and emotional resilience were palpable.

Her mother had created the slide show. Clearly, she was overwhelmed but also it was obvious as well that she was completely tuned into Madison and committed to doing the best for her. We thanked them, said our “Good-byes” and headed back to Boston. Maddy was indeed a princess.

Wednesday
Jun092010

Stephen Jay Gould

In March 2002, I was assigned by The Chronicle of Higher Education to photograph the late Darwinian scholar Stephen Jay Gould. I’d photographed him twice before – for PEOPLE – and knew that he did not like having his picture taken. He had opined, “You have a strange profession” and, of course, he was right. I think those shoots had gone relatively well because he got to take home the props. . . a giant stuffed panda (The Panda’s Thumb) and a plastic flamingo lamp (Flamingo’s Smile). This time the photo was for a serious publication. I went to see him hoping to trade on good memories of the past and the quality of the publication. I’d also read a moving op-ed piece he wrote for The New York Times about distributing pies in Lower Manhattan after 9/11. I wanted to talk to him about that.

When the editor gave me the assignment details, it was clear that Dr. Gould had not warmed up to the photo experience. He stipulated that the entire shoot be no more than fifteen minutes. The Chronicle wanted a portrait of him in his Victorian office with the manual typewriter he still used for his writing. They also wanted photos of him talking for a separate Q & A box. 15 minutes!

On the day of the shoot, my assistant and I arrived early in order to be ready for our nine hundred seconds. While we were planning logistics with his secretary, Dr. Gould ambled into the reception area and said, “Oh, you’re here. I can only give you five minutes.” I said, “I thought we had fifteen minutes.” He said, “I’m changing the rules.” I then mentioned our prior photo sessions, hoping that might help. He remembered, remarking that one of the images of him was in the National Portrait Gallery. “Usually you have to be dead to have your picture there. I can give you five minutes.”

Then I moved on to discuss the location. “Could we shoot in your office with you at your typewriter?” He said, “How long will it take for you to get ready?” I said, “15 minutes and we will work quietly around you.” He said, “No, too disruptive.”

So there we were, five minutes, no location. We went to work and found an interesting spot in the museum, moved a fossilized shell model into the background, lit the space and practiced the shot. Finally, he came down the hall and said, “Ready?” I said, “Yes, here’s your mark.” He said “What’s a mark?” I pointed to the spot and he went to it and stood with his hands pressed to his sides, looking at the camera like a felon in a police lineup – or perhaps a third grader posing for a school photo. I asked him if he could move his hands to one side. He said, “No”. I asked if he could tilt his head slightly. He said, “No” I explained that they wanted a series of him talking and asked if he could talk with me. He said, “No.” I said, “You could practice your lecture.” He said, “After thirty years of teaching, I think I know it.” And he managed all of these replies without appearing to be talking. He had moved his hands together and they were twisted in an odd way. I suggested he change them because they looked strange. He responded, “I could give a flying fuck!” And then he laughed at his own response. “Click.”

He said he could not stand much longer. He was tired. We found a stool for him to sit on. He sat. I took more photographs and continued my unrequited monologue about his op-ed piece, photography and anything else I could think of that might get through. He remained mute but attentive and then his assistant came down the hall and said there was a call from a doctor in New York. At that point, I thought I had all we could get and said, “Well, I guess that’s it.” And he got up and walked down the hall and turned and said, “Nice to see you again. Sorry it couldn’t have been more. Got a lot going on.” And he gave a kind of half wave with his left and disappeared.

In the end, the film looked great. The truth is that if the shot is well composed and lit and conceived, it’s entirely possible to manage with a short amount of time. He looked good. He’d lost some weight. I didn’t know that his cancer had come back. In the end, it wasn’t the smiling picture that was best, but rather one where he looks still and direct, a pose with a complete lack of artifice, with clear, liquid eyes.

When I learned of his death from cancer two months later, that knowledge transformed the experience. He had, in fact, been gratuitously hostile – but even at the time, I knew it wasn’t personal. Looking back, I thought about his situation on that March morning. He had a new book. He was still teaching and at the same time he was taking calls from his doctors in New York while also enduring the entreaties of yet another photographer. I had been given a glimpse of the complexities that lie beneath the surface that photographers enter, capture and leave. Often without a trace.

-Richard Howard´╗┐

Thursday
Jul172008

Hilary Clinton and Daniel Day Howard

It was the ‘handlers’ we were worried about. On assignment to photograph the winners of the 2003 Achievement Awards for Wellesley, the magazine’s art director, my assistant, and I were prepared. We had a concept for the photographs and a space reserved at the College Club, where we set up a makeshift photo studio. And we had three award winners – Barbara Loomis Jackson ’50, Niramol Bulakul Suriyasat ’54 (represented by her family), and Hillary Rodham Clinton ’69.
The first two shoots went off without a hitch that afternoon. Then we had a three-hour wait for the final winner. Would Senator Clinton’s handlers give us access?

Around 6 p.m., crisp-looking guys with wires coming out of their ears started to appear. One cane into our studio and asked what we were doing. He was satisfied with our answers but insisted that we close the drapes across the picture windows. A threat from the nearby woods at night? We asked what he had in the bright yellow bag he was carrying. “You don’t want to know,” he replied. We settled in for more anxious waiting.

Just before the Achievement Awards reception was scheduled to start, one of Clinton’s aides appeared. She was gracious and assured us that the senator would be available. The handler fears were put to rest. And at the promised hour, Clinton did arrive.

While we were waiting, we had been issued name tags. I inscribed mine, “Daniel Day Howard.” It was a longstanding joke. When I meet people and say, “I’m Richard Howard,” nine out of 10 respond, “Nice to meet you, Ron.” Opie Howard? I always say I would be happier if even 30 percent would replay, “Nice to meet you, Daniel Day.” So, for this evening, Daniel Day Howard it was. When Clinton came in, she looked at me and without missing a beat said, “Nice to meet you, Daniel Day. Thanks for taking time out from acting to do these photographs.” And she laughed. We were off and running.

She could not have been more professional or gracious. She made an effort to connect with every person in the room. She adjusted her pose. She recollected sliding down snow-covered Severance Hill on lunch trays. She laughed at my jokes. She was radiant and tuned in to everyone she encountered. Soon she headed off to the next event, but not before organizing and taking time for pictures with the support and wait staff working the reception.

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