Monday, April 14, 2014


Thirteen years ago I was playing tennis without my eye on the ball in Stowe, Vermont. I shouted to my opponent's wife as I saw this face walk by, "Quick, ask her if I may photograph her."

The next day I took this picture. Last week I had an e-mail from a collector in Reading, Pennsylvania saying he wanted to buy a print of it. He will hang it above his desk, he told me. He had seen it several years ago on my website, always liked it and was now in a position to buy it.

Kinga is Polish. At the time I photographed her she was a housekeeper at the hotel where we were staying and was studying drama at the University of Warsaw. A few years ago her husband ask me if I would send him a print of the picture.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Exuberant teacher, Newburgh Preparatory Charter School, Newburgh NY

A teacher at NPCS waits for the right answer to her question. She teaches Ancient History at the Newburgh Preparatory Charter School. Students in her class do not fall asleep.

The school accepts anybody between the ages of 16 and 21 who wants to obtain a High School Diploma. The requirements are: turn up on time and regularly. You will find small classes, dedicated teachers, fair treatment, humor and worldly advice.

Monday, March 3, 2014

James Patterson, writer, film producer, philanthropist

Two weeks ago the telephone rang and Leopoldo Gout introduced himself as the executive in charge of production of a project. He told me they were making a documentary about Belle Glade in Florida, written, produced and with commentary spoken by a well known writer. The writer, he said, had seen my photographs of Newburgh and wanted to use them in his film. He was born and brought up in Newburgh and Newburgh is not unlike Belle Glade in many respects. They would also like me to photograph the writer.

"May I ask who the writer is?"

"James Patterson."

The shoot took place in Newburgh where Mr. Patterson was filming some street scenes to intercut with the main narrative in Belle Glade.  The weather on the day of the shoot had began fine, but by eleven, when they wanted me to take Mr. Patterson's picture, it was raining and snowing. 

I had already decided on a foul weather location. I had called Dan Brown, the proprietor of The Wherehouse, the popular pub on Liberty Street. In his back room he has a window facing north of the size that gives exactly the crisp light I like. I knew it of old, having done some pictures of Newburgh citizens there last summer.

                                                                               Photograph by Leopoldo Gout

Lunch on the river—mist and ice covered—at Cena 2000. James, his wife Susan and six film crew. Three very smartly dressed forty-year-old women were the only other guests. James asked me about my career. 

"Mostly magazines doing portraits of artist and writers. Now I sell the prints to collectors." I replied.  

I told him that many photographers I knew did advertising work also, and that I had tried but had not got on well. "You know what it was—you were in it once." 

He said, "I've been clean for twenty years." 


Friday, February 21, 2014

Stoppard and Sappho

“Meet me at my dentist, he's a friend, we can do it there,” Tom Stoppard told me on the telephone.

I found myself a week later in a dimly lit waiting room in Harley Street wondering if I was really supposed to shoot Tom Stoppard together with the two or three other patients waiting for their appointments. I probably should have, but we went into Regent's Park.

Ann Margaret Daniel recently wrote an essay entitled Stoppard and Sappho in her blog for The Huffington Post using this photograph, and the Roman fresco from RegioVI (insula occidentalis) in Pompeii of Sappho.

Best Marmalade

I mostly take pictures of people, but from time to time I see an object I like or I help out with something Caroline has been asked to do in the still life realm. Recently it was a jar of marmalade.
I put the jar on our marble dining room table, clamped a spoon to a light stand and filled the spoon with marmalade. The shot was lit by four windows, two behind the jar and two in front of it. The marmalade was the best I had ever tasted, made by Jennifer Mercurio here in Garrison.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Meursault and its woes

For a special occasion I bought a bottle of Chassagne-Montrachet, Les Chenevotttes, 2006, Domaine Jean-Marc Moret. I got it at a local wine shop here in the Hudson Valley in upstate New York, whose owners are more than unusually knowledgeable about wine. We discussed Secrets of Meursault by the inestimable Jay McInerney. These secrets are no longer secrets and the matter to which they refer extends beyond Meursault to Chassagne-Montrachet. 

The wine was unrecognizable as Chassagne-Montrachet but was not poison and made good gravy for our roast chicken. It tasted, as Mr. McInerney said it might, like Sherry, due to premature oxidation as Burgundy lovers now know all too well.

I have had only excellent wine from Chambers Street Wine. Now I am going to put them to the test: Can they recommend a Meursault or Chassagne-Montrachet. If they can't, I shall probably never buy wine anywhere else—they must be honest people. If they can recommend one, and it tastes like Meursault, I shall certainly never buy wine from anyone else. At least that is what I shall feel like for a while. (But no, how could one give up Yannitelli's purring descriptions of a Bandol, or Viscount's $8 Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon, $11 anywhere else, and the always warm greeting at Artisan who recommended an $11 Soave after I asked for something to go with the last pesto of the season and it was exactly right for the dish?)

When I have found this bottle that tastes like white Burgandy I shall photograph it.

Meanwhile here are two people having a good time over a glass of something, taken in the 1970s in England at a wedding.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Stanley Kubrick on the set of 2001: A Space Odyssey

 A couple of months ago we went to a party and I met a young man who told me he was a photographer and film maker. We discussed the merits of Kodak TriX and Ilford Multigrade bromide printing paper and so on. He had not much to say about digital photography because he loved the darkroom.

I told him one or two stories about Stanley Kubrick. (I worked for him on three of his films as a stills photographer.) I was not able to answer his questions about Stanley's work ethic or his creative process because Stanley never talked about such things. He worked nine to five on the set, or for how ever many hours the union would allow, but come five or six o'clock, we said good night. Except for the times I went to dinner with him at his house, where we played ping pong, talked about life amongst the demi-monde in London, his children's pets, how much he loved stationary stores, and the perils of buying second hand cars, I did not see him till the next morning.

But I expect he did a lot of work on scripts. Just good old plain work. I do know, though, that if the word got out that Warner Brothers executives were planning to visit the set the following morning, Stanley would not come in. Because of the lost days, after several attempts they gave up trying to see what he was doing.

Another question was: "What was so and so like." What the question should be is: "What was so and so like in front of the camera." Because that is where your sitter is—in a very particular place, a place which elicits a different reaction from people than if you had brought them a bottle of expensive Burgundy and two glasses. Under the latter circumstances you're likely to find out more what a person, in general, is like than plonking them down in front of a camera.

My young acquaintance then e-mailed me asking for more Kubrick stories and what he called old war stories. He also asked what it is like to practice photography professionally. I was touched, but I thought, no, this is not the way to help people. I wrote back: "I am not sure that I can give you any insight into what a professional photographer needs to know or do. I have never really been one. From time to time I have earned money taking pictures but it has almost always been outside the usual places that photographers find their work. I have only had success or satisfaction when I have done what I want. This can lead to poverty by the way." I should have added that the only way was to go on taking photographs and see what happens.

He replied, but he did not take the hint. I abandoned him.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

American Cool

American Cool is the name of the current exhibition at Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC. My photograph of Jean-Michel Basquiat is included in the exhibition. The photograph was acquired by the National Portrait Gallery for their permanent collection in 2010.

I first saw Jean-Michel Basquiat one summer's day in 1986 sitting on the iron steps of Dean and DeLuca on Prince Street in Soho. He was sitting in way not unlike the pose he adopted in this photograph. He was eating Devonshire Cream with a spoon straight from the bottle.

I took this photograph some months later in his studio on Great Jones Street. When I arrived his assistant said, "He's upstairs getting ready; if you wouldn't mind waiting?” Murmuring voices and laughter, male and female, drifted down the stairs and I welcomed the time to look for a background.

It only took me five or ten minutes to decide on one. I prepared my camera and sat down. After half-an-hour I heard footsteps on the stairs and my spirits rose. It was his assistant. “Oh good, you are still here,” he said, “He won't keep you a moment.” I thanked him and he went back upstairs. I resumed listening to the chatter. Five minutes turned into ten, then twenty and then thirty. An hour past. I was getting hungry. Then I heard footsteps again, different ones this time. Jean-Michel appeared, smiled and asked, “Where would you like me?”

See CBS review