Posts from the fun stories Category

JoeBeachsI remember reading Andre Gregory’s description of an impromptu headshot session he had with Richard Avedon (who sits at the head of the table in my Pantheon of the Photographic Gods), wherein Avedon riffed through aspects of Gregory’s presence at warp speed – moving a light here, changing an angle there, tossing out direction like a possessed artist, serving up masterpiece after masterpiece capturing the diverse aspects of Gregory’s persona. It was a powerful performance showcasing a photographer’s ability to de-construct his sitter and use light, pose, and expression to crystallize elements of his subject on film. And it provided me with a lifelong goal of learning all of the elements of portraiture to better capture each client in a unique and personalized image.

I was thinking about Avedon’s session with Andre Gregory when my next client arrived, Steve Jones.

Steve came to New York City in 1991 to pursue an acting career.  Having a knack for both zany comedic roles and serious dramatic ones, parts came his way ranging from Alexi the dog at The Living Theater and You Can’t Take It With You (Ed) to Julius Caesar (Brutus) and Dancing at Lughnasa (Michael) at regional theaters. Adept at impressions, he was also Nickelodeon’s “voice of Bill Clinton” for a few years.

After taking a 19-year detour to pursue other interests, Steve was no longer able to deny acting is his true passion. And, of course, getting new headshots had to be the first step in re-entering the business. Here are two photos that Steve sent me as a visual to work with in order to make suggestions for types and clothing.

Steve Candid 1

 

Steve Rowing

 

Steve had a very malleable face and a wide range of interpretations came to mind when I was thinking about how to shoot him.  We discussed actors who had similar qualities with names as diverse as Keifer Sutherland, John Lithgow, and Norman Fell.  There was a wide range to encompass, so I decided to see how many different ways we could capture his presence in our scheduled 4 look session, but stay true to his persona.

Below are the images that came from our 4 hour session.

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And then we decided to really open it up and play with more specific expressions and characters, just because we were having so much fun.

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It was a super fun and productive exercise.  And it solidified my belief that variety in headshots is the spice of life.  No one single approach can capture the range and diversity of actors out there, or even the range within one actor.  Thank you Richard Avedon for pointing the way, I am just a pilgrim on that trail :).

 

 

 

 

 

 

David Morgan and I have been competing for clients in the highly specialized world of headshot photography in New York City for almost 30 years.  I first met David in the early 80’s when the headshot market was split between approximately 10 or so professionals, all shooting film, developing signature styles, all carving their niche in this extremely unique expertise.  I don’t mind dating myself because I am proud that I have continued to evolve and work at perfecting a craft which has undergone seismic upheavals in technique and more style changes than Madonna.  Whereas current photographers offer “unlimited clothing changes and unlimited captures” for a set price, David and I started in a world where the expense of film and development dictated that a session might consist of 72 exposures.  The result of working within that restricted supply of shots was to develop a highly sensitive awareness of how and when to shoot.  We relied on skill and technique, not sheer numbers of exposures and luck.

It was a surprise to get a call from David.  We had seen each other at seminars where we both spoke about our approaches to creating strong, effective headshots, but there was always that begrudging respect and wariness of encountering direct competition.  We were polite, but distant.  Now, David was calling me as a client.  David was feeling the pull of performing after years of concentrating solely on his photography career.  David was initially an actor, not simply a struggling actor, he starred in the national tour of Pippin and even sang a solo at Leonard Bernstein’s 60’s birthday PBS tribute.  Here is the last headshot David worked with..

David Morgan 1978

David Morgan 1978

 

and now, once again, David was hearing the siren song of the acting world.  I took it as quite a compliment that David chose to call me to help him create his new image as an actor.  And so we combined our energies to define his current look into the most cast-able and compelling images possible.  It was an incredible experience for both of us.  David brought not only his powerful presence but the result of years of working behind the camera to hone his awareness of how to interact with the camera.  We collaborated on the lighting and technical aspects and I feel that our combined skills brought the shots to another level.  Here are two of our favorite images…photographs that we are both proud of…

David Morgan 2012

David Morgan 2012

 

 

David Morgan 2012

David Morgan 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, what did I learn from the experience of photographing a photographer?  First, shooting a photographer made the session fun because we were able to trade war stories from the years of working in this crazy genre of the photography world.  Second, uniting our vision and skills made for some powerful mojo to invest in David’s photos.  I love seeing the difference in style evident by comparing the old shots and the new.  A shout out goes out to my friend, David Morgan, and hopes that his new-old career takes off like a rocket!

I recently had an old friend, Scott Baker, actor extraordinaire and master of the arcane sideshow culture, come to the studio.  We are both fans of the old Horror Movies of the 60’s.  For my 10th birthday party, my Mother rented an projector and showed “Village of the Damned” in my basement.  The cement walls echoed with screams and laughter!  Vincent Price was our idol.  We’ve talked about films like “The Tingler” which was about a parasite that attached to the victim’s spine and took control of their body.  At the premiere the seats were actually wired to give a mild shock to the movie-goer whenever the shadow of the “Tingler” crossed over the screen!  It was evident that we had to shoot an homage to the old days of Thriller and Twilight Zone.  So here it is…dare to look into “The Hypnotic Eye”!!!!!!!!

Check out “Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead“, a recently published coffee table book profiling the writers and artists who made the National Lampoon insanely great.  The image rich book, written by Rick Meyerowitz, the artist who created one of the best known Nat Lamp covers ever, the Mona Gorilla Da Vinci cover, tells the story of the Counter-Culture’s funniest and most provocative magazine from an insider’s prospective.

The book features my photograph of Ed Subitzky, a brilliant (and still living!) cartoonist.  I remember his shoot well for two reasons, one that he was the epitome of the mild-mannered, bald guy with glasses; and two, that his partner Susan seemed to share a psychic link with Ed and spoke for him throughout the entire experience.  “Ed would like the photo to reflect…” she would say, while Ed smiled and shyly nodded.  I’m not sure I ever even heard Ed speak throughout the shoot.  My guess is that he speaks through his detailed and psychologically subversive cartoons which you can sample in Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead.  Go Ed!  “Blessed are the meek!”

 



Early in my career, I was working out of my one bedroom apartment on 76th Street and Columbus Ave. I turned the bedroom (all 130 square feet of it) into a studio and moved my bed into the living room on top of a raised platform. My back was literally to the wall when I shot headshots. I considered knocking down the closet wall but I wasn’t sure yet that the headshot thing would fly. We set up a make-up area in the living room. The kitchen was “reception”. And this was where I started my campaign to take the headshot world by storm. The apartment was on the top floor of a brownstone and there were exactly 76 stairs from the foyer to my “studio”. I used to joke that I was a Darwinian Headshot Photographer because only the strong could make it up the stairs to shoot with me. If a client was older or had difficulty walking, I would come down and help push them up the stairs.

Looking back it’s amazing how many high profile people made the ascent to that cramped apartment, I mean “studio”. Sean Young, right before “No Way Out” was released, came to shoot. She was lovely and playful and I still have her thank you note which was signed “Mary Sean”.

Lou Jacobi, famous for his love affair with a lamb in “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex” by Woody Allen came to shoot. A true New York icon, he was fun and sweet and sent me his reproduction for my portfolio. About a month after I received his shot he called me, “Joe…Jacobi…you know I didn’t sign that photo for you, would you like me to do that?” It must have been preying on his mind. I walked down to his apartment on Central Park South and he wrote a very complimentary note and signed his photo. He also invited me to brunch with him at The Russian Tea Room that Sunday. I was excited because he said he would introduce me to some people. When we arrived, the sea parted for him and we were led to the best table in the restaurant. He was treated like royalty and I got to draft on his star status. He suggested the blintzes and we dove in when they arrived. Every so often someone would recognize him and come over to pay their respects. It must have happened 15 times that we were interrupted and he would graciously introduce me as his “genius photographer”. I was flying high. It was a wonderful lunch. At one point a Hollywood “Suit” came over to say hello, “Lou Baby, I haven’t seen you since the party at so and so’s in Brentwood!” he gushed. He babbled on and on glad-handing Mr. Jacobi as he went. When he finally parted Mr. Jacobi leaned over to me, winked and whispered, “Who the f#^k was that?” Hilarious!

Robert Downey, Sr., a director famous for his edgy independent films in the 60’s and 70’s such as Putney Swope and Watermelon Man did a session. He was very charming and kooky. During the shoot he told me that his son was getting his feet wet in the acting world and was “doing pretty good with it”. Guess so…

Jackee, the star of “227” shot with me numerous times in that apartment. She used to love drinking champagne through a straw throughout her session. It never seemed to effect her. She was a natural in front of the camera and we always had great sessions. She even flew back from LA a few times to shoot with me. She laughed and confided in me that her manager wanted her to shoot with a $10,000 a day photographer in LA, but she told him that she would prefer to go back to her guy on 76th Street. What a love!

Definitely one of the most confusing experiences in my early headshot years came when the phone rang on weekday morning. I was watching a video I had made the night before of a comedy special on HBO called “Women of the Night”. It consisted of the stand up routines of 4 of the hottest female comics in the country. A very soft-spoken, proper brunette comic with a full head of curls was taking the mike when the phone rang. I answered “Joe Henson” and the same soft proper voice responded, “Hi Joe, my name is Rita Rudner.” At the same time on the TV the woman’s voice spoke “Hi, I’m Rita Rudner”! What was happening? Had I gone too long without a vacation? It was an amazing coincidence! Rita Rudner called me just as she started her routine on TV! I said “I’m watching you on TV right now!” and she and I marveled at the peculiarity of that. Sometimes I think the universe just likes messing with you.

Rita shot with me a few times and really hit it big in the comedy world. A few years later I was out in LA doing promotional shots for my brother, John who was the host of Talk Soup at the time. After the session we flew to Vegas for a few days’ fun. In the cab ride from the airport to the hotel, I saw a big billboard with my shot of Rita Rudner who was appearing at one of the hotels. When we got to our room I called the hotel where she was appearing and left a voicemail for her. She called back and told me she would leave passes for us to see her show, one of the nicest perks of working in my field, and to be sure to come backstage after the show. That night after breaking the bank at the Black Jack table we jumped into a cab to see Rita’s show. We were seated in a VIP booth and got complimentary champagne all night. Rita was hysterical. At the end of the show, she brought out her sheepdog and did a few bits with her. Rita was really on her game. She killed, as they say. After the show, we were escorted back to her dressing room. I introduced John and we all had a nice chat. As we were talking, I absentmindedly petted her big sheepdog when it came to give me a sniff. I am extremely allergic to dogs, but I guess the endless bucket of champagne had impaired my vigilance. I rubbed my eye with the dog petting hand and my eye preceded to swell and tear immediately. Rita must have noticed that I had suddenly become Quasimodo, but she thankfully did not make my rheumy eye the butt of her jokes.

I am so appreciative of the fact that my early clients were able to overlook the decidedly un-glamorous nature of my first studio. My studio now is at least 10 times the size of that apartment on 76th Street and I thank my lucky stars everyday that my back is no longer to the wall in the Headshot business.