Sometimes things just happen for a reason. I had just checked into the hotel in Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay for my last night in the country coming off an assignment in Punta del Este. I remembered as I was packing my suitcase for home that my sweater was in the backseat of our rental car. As I unlocked the door I saw an old man walking across the street with a cane. Even though it was dark, I had this feeling he had one of those faces I just had to make a portrait of. Acting as if I was getting something else out of the car I waited to see where he went. To my luck he sat down at the restaurant right next to the hotel. I did a walk by and sure enough I was right about needing to photograph him.
I ran inside the hotel and quickly texted my assistant Cam, asking if he’d mind working on what was our night off. I knew the best way to do not waste this opportunity would be to light my subject. Thankfully Cam agreed and we headed to the restaurant. We ordered some wine and discussed our plan before Cam spoke (in Spanish) with the owner and explained what we would like to do. She kindly agreed to let us move a few things around and she also spoke with my soon-to-be subject Fernando about our idea. He agreed as well, and we ran next door to get our gear.
As it turned out, Fernando was an actor in his younger years, and was happy to be photographed. We poured him a glass of wine and set up my Photoflex TritonFlash with a Medium Litedome quickly. I wanted to create the feel of the restaurant’s window light- or at least how I imagined it would be during the day. Not too splashy, partially blocked by the curtains and shutters, but directional. Not having a big HMI to recreate the light, or even a stand with us to mount the light outside, Cam would be my light stand and I would direct him from behind the camera. Initially we used the soft box with both baffles, but it was too broad a source, so we added the accessory grid and it honed the light in nicely.
I’ve made these kinds of portraits before, without being able to speak much more than what can easily be deemed “baby talk” in Spanish, so having Cam there was a huge help. I was able to give direction both thru him as well as with my limited Spanish knowledge. Fernando was great. Knowing he was older, I didn’t want to take too much of his time, so we worked fast, and in between he shared stories of his younger days with Cam and I picked up some of it- and Cam translated the rest when I didn’t know the words.
Aside from many stories about his acting experiences, it turned out Fernando was not only a part in a movie called A King for Patagonia but also being a local, he aided the producers by helping to get the goats and sheep alongside other local elements for the film. We thought he said he was in the movie with Omar Sharif, but as far as I can tell, the movie was made in 2011 without Sharif…either way, for my purposes, he was a great subject.
This was definitely a highlight of the trip, making the long drive from Punta del Este to Colonia del Sacramento well worthwhile.
I got a call late last night from a friend that LeRoy Neiman passed away yesterday at age 91. For those of you that don’t know Neiman, look him up. He’s a legend.
I was fortunate to meet LeRoy while working on a cigar book for Playboy. Neiman had agreed to write the book’s foreword, and allow us to come photograph him at his NYC studio. A long-time contributor to Playboy as well as a long-time cigar smoker, no doubt was a good match for the book, which was a historic guide to cigar manufacturing as well as the history of cigars in the world of Playboy.
We had been told his health was not great, but his presence showed everything but, and he gladly lit up a cigar for our shot. We worked quickly, maybe shot for six minutes or so.
While we were breaking down the set, LeRoy noticed my sketch book on the table. Inside, I keep notes on the shoots I do, including birds-eye views of the sets, and often ideas I sketched out, something I do on all my shoots. I usually print out an image or five after the shoot to show the finished product and tape that into the book as well. LeRoy asked if he could look at it, and he literally looked at every page, asking me question after question not only about the images but my sketching. I don’t even know what I said, all I could think about was this great Artist was looking at my beat-up Moleskin book of notes, and talking about it like we were at a salon in Europe. I was honored to be able to just meet him, let alone photograph him, but this put things over the top. As photographers, we can do a ton of forgettable jobs, but every so often we get these beautiful moments that you treasure.
My friend, Aaron Sigmond, the author of that book, put it poignantly last night that he regrets he never got to have a last cigar with Neiman, I felt bad that I did, and will never forget it.