One of my best friends is a photographer. I’ve known him for almost 25 years, actually he is the first guy I ever assisted, I’ve produced for him, he’s used my house as a location, I’ve borrowed his studio, he’s hired my wife as a model, … but I want to tell how he helped me without even knowing it.
By this time I’ve been assisting in Chicago and Miami for two years and I want to move to the fashion capital of the world: New York City to work with the best. So I fly to NYC for a few days to meet some photographers, see if they’d even consider hiring me. Since my friend went to RIT, I figure I give him a call to get some introductions to his old class mates. I get a list.
Now my dream is to work with people like Peter Lindberg, Bruce Weber, Arthur Elgorth, … you know the legends in our industry, but you gotta pay your dues and so I call and meet his classmates, until I come to the last name on his list: Richard Avendon. “Tell Richard Eric said to call” my friend had joked “I just happen to have his number.” Right, but I figure a phone call can’t hurt, so I spend the quarter (remember it’s the mid 90’s) and get the 4th assistant on the phone.
“How did you hear about the job?”
“What job?” I ask (I have no idea.) “We’re looking for a full time 4th assistant and are seeing people tomorrow. Here’s the address. Bring some personal work.” CLICK. The next morning I show up in my Miami assistant uniform: desert camo combat boots, cut off jeans, T-shirt with a few slides that I tool while traveling. Nothing could have prepared me for what I was walking into: Picture a room full of RIT and Brooks graduates, about 20 of them. Also in uniform. Everyone with a degree in photography. Everyone in suit and tie and everyone with a perfect school portfolio. I am so outgunned, it’s not even funny.
For some reason the assistants that interview all of us like me and ask me back the next day. “We want to see you load some 8×10 film and meet with the 1st assistant.” Sure, no problem. I walk out. Now mind you I’ve never seen a large format camera, I have no clue how to load one. So I go to a photo store in NY ask for an 8×10 film back and 2 sheets of large format film. I practice loading film the rest of the day. Thanks a lot Eric – what have I gotten myself into?
I don’t remember if I slept …
… all I remember is standing in Avedon’s studio the next day, as his first assistant asks me while handing me a box of 8×10 film and a stack of holders: “Ever loaded a large format film before?” “Oh, sure” I say “Old pro.” Well to make a really long story short – a week later I’m working with Richard Avedon, in New York City on the Pirelli Calendar. Friday, the last day of the shoot rolls around and Mr. Avedon comes over shakes my hand and says: “Hey, I’m Dick. I hear your one of the hot New York assistants.”
“Honestly sir” I reply “This is my first job in New York.”