Women with Cougar—1987
The Story Behind the Photograph...
The story behind this image starts several years before I captured it. I grew up with a camera, bulk film and a darkroom. As a teenager, I experimented with taking pictures that I came across in my daily life. In many respects, they were snapshots taken with a 35MM camera and B&W film. When I returned to my native Manhattan with a degree in economics from Northwestern, I had but a vague connection with photography.
I began my first career – on Madison Avenue – and one day a thought popped in my head. Wouldn’t it be fun, I thought, to photography people interacting with art. There, I expected to find the full range of emotion from somber to humor, from introspection and analysis to pure oblivion. I imagined a museum to be a an amazing place to photograph people.
And so, one day in 1987, I dusted off my grandfather’s Pentax K-1000, bummed a roll of Tri-X off my dad and headed to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. There, I shot 36 individual images. No bracketing, no working a scene, just 36 pure images. Dad sent the film to his lab, SCOPE, and a few days later I had the contact sheet.
Bear in mind, this was the first roll of film I had shot in easily six years. And it turned out to be sublime. Image after image leapt off the contact sheet and grabbed me. It was, arguably, the best 36 consecutive frames I have ever shot. Ever. As in, to this day.
Youth, my advertising career, an overzealous love of night clubs, and general paycheck to paycheck existence all overtook my life and I set the camera aside again, as I had when I left high school for college.
Three years later, having moved to San Francisco, something made me look for the negatives and contact sheet from the shoot. Only they were gone. As turned out, gone for good. Lost for all eternity.
On my next trip to New York, circa 1991, I took the same camera with me and did my best to recreate the magic of my original trip the Metropolitan. Again, I took a single roll of Tri-X and again I snapped 36 unique images. This time, I brought the film to my lab in San Francisco and I have looked after the negatives properly ever since.
While I can’t say my second roll of film shot at the Met was as overwhelmingly powerful, frame by frame, as my first roll of film shot there – I can say that there are some images came out of that shoot that I adore completely.
This is the best of them.
When I look at this image, I appreciate every subtle detail in the picture. The stoop of the women in the face of the strength of the cougar, the gestures of the women who have found something fascinating to read, and – naturally – the pure humor in the juxtaposition of these women and the statue.
Of course, when I look at this picture, I am always also reminded of the original roll of film that I shot in that museum. And as sure as I am writing about that lost roll of film now, I’m also sure that sometime in the next few years I will again dig through ancient boxes and files in the hopes of uncovering the lost treasure. I am, equally sure I shall never find it.
The Louvre—Permanent collection
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