Mona Lisa at the Mona Lisa—2001

The Story Behind the Photograph...

In April, 2002, I captured an image that to this day lives on as one of my finest. It was a chance encounter with a woman who looks like Mona Lisa as she walked between my camera and the Mona Lisa painting itself. For those unfamiliar, I don’t know this woman, never met her, never spoke to her. It was a chance moment and I was lucky enough to capture it on film. And there’s the key word in this story, film.

In 2009, I received an email that I will cherish forever. The Louvre had seen the image and wanted a print for their collection. In fact, in the end, they wanted prints of 11 different images in total. I was, as one might imagine, thrilled.

My excitement on a Friday afternoon at having my work acquired by the Louvre quickly turned to despair on Monday morning when my Gallery Director told me that Mona Lisa, the negative, was nowhere to be found. She wasn’t where she belonged. She wasn’t in a pile of negatives waiting to be re-filed. She was gone. Evaporated. Lost.

I nearly put my fist through a door in the gallery.

My only hope was that she had been misfiled… and so that afternoon, I pulled everyone from the gallery – that would have been five of us back then – and we took on the job of going through all the negatives, one roll of film at a time. Roll by roll, we pulled the negatives from their cello sleeves and looked carefully at each strip.

One hour into the project, Sarah stumbled upon the lady herself – Mona Lisa – misfiled with some negatives from San Francisco. It was, coincidentally, Sarah’s birthday.

One year later to the day, Helen and I were traveling in Morocco when Sarah again needed to print Mona. We had a part time person working with us – Sarah handed the negative to her with instructions to package it up and ship it to my trusted lab man in New York. Mona Lisa went out FedEx on a Monday. When the lab opened the box the next morning, the box was empty.

“I asked Katie if she was sure she included them and she said yes,” Sarah told me much later, “so I called New York and nicely, but somewhat accusingly, said the negs were shipped and I didn’t understand how they could now not be there. I asked if the package looked like it had been disturbed by FedEx and they said no and then I asked them to be super duper extra sure and ask everyone that touched the package and have another look around to be sure they didn’t get set aside or thrown out because they were wrapped in brown paper. He called back and said no luck.”

Sarah then rallied the troops, explained the situation, did her best to quell her rising blood pressure, not have a panic attack and said everyone needed to look around the back everywhere. “We did so for a bit and weren’t having luck. Then I went back to my office for a second and heard ‘found it!’ from the back. Katie found the brown paper wrapped negatives in the pile of paper that sits on the counter in the corner and eventually makes it’s way to the recycling. No idea how she managed to forget to include them in the package to New York, but she did.”

Suffice it to say, we have tightened our procedures for handling negatives. And I gave Sarah a very big hug when she told me the story upon my return to the gallery… not just for having worked through the problem, not just for having rescued Mona Lisa from having been tossed errantly out with the recycling, but also for not having bothered me with the odyssey while I was in Morocco…

Now here’s the really weird part. Both times Mona has been lost on Sarah’s birthday.

I have no idea what to make of that. But Sarah and I both agreed that from here on out there’s a moratorium on touching negatives around or especially on her birthday.

 

Museums:
The Louvre, Paris—Permanent collection
Boca Raton Museum of Art—Permanent collection

 

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