Helen told me that she would not hold back if she hated my photographs, and that she probably would hate them. I told her I would brace myself, that I could handle it.
But, here I was, getting ready to show my stuff to “one of the great living poets of urban life” “New York’s visual poet laureate” “one of the greatest of the photographer’s photographers” the “grande dame of street photography” etc, etc.
My fingers trembled a bit as I tried to select the pictures that would surely bring on the onslaught of disagreeable and nasty comments.
We sat close to one another, and I brought up some of the Africa work.
First picture. I chose one that a literary magazine editor had told me could win a Pulitzer.
“Too much shit on the sides there. Don’t need all that. You should have cropped it closer.”
I bring up the next picture, not really sure I should be putting myself through this, thinking the night sweats I’d had the night before had been far more pleasant.
“I can’t tell what that’s supposed to be. It’s too dark.”
“OK. Yeah, well, I see what you mean.”
I was thinking I’d rather be at Carnegie Deli, diving into one of those obscenely large corned beef sandwiches.
After three or four more pictures, she asked me to go slower. She lingered on the images for a long time then and made some guttural sounds that I didn’t know how to interpret.
Then every now and then, she said things like, “You know, that’s not a bad picture!”
Or, “Now that’s a good one.”
Or, “If you had moved the girl on the right slightly more into the frame, this would really be a winner.”
Though she dismissed many as misses (and used some choice words to let me know why), I must say that there were just as many that she proclaimed successful, and well… that was better than any corned beef sandwich I could have ordered up, no matter the dimensions.
Near the end of my little slide show, she announced that she had just seen my very best image, and she told me why it worked so well for her. I told her that it was recently purchased by a museum. Her lips curled into a girlish grin, she looked at me with a sidelong glance and said, “See, I’m pretty smart, aren’t I?”
In the end, her favorite picture happened to be one of mine, as well. It is one that has always made me think of her and, in way, is a loving nod to her work. It made me happy that she not only approved of it but actually really liked it.
I felt a nice connection to Helen by now. We continued our conversation about things like the state of fine art photography, breast cancer, being Jewish, travel, family and dying. I’ll conclude with snippets from this discussion in my next post.