I can tell I’ve mentally managed to put the crush of the holidays behind me – finally – on a cold gloomy December 25in Chicago, because I’m in the mood to write. I have one more party to attend tonight at my long time friend Chris’ beautiful home in the South Loop. But unlike the recent racing, shopping, wrapping and running, this will be a nice calm evening. A silent night, if you will.
Chris invites me over every year and more often than not, I don’t make it. Probably because I’m so holiday-ed out by the time Christmas evening gets here, all I can do is hunker down and attack one of my many projects that seldom see a full free day to be accomplished. This year, even though I have mountains of creative work I can’t wait to get started or continue on, I’m going to take a few hours out and enjoy time with my friend and his family.
I first met Chris in his room at the now shuttered Plaza Hotel in New York one early September morning more than 10 years ago. I think he handed me a bagel and a coffee as he introduced himself, moments before we were to start a nine day adventure photographing and filming Elite Modeling’s Look of the Year Modeling Contest. It was my first trip to NY and it would turn out to be one of the most amazing experiences in my life. We basically followed around young modeling hopefuls as they were herded, critiqued, photographed, interviewed, coiffed, styled, dressed and paraded at various locations and studios in Manhattan and Brooklyn. I was too naive at the time to appreciate what I was experiencing, but I knew it was pretty cool.
Since then, Chris and I have shared quite a few life moments, both wonderful and awful. We’ve traveled on shoots all over North America and definitely led the good life on many of those. Perhaps that’s why I’m looking forward to tonight. These days it’s hard to find time to get together and when an opportunity like this presents itself, I’ve learned not to take it for granted.
If there is one thing 2005 has taught me, it’s not to take life for granted. This year will be the one that I experienced more wonderful people, places and things than I think I ever have in my life. So often at the end of the year when I look back and what I wanted to accomplish compared to what I actually achieved, well, there is usually a fairly large deficit.
Not this year. I had big plans for 2005 at this time last year, but never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined where I would be sitting today. It’s been nothing short of incredible.
Even before the clocked chimed midnight on January first 2005, my great friend Ryan pretty much ordered me to find a new place to live. I had been living and shooting in a small one bedroom apartment for the last 10 years or so, managing to make amazing images there by turning over nearly all the living space to a studio and working space. Models would come in and couldn’t believe I actually lived there. But we made great art. Still it was way past time to move on and so Ryan’s little poke at me to finally make the leap to a proper photography space was well received.
In the spring, I began heading out with a wonderful and newly minted realtor named Cara Mamott (and really, if you ever need help finding a place to buy in Chicago, let me know – she’s amazing!) on the weekends and after work to find my dream space. She quickly caught on that what I was looking for was a little unusual. The studio needs would guide the purchase and soon, we would walk into a space and she would immediately turn to me and say, “Okay, where would the cyc go in here? On that wall?” For those of you who don’t know, the word cyc (pronounced sike) is short for cyclorama, which is a large floor to ceiling background that curves out from the wall where it meets the floor and extends out into the room, creating a limbo-like space since there are no discernible seams to give you any perspective. On my birthday on April 29th, I closed on a beautiful loft space on the near west side of Chicago in the warehouse district, a neighborhood I’ve always loved and felt comfortable in. I love my home and working space. Every day when I wake up, I can’t believe I’m here. This place is a dream come true for me. So many different kinds of shooting spaces, brick, cement, hardwood floors, curved walls, floor to ceiling windows providing beautiful light. So many areas to be discovered.
My move to a new space was so healthy on so many levels. I sit here today, a much smaller man I was at this time last year. I’ve cut so many new holes in my belts. My clothes are literally falling off of me. Time to get new ones. I still have a long way to go, but progress is being made every day, one day at a time.
Those two things would make for a great year, but there was so much more to come. My friend Jillian Ann who I first photographed a week after 9/11 continued to allow me to fly her in from NY more frequently this year when we discovered that by giving ourselves a few days to continuously work instead of a four hour block here and there, we were able to create the most breathtaking images either of us had ever been a part of. Jillian has always been a remarkable subject for me these past few years. A true collaborator in expressing what we are feeling during a shoot. She has given me what few have, that being an enthusiastic participant in creating whatever art I feel the need to make. She has continually allowed me to use her breathtaking canvas to express what I find beautiful in women, exploring the mystery of women and why they intrigue me so. With her I’ve been allowed to explore imagery and subject matter that has been joyful, erotic, inspiring, sexual, thought provoking, lyrical, bewitching, elegant… all of the things I imagine when I think of women I hold in awe.
In addition to all of those ideas, we began to take the leap into an area that I always wanted to try but never felt quite qualified to explore. To say I underestimated what I thought I could do with fashion photography would be quite the understatement. Jillian began using her network of designers to help us borrow some amazing designs to shoot in. The results blew me away. It was like discovering I could somehow fly. A whole new level to my work. Fashion. Who would have thought?
Jillian will be back in a few days to inspire and create and I’m sure we’ll close out 2005 with more gorgeous images that represent how I feel about her and women in general. That’s part of the fun with her. I don’t know exactly what we’ll create. I just know it will be stunning.
My friend Melissa, also known as “Cemetery Melissa” to many of my friends because of our breathtaking shoot a few years ago in the Graceland Cemetery, has been in a few times this year from her travels around the world. She too has become a trusted artistic ally and life Sherpa. She will always have the distinction of being both the last subject in my old place as well as my first subject in my new space. We created more beautiful images this year and I will always be grateful for her fearless generosity with her beauty. Ready to try anything, and never showing up empty handed as far as ideas go. She’ll be visiting again next month and I’m already excited about shooting some ideas we’ve been talking about for months.
But as Melissa has shown me, life is about getting out of your space, no matter how fabulous and experiencing the world. Ryan and I finally made plans to go to Las Vegas to see two Cirque du Soliel shows we had been talking about seeing for more than a year. I was really looking forward to spending some great one on one time with her since we had become such close friends in the past few years. So when she asked if we could bring her sister Morgan along and make it a sort of happy birthday trip for her, my first internal reaction was a bit of a wince. I barely knew Morgan and sometimes two is company and all that.
And I’m not really a huge fan of Las Vegas. I can only take a few days there at a time when I need to get back to something a little more real. But Ryan and I had made an art out of evenings of drinking Cosmopolitans and I knew no matter what Vegas would present to us, we’d make it a riot. But bringing Morgan seemed important to her and so I reluctantly said yes. As I sit here today, I cringe at the idea that I might have said no and missed out on getting to know someone who would become one of the most important people in my life.
So to put it mildly, the three of us had a great time in Vegas. We had a very unconventional time there. Of course, we saw the Cirque shows, O and Zumanity, which words cannot describe. Brilliant, awe inspiring, emotional. Not enough to explain what we saw. But beyond that, we explored the various vintage and second hand shops that are not on the tour guide handbook and played dress up and had impromptu photoshoots up and down the strip, in bars, elevators, hallways, wherever the mood struck us. I can’t tell you how many times we were stopped and asked, “What show are you with?” Even at Zumanity, people were paying as much attention to us as the various costumed performers.
Just before we left for Vegas, I was talking to Morgan about my plan to take a trip to Paris in a month. I still hadn’t decided whether I was going to go for sure, and Morgan said something like she had never been out of the country and how cool it would be to go somewhere like that. Before I could think twice, I told her that when I traveled, because of my size and my hatred of tiny cramped airline seats, I usually flew poor man’s first class, by purchasing two seats to assure me a little room to stretch out. I asked her if she wanted to take 3/4 of my second seat. As the words were coming out of my mouth, I realized I was just about to go to Vegas with her and wasn’t sure how we would all get along for the week in Vegas. Perhaps if things got ugly, an invitation to Paris would have been premature.
We didn’t discuss it again until a few days after we got back when I got a text message from her in the middle of the night saying she had thought it over, and even though she would miss her first week back at school if she went with me, she couldn’t pass up the opportunity. I was so excited because we had really hit it off in Vegas with Ryan and we did travel very well together.
To make a long story short and one that I have discussed quite a bit in previous entries, that trip with Morgan to Paris changed my life. It changed both of our lives in ways I’m sure won’t be fully realized for a few years. Morgan is an extraordinary person. Rare. Beautiful. Intelligent. To travel with her to such an inspiring city such as Paris was one of the greatest experiences I know I will ever have. We learned as much french as we could before we landed at Charles de Gaulle and did very well there, as we liked to describe it, not visiting Paris, so much as living there for a week.
We both were reminded of what was important to us in our lives. Reminded how full life can be if you really truly make the decision to live it. By the time we got back, Paris had made an indelible mark on both of us. One that will change the paths we take for the rest of our lives.
I just completed my first French language class at Alliance Française Chicago. I got a 97% on my first final. Je parle français! It will take me about two years to become fluent, but I’m on my way.
During the course of a lifetime many people enter your life. Some come and go and some come and stay. Morgan is one that I hope will stay for many years to come. She has touched my life in so many astonishing ways. I may have more life experience than her at this point, but I don’t think it will be that way for long. She continues to teach me things, and helps me to overcome fears I still have. When I try to tell her how beautiful I think she is, she inevitably reminds me of how beautiful I am. Meeting her is the single greatest gift I could have received this year.
A few weeks after we got back from Paris, we were out having dinner and she told me she had decided some things about her life. One of them was that she decided that she wanted to try modeling. She had recently met Jillian and seeing us work together and seeing how real it was had made something click in her head. Morgan asked me if I would help her get started. It was one of the happiest things I could have heard. I’d been wanting to photograph Morgan for some time, and had asked her about it once, before we even went to Vegas but she wasn’t interested.
So yes, a few of you have figured out that some of my mysterious postings about my new muse have been, in fact, about Morgan. Maybe a lot of you have. I’m sometimes not at stealthy as I think I am. But after our Paris experience and learning what an extraordinary person she is, she has inspired my photography on a new level. We are continuing to take our first steps together as photographer and muse with wonderful results. And even though we’re still not ready to completely uncover what we’ve been up to, I’ve gotten permission to post a little peak of what is to come.
We’ve discovered a beautiful boutique here in Chicago called G’bani. One of the proprietors is a fashionably alive woman called Trevian Kutti. We’ve been welcomed into her store on several occasions now with champagne and a new tequila liqueur called Agavero. The ultimate way to shop for Italian Couture. Morgan and I have spent many hours both looking in the windows on our walks home from fabulous dinners as well as inside trying on and purchasing some of the beautiful designs.
Here’s one of the images from one of our shoot this month. The dress is Patrizia Pepe Firenze and the shoes are Guiseppe Zanotti. The legs are Morgan. You’ll get to see more of her in the near future.
Je t’aime Morgan! Au Revoir 2005!