Monday, August 1, 2011

Michael and Me

“To the complaint, 'There are no people in these photographs,' I respond, 'There are always two people: the photographer and the viewer.'” (Ansel Adams)

Here is a word-for-word transcript of a recent voice message that was left on our business phone. You couldn't make this stuff up if you tried. I can't decide if I'd rather have caught the call from this earnest, elder lady, or if it's better to have her recorded message to play over and over again. Names have been changed to protect the innocent Michael Jackson fan.

John, this is [Jane Doe].

I am an actress on [a well-known soap opera] for many years, a prime-time Emmy winner, actress. You took photographs of me over 10 years ago. I know you are a fine photographer.

In your home when I took pictures, I saw a magnificent portrait of Michael Jackson - I believe it was black and white - with angel wings and arrows. That portrait has stayed in my mind ever since I saw it. And since his loss - or the loss of him - I would love to purchase, from you, a copy of that magnificent impression you made of his spirit and his life. My name is [Jane Doe]. I live in Los Angeles, my number is... I have email which is...

I would love to have a copy of that magnificent impression of that outstanding individual, Michael Jackson. I know you're not in town, I believe you're the same artist who took my pictures - remarkable. Again, could you please contact me at your convenience. I want it so much, I have a new dressing room at NBC to be in, and for others to see it.

Sincerely [Jane Doe]. Bye.

The only problem is, I never photographed Michael Jackson. Of course I'd love to help her, so I Googled around hoping that I might be able to point her to another photographer, but it turns out that there's a number of different images out there that fit her "wings and arrows" description. Who knew?

Chuck Mangione (c) John Ashley
The high-energy Chuck Mangione
On the other hand, I have photographed a few musicians that you, my elder readers, might recognize - Tonight Show bandleader Doc Severnsen, the high-energy Chuck Mangione and jazz trumpeter Meynard Ferguson. I also worked a Smokey Robinson concert that was interesting. Part of getting press credentials included signing a contract stating that you would not photograph Mr. Smokey after the first 30 minutes. What with his prolific sweating and all, they wanted to make sure that you only took "fresh" images of him.

Maybe the nice lady who called would settle for one of my Willie Nelson photos. You know, Willie an' Waylon an' the boys? What I remember most about that assignment was, (1) the grown-up women fawning over Mr. Willie backstage, good-looking women that Willie didn't seem to notice, and (2) that Mr. Willie wasn't entirely present for that gig, if you get my drift smoke. He floated onto the stage with his old guitar, rambled through a set of songs, and wandered off back to his bus, never to emerge again.

Jimmy Buffett and Bob Graham (c) John Ashley
Then-Govenor Bob Graham sends Jimmy Buffett long.
And then there was the time, emerging from the lockeroom after shooting a University of Florida football game, I found then-Governor Bob Graham sending Jimmy Buffett long for a deep pass on the old Florida Field. (The photo shows what happens when you flash the end of a roll of Tri-X film that was pushed to 1600 ASA. In other words, grainy.) Funny thing, in that day's paper we had announced that the Governor would not be able to attend some boring meet-and-greet in our town due to "scheduling conflicts."

What interesting lives these musicians must lead. To think that you can affect people so much that, many years later, someone might want some remembrance - that's simply amazing. And how about the mystery photographer who created an image that lingers in one woman's soul after all these years? Isn't that the essence of art?  Here's hoping that one or two of my images might outlive me, and bring some sort of laughter or comfort to people after I'm long gone. Just maybe not the Michael Jackson fans.

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