John Loengard Teaches A Brat A Thing Or Two

Photographs — AlexWaterhouse-Hayward

“I don’t want people to know that I am a brat even if I am one.”That is what Rebecca told me today when I mentioned that I would write in today’s blog what a holy terror she had been when I tried to take her pictures alone and with Lauren in our fall garden on Sunday.

Initially I had told Hilary Stewart (their mother) that I wanted the girls to show up on Sunday with appropriate dresses for the session. I had mentioned to Hilary that I was planning on taking pictures of them by the rich brownish red bark of Acer griseum (Paperbark Maple) and my large but collapsing Hosta ‘Paul’s Glory’. The girls appeared minus dresses so I sent Rosemary to get something for them from Hilary’s. Immediately Rebecca informed me she was not going to wear a dress and said she was going to wear my mother’s Mexican red rebozo. I pointed out that the red would kill the colour of the tree bark. She reluctantly put on the dress while repeating to me “I hate this dress. I hate all dresses.” When I showed her the location for the photo she told me it was cold and she was not going to go barefoot into that wet and dirty ground. I told her to wear shoes. She then complained about the spiders (she had never been afraid of them until Sunday) and flatly refused to pose by the tree until I told her she had to, “Donde manda capitán no manda marinero,” or Where the captain orders the sailor obeys. By the time she and the extremely cooperative Lauren were by the tree Rebecca was shouting at Lauren to not step on her or for this or that. Rebecca would cry and then suddenly microseconds later she would hum a tune. I could never get anything but a glum, disgusted or bored look from her. It became worse when I put her in the middle of my rose bed (see yesterday’s blog) where she now complained she was going to get scratched by rose thorns. “This is the last picture, “she would tell me. Or she asked, “How many more?” I was reluctant to answer as my inspiration to take pictures was rapidly drying out. But we did take a few and in spite of it all I like some of our photos. But certainly not as much as the glamorous picture I took of her three years ago in my studio.

Perhaps it was all worth it because of the startling but charming statement she made about being a brat. I told her I was going to write about it all and showed her the page, page 58 from Lohn Loengard’s Pictures Under Discussion. I told her to read what Loengard had written about his daughter Jennifer Loengard (1983) which was the name of the beautiful picture (below, left in b+w). I think I might just try a regal profile of Rebecca with b+w film soon. She read it and understood and complained no further. I have a feeling that our next photo session might just be more pleasant. And here are Loengard’s words on his daughter Jennifer:

If I take a picture of my daughter, our relationship changes and she is not my daughter any more. She could just as easily be the Duchess of Malfi. If she says, “Oh, Dad, not now!” I’ll treat her exactly as I woud Georgia O’Keeffe if she said, “Oh, Mr Loengard, please not now!” In my head I think, “There is a beautiful picture here and by God, short of murder, I’m going to get it. So shut up and hold still!” But what I say is : “You look wonderful. I’ll just take a minute. It’s marvelous. We’re doing something very special.”

I learned the part about a minute from a dentist. I learned the rest from Carl Mydans. For the magazine’s thirtieth birthday, Life photographers were asked to photograph each other. Carl was assigned to me. To see such an intelligent and distinguished man concentrating on the problem of taking my picture was extremely flattering. Still I felt tense. After all I was being scrutinized. Carl kept telling me what wonderful pictures were being made. I believed him, and soon I relaxed. I was a success at being a subject!

(You should tell these things to a person as you photograph him — even if it is a lie — which in this case it was. Life photographers as it turned out, could photograph anything in the world except each other.)

Link to: John Loengard Teaches A Brat A Thing Or Two

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