My good friend, who lives here in Truchas, is an intensely private person in a very public business. She has agreed to share her story under a pseudonym of her choosing. In the 1940’s there was a Western actor named Lashe LaRue, so in keeping with her love of film, my nameless friend will now be known, for the purposes of this post, as Lashes LaRoo. “Very Ozzie,” she smiles. We agreed to no pictures of her and no photographs from her film portfolio. But I did get to shoot the interior of her wonderful, old adobe home.
She has been a still photographer in the film industry for several decades and has photographed just about every actor imaginable, which is one of the reasons she doesn’t feel comfortable disclosing much. But she agreed to talk about how she started doing it, why she started doing it, and how she feels about doing it.
In going through the recording of our conversation, I realized there was no point in taking her story and putting it in my words. She tells it so well. So, while I can’t say this is precisely quoted in its entirety (although much of it is), I can say it’s a very good paraphrase. I offer here, Lashes LaRoo in her own words:
I was a conceptual artist using photography as my medium in New York City back in the 80’s. At that time there were many, many conceptual artists using the media of photography and I wasn’t one of the lucky ones. By complete happenstance, a friend of mine who was a makeup artist was doing a film in New York and had read the script. She told me there was a series of conceptual art pieces in this film (a film that will go unmentioned), and it was something I could probably do blind folded. So she made an appointment with the director and me, and I gave the director such a low figure she had to hire me.
The lead actor was playing the part of a conceptual artist that shoots photos of himself for his art. So my job was to create the pieces that would hang as his art, in his gallery, at his art opening, in the film. I had a loft in SoHo then and I took him up there and created a huge art installation—these massive photos of this guy demolishing a chair. In the movie he had his camera on a tripod and that’s how he photographed himself. The irony is that we spent days doing this, I made nothing, and it ended up on the editing floor–the whole scene, not just my art–it was a huge scene with hundreds of extras coming to an opening—and it was all cut.
Then, years later, again I had a friend who was a producer who was making a film (I wish I could tell you the names and the stories because, really, it’s priceless, this particular story, but I just can’t). I used to visit him on the set, just as an observer. I wasn’t working in film yet. They were shooting in Brooklyn, all around Coney Island, at the Brighton Beach Club where these seventy and eighty year old New Yorkers would go in the summer and sit by the pool in lounge chairs with their dyed hair. It was quite extraordinary, really. The two main actors in this film were both in their eighties, and have now since died. Contractually, there had to be a full-time registered nurse on the set at all times because of the age of the two leads. The nurse was Jamaican and her name was Beryl.
One day they broke for lunch, we were in Coney Island, and I walked down the street to a dumpy little coffee shop. The Jamaican nurse came in a little later and joined me. I was having a cup of tea. It was very chilly that day. It had been raining in the morning, and she asked to read my tea leaves. And I thought, “I am not going to want to hear this–this woman’s a witch–a gifted witch.” Anyway she read my tea leaves and the two things that stood out the most, the only two things I remember she said, were that I would never have children of my own and my life’s partner would come much, much later in my life. At the time I was maybe 35. I have no children and I didn’t find my partner until I came to New Mexico many, many years later.
Then, from that experience on this film, from watching the still photographer work and also talking to various people, I decided that was something I wanted to do. So I went to the union offices and found out what was needed to get in. At the time there was only one woman in still photography in the union. I almost had to sue and they knew that I would, so they gave me a test—a heavy duty test—eventually: on different kinds of cameras, 4×5’s, 8×10’s, 35mm, to produce a portfolio. Anyway, I got into the union, which was a huge deal, but it cost a fortune to get in. It was probably five thousand dollars, if I remember correctly. Now who knows what it is, but the perk was that my first paycheck for one week’s work, with taxes taken out, was almost six thousand dollars. I remember thinking, “What have I been doing all this time struggling?”
It’s a very difficult job: long hours, you have to meet the demands of lots of people, studios, producers, directors, actors. You have to be there and yet not be there. They don’t want to know you’re there taking photographs. But they need your photographs in order to promote a movie. They need your work for posters, billboards. Your work can make a movie. Or not make a movie.
And you’re with these people twelve hours a day. You become a family, or you don’t. I spent four months up in British Columbia, in Vancouver, mixed in with Alaska, and we did become a family. It was a very extraordinary experience. I don’t think I’ve ever had one quite like it on a film. We lived in quonset huts and we all had chores, cleaning, laundry, changing the linens. We became very close. When we parted we all cried.
Those are the beautiful things about this business: you get to travel, you meet people you’d otherwise never get to meet, or even want to meet, probably, and yet it develops, relationships develop.
My job, especially, has a lot to do with the actors–how they perceive me, and how I perceive them, how we form a relationship or don’t form a relationship. You have to always, always, be on your toes. You can never thrust yourself into someone’s face. If it doesn’t happen it just doesn’t happen. So you do what you can do. And then magic happens. There are times, with actors, that are sheer magic. I wish I could give you names but there are magical actors out there.
To be continued tomorrow. Lashes moves to Hollywood…
Much of the art in these photos, which has been collected over the years, is by artists from Truchas.
Love to you all,