1984

As Eve grew up, and Mary Ann and I grew older, home life became more precious. I became less enthralled with the adventure of travel, even to places I’d never been or to photograph intriguing subjects. I increasingly sought corporate work, which was less fun but paid more. The liaisons at the companies were typically highly paid and anxious—they knew little about photography and were scared that I might make a decision that would cost them their job. Still, I was comfortable in those situations and at ease with people in power; I’d grown up in the establishment, and I enjoyed making executives look at once sympathetic and authoritative.

—Rock In A Landslide

 

GEO continued to give me work, with Elisabeth Biondi directing the photo department. Elisabeth liked the pictures from Peru that I’d taken on my honeymoon, and when the German edition decided to do a story on the highest standard gauge railroad in the world, she recommended me.

 
 

The railroad runs from Callao, the port of Lima, to Cerro de Pasco, a mining town high in the Andes—sea level to 14,000 feet—and even higher, to over 16,000 feet at its highest point.

 

There was food service on the passenger trains, but they were so crowded it was impossible to pass through the cars. The waiter walked along the top of the train.

 

Even though I didn’t have agency representation, I managed frequently to resell the pictures I’d shot on assignment. The pictures I’d done for American GEO on BMX bicycles caught the eye of a graphic designer friend, and she persuaded Scholastic to use them for a “poster book,” with pages designed to be removed and hung on the wall.

 
 
 

Alice Rose George was firmly ensconced as photo editor at Fortune, and she and her staff gave me a lot of work. She once told me that she liked that I never turned down a job, or turned my nose up at an assignment. I was eager to work, and I’d found that I might find a wonderful photograph in the most unpromising situation; and I could also be disappointed to find nothing in what had seemed like it was going to be a glorious opportunity. Chemistry, luck, what the light was like, how my week was going—everything mattered in the end. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. Money touches everything, and that’s what Fortune covered. Over the next several years, they sent me to take pictures of just about everything.

 
 

These two stories were, left, about retraining and improving managers that companies were keeping, and right, about support and counsel for managers who’d lost their jobs.

 

The picture that ran, of a trader in New York City, feels like a harbinger of Showing, the project I’m working on now, in 2018, on the overlap of work and family.

 
 

C.E. Meyer Jr., head of TWA, would gather his top management once a month to eat first class airline food in the board room.

 

I set out to make more money by showing my portfolio to graphic designers, who work with corporations, and the same thing happened again. I hadn’t shown my work to many places when I got a call from a world-class design firm wanting to know if I’d be interested in doing an annual report. The call was all but over when I was given the pro-forma question, would I be comfortable working with an art director, and I blurted out, “Only if they’re not an asshole.” No surprise, I didn’t get the job. Amazingly, a designer from the same firm called within a week and gave me an enormously lucrative job for a telecommunications company. Although there were people who liked directness, both in me and in Mary Ann, it often felt like our successes were achieved in spite of our own worst impulses.

—Rock In A Landslide

 
 
 

The Director of Corporate Communications at MCI, Gail Knapp, gave us a lot of latitude in telling the story for each part of the report. For the top two executives, William McGowan, seated in the photo, and Orville Wright, standing, we planned a series of pictures at a table. When Gail saw this picture, as the last in the series, she objected, saying, ”Do you have any idea how many phone calls I’m going to get if we use this picture? Is Mr. Wright leaving the company? What’s going on over there?”

 

My flaw was that I couldn’t control my drive to explore what interested me about pictures. I remember enthusiastically presenting a shot to a graphic designer, of a businessman leaning against a wall, the metropolis of Manhattan, visible through a thin slice of window, stretching forever behind him. He enigmatically contemplated something above our heads, while next to him his wife, in a framed photograph, looked directly at us and smiled conspiratorially, as if sharing a joke. The designer took one look at my pick and cried, “But he looks like a jerk!”

I wanted the money of corporate work in order to spend more time at home; I was capable of delivering what the client wanted; I was just too interested in my own ideas. I would get distracted by the fun of discovering an odd juxtaposition, an intriguing quality of light, or an amusing gesture. It was a quality I shared with Mary Ann. Sometimes we were confident, sometimes full of doubt, but we were always stubborn, determined, and driven by creative curiosity. We forged our own paths in art and in the rest of our lives.

—Rock In A Landslide

 
 
Kelly Nowels