1986

Many years later, in 2017, this photo was chosen for French Photo by the actor and photo collector Juliette Binoche as one of her ten favorite photographs. Here is the note from Agnès Gregoire, editor of French Photo:

Thank you so much Geoffrey !
Here is the comment of Juliette:
“C'est une photo qui me rappelle l'enfance, celle d'une petite fille avec un trop plein d'énergie, exhibitionniste, s'enchantant aux possibilités du corps, cherchant la liberté avant tout!”
We publish your so great picture only in the magazine. I'll send you copies. Your office will give me your address.
With warm regards
Agnès

 

One of my work strategies was to embed myself into the day, and sometimes the night, of an executive I’d been assigned to photograph. I’d go for the appointed portrait, then ask if I could hang around and be unobtrusive. It almost always worked.

The photograph above, of GAF CEO and takeover artist Samuel J. Heyman, was taken at a late-night strategy meeting while he maneuvered to take over the behemoth Union Carbide Corporation. If I’d been able to take this kind of photograph consistently, of executives looking intelligent, strategic, and authoritative, I would have been much more successful in working directly for companies and the graphic designers who specialized in annual reports. After I’d made this picture, however, I had no particular interest in repeating it. My curiosity about what might make an interesting photograph drowned out good sense about getting jobs. Heyman himself was impressed with my work on this assignment, when I’d spent several days with him, in his office, in his limo, and in his home, and I was hired to do the photographs for his company’s next annual report. Heyman and I had become friendly. When I was doing the annual report executive portrait, of him with two subordinates, I couldn’t figure out whether to call him Sam or Mr. Heyman, so I clumsily alternated between the two. Apparently that didn’t go over very well, and I was told by the graphic designer that additional photography for the report had been requested, to be done by “anyone but Biddle.”

 
After I’d made this picture, however, I had no particular interest in repeating it.
 

Mr. Heyman was the brother of the photographer Abby Heyman, a colleague and friend who’d taken pictures at Mary Ann’s and my wedding for her book, Dreams & Schemes: Love and Marriage in Modern Times (1987). She didn’t get along with her brother. She didn’t end up using any of the pictures she made of me and Mary Ann.


This assignment was a short one, only an hour. I went to a nondescript office on Park Avenue, bare and not personalized; I gather from research done today that it was a temporary location. The light, however, was lovely, and Fortune, distinct from corporate clients, encouraged me to try new things. I played with the light and produced what the assigning photo editor, Philip Gefter, called, “My favorite man-at-a-desk assignment ever.”

 
 

It came out in conversation during the shoot that Mr. Montrone was an opera buff. I asked if he could identify operas from hearing an aria whistled; he said yes; his colleague scoffed. My knowledge of opera is spotty at best, but I managed the first six notes of “La Donna È Mobile.” It may have as easy as asking someone to identify “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” but Montrone immediately said, “Rigoletto,” named the aria and the scene, and very much impressed his colleague, and me too.

 

Scholastic, who sponsored and distributed the BMX poster book, has extraordinary market penetration: they offer their publications through schools. I remember reading their weekly newsletter in fifth grade in Ohio in the 1950s. Lots of students ordered the BMX poster book, and I made more than $10,000 in royalties for many, many copies sold. The graphic designer who’d conceived of that project, Cynthia Hart, saw another opportunity with skateboarding, so she and I collaborated on a calendar, also for Scholastic.

 
 

We agreed to split the advance and the royalties 50-50. I remember thinking while I was in Texas or Florida or California, working contacts, making connections, and taking the pictures, “I’m doing all the work. Why should the designer get half the money?” But I liked Cynthia, we’d made a deal, and I kept quiet. Later, when the calendar was done and royalties were coming in, she revealed to me that while she was doing the design and production, she’d thought, “I’m doing all the work. Why should the photographer get half the money?” We laughed and laughed and ended up better friends than when we’d started.

The two Scholastic jobs were rare instances when I worked on spec, that is, waiting to be paid until sales were made. Almost always, I worked on assignment with guaranteed payment, though many of those jobs also made me money through later resales.

 
 

The four skaters in the top row were members of the original Bones Brigade, the Powell Peralta skateboarding team: Roskopp, Mountain, Caballero, and Hawk. In the photo of three skaters, Tony Hawk is the one on the right side, the one with the shock of blond hair falling across his eyes. He’s the one everybody has heard of, even people who aren’t interested in skateboarding. He’s had a remarkably long career, leveraging his success with lines of boards and sportswear, through endorsements, and appearing in ads. Back in the 80s, he was already dominant. Some of the other skaters resented his success, griping that they had more style or got more “air,” in essence, were sexier. But Hawk was able to do things nobody else could. Where the rest of the skaters rotated twice, he rotated three times. Where they flipped over, he flipped over and spun around in the same move. He was fluid and effortless, and he stunned the judges.

 

Clockwise, from top left: Rob Roskopp; Lance Mountain, Steve Caballero, and Tony Hawk in Texas; Mike McGill at the Cambodia Halfpipe in Pembroke Pines, FL; Christian Hosoi in Santa Monica, CA.

 
 

The Department of Defense had complained that they were being charged for labor hours that weren’t spent on defense projects, so Fortune asked me to make a picture that would show how time cards had been made more sophisticated and accurate. It didn’t seem like a visual or interesting concept, except that the location they sent me to was the F-16 fighter jet assembly line in Fort Worth, Texas.

Below is the shot that ran, to illustrate how General Dynamics had introduced a computerized and presumably more accurate timecard system.

 
 
 
 

I continued to photograph executives, and I continued to enjoy the challenge of making them look hard-working, intelligent, effective, and human.

 
 
 

Citicorp called and said they wanted to buy the photograph that ran in Fortune. They didn’t mean they wanted a print; they wanted outright ownership of the image to do whatever they wanted with it forever. I didn’t do Work for Hire, which meant you ceded all rights to the client, and I wouldn’t agree to an outright sale. We settled on a five-year all-rights buyout for this one shot for five thousand dollars. I don’t think they ever used it for anything.

 
Kelly Nowels