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Re-Birth of the Cool

Hey, I admit it. I Google myself every once in a while. It’s a good way to keep up on how my web site and my blog are being indexed. It’s also a convenient way to find out if photos of mine are appearing online. You never know what you may find…

A few days ago I came across this:

It’s the home page of an Austrian art gallery, Fotoforum West. They are having an exhibit of Miles Davis pictures, highlighting portraits of him along side his paintings and prints. Pretty cool. Even cooler is that that’s my photo as the lead image for the show. Cooler still is that I’m in great company – Annie Leibovitz and Anton Corbijn. You can’t ask for better than that.

The show is getting a lot of press in Austria and I’m even being lumped in with Annie and Anton as a starfotografen. Google translates that as a “star photographer” though it’s more likely a “photographer of celebrities” than the other way around. Not bad for an image of mine which is just over 22 years old.

There’s only one problem… I didn’t know anything about it. No one contacted me and asked me for permission. But what’s odder still is I don’t know how this gallery came up with a print. The photo has been published twice. Once in Rolling Stone (1987) and once in the book, The Art of Miles Davis (1991.)

Miles Davis, Rolling Stone, November 19, 1987.

I’ve never sold or given away a print of the image. So, as much as I am surprised to see the image re-surface, I’m curious to know what path it took. The only method I can think of is that someone copied the photo out of the book. I have begun to see if I can find out. The gallery in Austria has not returned my emails and a gallery in England (the exclusive agent for Davis’ artwork in Europe) knew nothing of the show nor my image.

An interesting side note to this – the portrait was taken within a few months of my having started out on my own. I was freelancing in New York and had fallen in with a publicist whose core group of clients was nightclubs. Davis had a show of his work at the Tunnel.

I remember getting a frantic phone call from the publicist telling me to hightail it over to the Tunnel to photograph Davis for Rolling Stone. Just like in a movie, I could be heard to say, Rolling Stone – this is my break! First problem was that I didn’t own any lights outside of a couple Vivitar flashes. So, I ran over to Lens & Repro, rented a Norman 200B, a stand, and an umbrella, and then cabbed it over to the Tunnel.

I set up my light and waited my turn. I was waiting a long time when I was told, “We don’t need you. Rolling Stone sent their own photographer.” I couldn’t believe it. This was my break, I was not giving it up. I don’t remember who I spoke with but I pleaded my case, pointed out the expense of having rented equipment (something the Rolling Stone photographer did not do), pointed out that I was already set up and ready to go, and asked for a minute or two with Mr. Davis.  They gave me one.

1o to 15 seconds of it was spent photographing.  I got off 6 frames in color slide on one camera, 6 in b&w on another. The remainder of the time was spent getting Davis to move back into position. He kept wandering over and standing directly under the one light. Long story short, the Rolling Stone photographer somehow messed up. His images didn’t come out so Rolling Stone ran mine.

In the end, I can’t say if this was my break (is there ever one?) or that it led directly to other assignments. A few years later, Davis passed away. I was able to see one of his last U.S. concerts. It was an amazing experience made all the more so by having had a few moments with him at the start of my career.

Miles Davis, November, 1987.


  1. The story continues… with two interesting twists.

    -I’ve made contact with the gallery, FotoForum, and the director is very nice. He’s digging deeper to see what he can find. So far – the show was curated by outside curators from Germany, whose job it was to secure permissions. They got the artwork from a woman in Switzerland.

    -In the “You Never Know” category, in researching this some more, the book, “The Art of Miles Davis,” mentioned in the post, is long out of print but has become a collectors item for fans of Davis’ paintings and prints. If in “like new” condition the book will sell for ~$300 or more.

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