Camille BillopsOctober 12, 1994, New York City
First impressions endure. And when it comes to distinguished women, Camille Billops — sculptor, archivist, filmmaker — is right up there at the top of my list.
It is my good fortune to have crossed paths with this multifaceted artist more than once over the years. Ms. Billops’ look and her signature style are memorable; she is a walking artwork.
For ten or fifteen minutes I browse bookshelves, which run more than a hundred feet across the wall of her loft. Periodically, I see her pull books from the stacks. At one point I notice Ms. Billops carrying eight of them away, all having to do with her work and filmmaking. I wonder if she thinks I’m not up to this task; that my research is lacking.
Indeed, Ms. Billops suddenly instructs my assistant not to set up until all of her random, last-minute questions have been answered. There is an air of tension in the room. Her husband, Professor James Hatch, is there with us. I look to him for help. What I get is a smile. Clearly, this is my own battle of wills with his prudent wife. He’s not going to step in unless my life is in some way jeopardized.
As an artist, I know that other artists respect creativity, so with some confidence I proceed to explain my concept, and offer Ms. Billops my portfolio. Halfway through, she tells me to get started — she hasn’t got all day. Thought to self: “It’s not easy being me.”
While my assistant gets on with it, Hatch finally chimes in about his Camille’s films, artwork, books, and not least, their marriage. I realize this couple is old-school, the kind who will never pass up an opportunity to enlighten a younger generation. Thus have older and wiser folks like Billops and Hatch contributed to the man I am now, and helped hone my professional skills along the way.
Ms. Billops clears her throat, a signal that she is ready to start the shoot. As I approach her desk, she asks, “Have you found something suitable to photograph?”
I hand her the test Polaroid. “I’d like your husband to be included.”
Ms. Billops looks over the Polaroid at me and says, “You will have to ask him about that.” I hand her another Polaroid with her husband.
A slight smile creeps across her face. “You think you’re smart, don’t you?”
“You get more bees with honey than with salt. I’m a work in progress. Today, it appears that I’m falling below the curve, but that will not last.”
The artist shoots me a look: You’re damn straight. She hands me the pile of books that she’s gathered, and tells me to make sure that the next time we meet I’m better informed.
I lean over, kiss her on the cheek, and say thank you. Hatch chuckles.
I smile. All was good in my world once again.