gordon parks - reflections - photogrpahy - terrence a. reese
Gordon ParksOctober 8, 1995, New York City

I sit in quiet contemplation, as my assistant drives us uptown on Second Avenue.  United Nations Plaza comes into focus through rivulets of rain on the window.  I take a breath and close my eyes.

We pull up to the front door.  “Are you ready?”  He nods as I count down, “Five-four-three-two-one–” and blow the horn.  My assistant picks up the count:  “Six-seven-eight-nine–” when a man in a uniform barrels out the door, directing us to the loading dock.

My assistant laughs as I hand over five bucks.  “Next time, the bet’s for ten,” I tell him.  Grinning, he maintains, “You have to give ’em time to get off the phone with, like, whoever, you know?  Like the girlfriend, the baby mama, the wife, maybe.”

“Hey–” I say. When our van rolled up, they were on my time, too!”  I hop out.

Pacing nervously under cold, fluorescent elevator lights, I run down a mental checklist of all the necessary photo equipment.  According to my watch, it’s twenty minutes of.  I’m right on the money for my three o’clock appointment.

If I wanted to be anyone but myself, it would be photographer, writer, film director, and composer Gordon Parks — the Man!  The first African-American to work as a photographer for Life magazine, he’s traveled the world photographing legends.  What if I choke and can’t get the shot?  Or worse, what if I create an image he dislikes?

The opening elevator door startles me.  I look up at the numbers. Will I discover a wonderful view of the city at this nosebleed height?  I take a deep breath, compose myself, and stroll out with a smile.

A lovely young female assistant greets me at the door and promises, “He’ll be with you shortly.”  There is music coming from a back room. She walks toward the back.

I take in the building across the street through a wide window in the living room, which blocks my sweeping view of the northern Manhattan skyline.  As I walk toward the piano, there is now warm sunlight on my cheek, reflected off a tower obstructing a full view of the East< River.  Out of the corner of my eye, I notice mirrored columns straddling the room-length windows, which might present a challenge.

The doorbell rings.

Mr. Parks answers the door, “I thought you were here already.”  My assistant enters, carrying two stands with lights attached.  I clear my throat:  “I am here, Mr. Parks.  This is my assistant.”

“Oh–  Tar?”  He turns. “I’m working on some music, but let me see how you want to photograph.”

The lights are set up.  I pull the first Polaroid, and the shot is close to perfection!  Mr. Parks leans over my shoulder to have a look:  “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”

Of course, I wanted to agree, but I was a bit bewildered by his comment.

“Reflections,” he adds.  “I’ll be right back.” He briskly walks away like a young kid with something up his sleeve.

I make a few lighting adjustments, then notice my subject return with a book under his arm.  He sits at a desk and flips through the pages. My assistant places himself — as a “stand-in” — where I plan to photograph the great Gordon Parks.

Mr. Parks lays the open book on the desk.  “Let’s mess with them,” he says.  Presumably, “them” amounts to the audience who will view the images I am about to create.  The book reveals a full-page portrait of…Gordon Parks.  “I wonder how many people will think this is the mirror.”

I finally catch on.  A perfect reflection of the artist:  Mr. Gordon Parks will employ a previous photograph of Gordon Parks as both stand-in and subject for yet another portrait.  “You’re right — I was thinking the same thing! But at that angle, you’d have to be suspended from the ceiling!” We both laugh.

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