The Unexpected Shot

Did you manage to find any interesting B&W negatives?
Actually, I did find a few. This one photoshoot, in particular, stands out in my mind, and I’ve always wanted to scan the negatives digitally and see what it looks like today. What you see here is taken from the proof sheet. I remember it all so clearly. I think it was 1975. I had already made a bit of a name for myself photographing aspiring actors and models, when I was hired to shoot Mallory, a fellow thespian. She was a tall, gorgeous brunette with a closet full of designer clothes. Fortunately, she was open to my suggestion that we wander downtown Tampa shooting in different locations. Tampa was not what it is today, all modern office buildings and fancy streets. Then it was a bit dodgy, a rough-looking southern city, with a river cutting through from the bay. It had its charm if you looked real hard….so we went looking.

Where did she change her clothes?
Anywhere we could find some privacy. I remember it was a winters day in Florida, which made it possible for her to wear a wool coat with a fur collar and hat. She brought along a full set of expensive luggage, and we shot in the Tampa train station, then later changed clothes and had her on the steps of the downtown cathedral.

I think she was wearing Yves St. Laurent for that or maybe it was St. John.

Anyway, small crowds would form to watch, which is always motivation for an actress. At the cathedral, I had a friend show up wearing her pious, Catholic girl outfit and had her exit the church casting admiring glances towards my model. Really hokey, but it made for some contrast.

How did you end up on the roof of Tampa University?
Well, it was my alma mater, so I knew my way around the building. We then shot in the Plant museum on the first floor. The place was once a hotel built by Henry B. Plant, the railroad baron. He ran the train down the west coast of Florida, and Flagler took the East coast. Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders stayed over on their way to the Mexican war. The actress Sarah Bernhardt performed there, the dancers Denise St. Denis, Anna Pavlova, and Isadora Duncan had creative moments in those rooms. It was history for sure, so I wanted to capture a bit of that in this photo shoot.

Then you had a brilliant idea?
How did you know? The day was winding down, Mallory was getting tired, her makeup was beginning to glow in the afternoon sun when she pulled the last dress from her traveling trunk. She held up a sensational wrap dress by Diane Von Furstenberg, who was all the rage when she debuted her collection the year before. Lightening struck!

I remembered there was a Navy destroyer docked in the Tampa port. Someone must have told me, or it was in the news, but I thought it would make a great shot.

Mallory managed to change in the car and strapped on a pair of black spike heels I never saw coming. I steered my red Ford Pinto to the docks, and when we rounded the corner, there was the ship, and boy was she a beauty.

Were there sailors on board willing to cooperate?
Of course! The ship was tied up to a pillar just tall enough for the statuesque Mallory, especially in those heels. The sailors had been swabbing the deck when we walked up, and I asked if they would play along. They were happy to oblige. With the catcalls and whistles Mallory got right into the action and, well, you can see for yourself, she needed no prompting from me. The picture says it all.

And that was that? You took the pictures and then left?
It appeared that was how it would play out, but then I noticed more sailors were gathering on deck. I figured they were not going on shore leave, and the news of two hot women posing dockside had spread through the destroyer like wildfire. Unfortunately, I had just shot my last roll of film, so I couldn’t capture the moment, but you’ll have to take my word for it.

Suddenly, there was a roar from the sailors on deck, followed by cheering and yelling. I turned around to see four Naval officers walking down the gangplank. They were dressed in Navy whites, impeccably ironed, shoes with a high black shine, officers bars on their shoulders, young and handsome.

It was one of those moments where you just have to give praise to the Almighty.

And no film?
Dammit, all four rolls of my Kodak black and white was done. That moment taught me to always leave a few shots for the unexpected because life is full of surprises.

So what happened?
Well, the Navy grunts were going crazy. In this age of #MeToo, a woman might be offended, frightened enough to run, or watch it all go down with a smile on her face. Men without women for too long is not the best mix. Anyway, the officers approached us in a slightly threatening way, as if we were trespassing and shouldn’t be there. But, we were hip to the moment and knew they were playing to the audience on deck. Every one of those sailors would have given a month’s salary to be in their officer’s place, and they knew it…so did Mallory and I.

As they approached us, the officers removed their hats and placed them under their arms. Big, handsome smiles, a bit of small talk about what we were doing, you know, dragging it out for the sake of their men watching. Then an invitation to dinner, except they were leaving port in a few hours. Perhaps next time. And the sailors went wild. It was sweet, funny, but getting a bit crazy. We thanked them for the invitation, and I moved away to let Mallory have her Marilyn Monroe moment in that dress and those shoes. She tossed her long, dark hair, took a spin (not sure how she managed that), and blew the boys on deck a kiss. We were followed by a few hundred eyes, and the cheering of men too long pent up, as we casually (not sure how we managed that), walked back to my car. I daresay it was a photo shoot I will always remember.