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INTERVIEW
by François Quintin
Associate Curator


But do you think it was helpful that when you were a kid, you had that kind of intimacy with a superstar like him?
I think it's possible that, from being around those sorts of people-though again, not in a business sense-I never was afraid of celebrity. I was never intimidated.

You took art history classes when you were at Bard College, on the East Coast. Did you have anything specific in mind at the time?
No. I was an economics major, which I enjoyed because I had a good business sense. Even though I didn't get a business degree, I enjoyed learning about economics. I dabbled in school. I always enjoyed art history because, growing up in California, my exposure was limited, and it was a new experience. To learn the history of art opened up certain things to me, made me see. It intrigued me.

Do you think that if you had studied photography at school you would have had the same career? Do you think that the fact that you were somehow ingenuous in photography turned out to be an asset?
I'm glad I didn't go to school for photography. Other photographers I know, Helmut Newton and Bruce Weber didn't either. Even Steven Meisel didn't, really-he went to fashion school. For me, the most important thing I learned was just honing my eye. I think I had a good eye. I'd go down to the end of my street, to a garage that had a certain feeling about it, or a particular light; I'd take a picture of a friend who needed a head shot. That's how I learned, instead of having school assignments and learning camera techniques. I think a lot of the time these days people are so concerned about having the right camera and the right film and the right lenses and all the special effects that go along with it, even the computer, that they're missing the key element. That element is developing a style that's yours and experimenting with it in until you eventually discover what makes sense to you especially. And I think in schools, sometimes that's possible. But I learned the technical aspects on my own. I shied away from strobes and lights at first. It's always more comforting to know that in any given corner of any room or any location you're on, you can make a photograph that you'll appreciate. What I particularly liked was that, coming from California and not being involved in the New York scene, I developed my personal way, in my own way, at my own pace. Looking back on it, I think it was terrific that I could do that. So I'm glad I didn't go to school for that reason. I was tutoring myself, I suppose. Many people who excel are self-taught.

It's now part of your legend that you started photography because of a flat tire. Is that right ?
Oh, this is the "Richard Gere" story. That was one of the first instances of doing something for no reason other than to just take a picture of a friend, and realizing that there was a "moment" there. Richard Gere was not an actor then; he had just shot his first movie that year.

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Zen Story, El Mirage, 1999
 
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