Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Spalding

Spalding Gray, New York City, Feb. 1990

I MIGHT HAVE FORGOTTEN A LOT OF MY SHOOTS, but I have never forgotten the morning I spent with Spalding Gray in his Soho apartment. I was on assignment for NOW magazine and Gray was coming to town touring his Monster In A Box monologue. Shooting in New York gave me an excuse to stay with my long-distance girlfriend, and I remember walking from her apartment in the West Village to Gray's place, excited about my subject.

I recall walking up a set of stairs that looked on the vast tar paper roof that Gray describes as the view from his loft, while bemoaning the lack of scenic views in his life during Monster. I might be misremembering, but in my mind's eye his loft was within sight of the door of the Performing Garage, home of the Wooster Group and the venue where he would workshop his monologues.

I was met at the door by Renee, the girlfriend Spalding would mention constantly in his monologues. She was on her way out, but told me that he'd just woken up and that I should try to get him to eat something. I had left the emotionally fragile New York of my almost monthly visits and entered Spalding Gray's world.

Spalding Gray, New York City, Feb. 1990

Gray emerged, bleary-eyed and bed-headed, and asked me what I had in mind. I was grateful to see white walls everywhere in the loft, and chose one by the sort of solid wooden table that was his constant stage and prop in his shows. I asked him if we could get some other props - the glass of water, for instance, that he constantly sipped from. He came back with the glass and the massive manuscript of the novel he was supposed to be writing - the "Monster."

Gray was happy to play for the camera, giving me frames that jumped back and forth between mere posing and mugging. I had to shoot a cover for NOW, and decided to switch between warm- and cold-toned colour stocks. Spalding was a generous subject, and I clicked away, knowing that I was getting a lot of shots to choose from. The morning was going well.

Spalding Gray, New York City, Feb. 1990

When I was done Spalding asked if I was hungry, and took out some bread and cheese, which we ate at the table where I'd been shooting. We talked about our mothers. His had committed suicide when he was young and had become - this is obvious now and probably was even then - his muse. Mine had died a couple of years previous, and I was still nursing a mix of grief and guilt.

Thanks to Swimming to Cambodia, Gray had become an unlikely hero for a lot of my generation. Unlikely because he was so many of the things we weren't and strove not to be - a Boomer, outspokenly neurotic, uncritically fascinated with the New Age and its spiritual and pseudo-medical panaceas. But he lived his life tossed on eddies of doubt and fear, and that was an setting we could recognize.

Spalding Gray, New York City, Feb. 1990

I shot a roll of Gray with my Rolleiflex, but only recently decided to make a scan of the shot above. I don't think I could have produced this result in the darkroom a quarter century ago; my skills were still fairly rudimentary, but it has to be said that Photoshop helped me pull a lot more from this frame than I saw through the viewfinder on that morning in Soho. If I do say so myself, I kind of Steichened the fuck out of it.

I met Gray one more time, just after he'd finished Monster In A Box on its opening night in Toronto. I'd told everyone how well we'd gotten along when I'd photographed him, and my girlfriend told me to go over and say hello when we spied him emerging though the backstage door into the lobby. I went over and re-introduced myself, then told him how much I'd loved his performance.

"Was that a performance?" He asked me, his voice suddenly panicked. "Did you think it was a performance? I didn't want it to seem like some kind of performance..."

I frantically backtracked, trying to find a better word to calm his anxiety, but he was abruptly surrounded by a group of people who whisked him away. I never saw Spalding Gray again except onscreen.

Spalding Gray killed himself on Jan. 11, 2004.


   

No comments:

Post a Comment