#18 / My trippy triptych of days edging up to the summer solstice
I hope you are not on holiday but if you are, it might be a good idea to get out the board games, because I have been rain dancing.
Asa will be taking portraits of each speaker immediately after they have had the stage for their allotted 20 minutes, while they’re still full of passionate, feisty energy.
I met Asa and his partner Judith the day before the conference, and that’s when I learned what’s expected of me. Until then I thought I might be the kind of assistant who’d be concerned with taming a few stray hairs, whispering art directions, tucking and smoothing and saying “thank you” and “you look fabulous” and “next” and “what’s your email address”.
But instead I am hollering WHAT?!! Where!? WHEN!!? You’re KIDDING!!! How? THAT!? and Who, ME!!? a lot
I am a photographers’s assistant for real if you can believe it – and I’m with you if you don’t – because I’ve never been one of those before.
The thing I am most responsible for is the lighting and there are six menacing lights, each on a stand with three widely spread legs perfect for tripping over. I am also the fan girl (which I’m happy to report rang true in the homonym sense more than once during this assignment). I know the fan sounds easy but it’s big and awkward and seriously corded and you gotta not blow Hazel away with it. I am to be at the ready when Asa needs a different lens. I gotta be on top of it when he decides he wants to light the subject from behind or below or above or all three and maybe the sides, too. I gotta roll this light over to where he’s pointing, move the huge and unwieldy octabox to where he nods and get it at the right angle, climb on apple boxes to adjust the out-of-reach-and-out-of-sight switches and dials deep inside the monstrous thing, beware the snake pit cord situation, not unplug anything, not elbow the sitter, make sure the batteries are topped up, make sure the strobes go off and yell “strobe” if they don’t go off, and also hang on to the light meter which I can never find but is usually around my neck.
We are shooting in a very bright korner of the fabulous Koerner Hall and let me tell you that place has windows to spare and I am suddenly aware of light to the point of obsession, including reflections and the consequences of white and shine and all kinds of other stuff I was blissfully ignorant of on other sets when managing the light has been someone else’s job.
A cloud-covered sky means consistency and consistency means much less ado about incoming light and that’s why I started the rain dance and ruined your holiday.
But right now there’s just too much else to talk about.
First Asa (ace-ah). He’s been behind a camera for 32 years and he sees the world in a different way than you and me. Part of this is because of his built-in sensitivity to and appreciation for light, and the other part is his ability to gauge people’s internal illumination. And this is not simple or easy to do because humans are complex and good at hiding, but Asa is good at finding, and I think that’s where the artistry comes from.
He’s actually good at finding the light even when he doesn’t have the camera – because I’ll tell you – he has a way of making you reveal things
During the first few hours as inept assistant I was too busy trying not to trip or unplug or blow away or electrocute myself or anyone else that I didn’t pay attention to much else – but I tuned in quickly once I got (sort of) the hang of it – and I started paying attention to the subjects, who moments before were talking astrophysics, neuroscience, space travel, cures for rare disease, quantum computers, robots that learn, and other very specific head-spinning topics, dreams and ideas – and were suddenly right in front of me – raw, vulnerable, sometimes humble, shy and/or giddy about having their picture taken.
And Asa’s got this way about him
He knocks first, and then he invites them – at exactly the right moment – into his world so that they forget about theirs for a time, and then he picks up the camera and something starts to happen. This is going to sound odd, I know, but I think it’s love or at least a derivative thereof.
I don’t know much about science, especially considering the company I was keeping those few days, but I do know that events occur which seem random but are actually a series of conditions which when realized allow certain results and that’s what happens when the right picture is captured. Asa knows this moment and that’s when he gets this wash of joy.
And then it’s all over and I’m left turning off the lights, gasping, close to tears, and in love with everybody
I am thankful in a very big way that I was able to talk with these extraordinary people, including Asa Mathat himself, who was also a speaker at the conference. I heard mind-blowing snippets, amazing full-length stories, and beautifully succinct observations, all of which I immediately point-formed for later digestion. And I witnessed some heart-wrenching body language which I sketched while it was fresh but I can’t tell which way is up on most of them.
Clearly the air in Koerner Hall had been tinkered with those three days.
Now the conversations – including very important ones I had with Asa’s partner Judith – and all the mind-blowing stories, need gathering, the sketches need saving, and I need to head north, into the swirling shadows of cottage country.
Have a great weekend everybody!
Read about The ASA Foundation / Camp Enlightenment here.