Fashion photography learned from the big city boys

Fashion photography learned from the big city boys
Fashion photography of Claudia Vaughan for Hi Luxury Magazine. 2016 Marco Garcia, Ken Nahoum
Fashion photography of Claudia Vaughan for Hi Luxury Magazine. 2016 Marco Garcia

“Texas never got this cold” I mumbled to myself as I stepped out of the Spring St. subway station and headed for my very first job in New York City in February of 1997.  I had landed a job with famed fashion lensman Ken Nahoum who made a name for himself in the 80s-90s photographing celebrities and pop stars.  During my first week in Manhattan, I cold called the famous photographer and his studio offered me a job on the spot. Ken was a superstar photographer well known for the infamous images of Tupac Shakur for the record album All Eyez on Me.”  I could not believe how lucky I was to get a job with the famous photographer right out of the bag.  I really wanted to be a fashion photographer and here was my big chance.

MTV in the 90’s glamorized supermodels such as Cindy Crawford and Claudia Schiffer and the black and white images (and videos) of Herb Ritts and Bruce Weber drew me to search out this business in the capital of photography.  I had known very little about fashion at the time and I wasn’t going to learn about it in San Antonio so I took off to NYC and put up with the unbearable cold to to find out what it was all about.

I had never experienced a true east coast winter and I was ill prepared for those last few months of cold weather when I first arrived in Manhattan.  Nahoum’s studio was on the corner of Avenue of Americas and Varick St and although the station was just a few blocks away, the cold, bitter wind coming off the Hudson cut through my Texas winter jacket and chilled me to the bone during that short walk.  But I endured it all because I wanted to learn how to be a fashion photographer.

Nahoum’s studio didn’t exactly explain what my job would be but once I started working there, I ended up being nothing more than an errand boy for Nahoum, his dad, and two sleazy producers.  Sadly, Nahoum was already transitioning out of photography and we only worked on a handful of photo shoots including one notorious outdoor night job that ended when a  heavy storm cut across the City and soaked us.  I remember taking the train home that morning and leaving behind a puddle of water where I had sat.

I had hoped to learn how the business worked from Nahoum but he ended up being a jerk and wouldn’t give me the time of day.  I lasted about three months before I moved on as I had arrived too late in Nahoum’s career to see any of the magic he made back in the day.  Ken wasn’t all that bad now that I look back at it.  I had fond memories of his dad and those two sleazy producers.  It’s very easy now to see why he treated me poorly as I hadn’t “made my bones” yet and was too green to understand.  He worked with the best of the best and I was just…well…an errand boy to him.

After I left, I went off and assisted all types of fashion, portrait, and commercial guys putting lots of emphasis on fashion.  But once I learned the fashion business was a nasty, shallow world, I knew it wasn’t meant for me.  I did work for some really great people and some really huge names and all that hard work as an assistant taught me how to manage a career as a professional photographer.  I wished I had become a dedicated understudy to a well known fashion photographer for a long stretch but after so many years, I moved on to start my career elsewhere.

Ironically, Annie Leibowitz was in the same building on Varick as Nahoum and I accidentally rode the elevator with her.  During that brief ride, I didn’t realize it was her and lost a chance to beg her for a job.  Needless to say, I missed (some might say I was lucky to have missed out!) my chance but all worked out as far as I can see.

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Fast forward nearly twenty years later and out of the blue, I’m offered a job to shoot fashion in Hawaii.  Hi Luxury Magazine asked me to shoot a fashion story on the magical property of Dale Hope, author of The Aloha Shirt: Spirit of The Islands.  The photo editor had known for years I had an inner fashion photographer inside of me but never took me serious when I told her of my past. She finally found a project I could work on and pushed me to produce a great shoot.

I worked with model Claudia V and a great team of make up, hair, and styling. Dale’s property is way in the back of Palolo Valley and the environment fit well with the clothes and the styles.  It was a challenging day but we managed to photograph five looks including a few options in a brief period of time.  Overall, we made some fantastic images.

As I readied myself to shoot that morning, I recalled my days of fetching coffee for Ken’s dad and the two producers.  I recalled having to head uptown to Hermés to pick up a Kelly bag for Ken’s Victoria’s Secret fashion model girlfriend.  I remembered having to take something to Ken’s Greene St. apartment in SoHo and he refused to let me in and I had to wait in the hallway.  I recalled that cold wind, stale bagels, riding home completely wet, and the nasty world of NYC’s fashion business.

But when I looked through my camera’s viewfinder, I saw Claudia and all the moments that led me to this palm grove and I smiled.  I’d never had made it as a fashion guy in Manhattan but its good to know I learned enough make these beautiful images in Hawaii.
Thanks Ken.

Many years (and less lbs) ago!

Digging through old boxes finds all sorts of treasures from the past. I found an old polaroid taken by a photographer I worked with on occasion, Gilles Bensimon. We were photographing the model/actress Milla Jovovich (5th Element, fashion mags, etc…) for the cover of Elle Magazine. After a long day of setting up lights, pulling 8×10 polaroids, and roll after roll of 120mm film, we got to the end of the day where the photog photographed the crew.

I am standing next to Milla (holding a dog) and I was so much skinner and younger, and in many ways, naive. I don’t mean that in a good way or bad way but just attesting to a state. I was really to stay and live that life but life didn’t have it that way. We ended up in Honolulu. Is it better, well…no…if I had made that life in NYC work…but things are better in their own ways. A new condo and balcony make life so much easier.

Life in New York was a different place for me and a different time. But enough of that. I remember setting up six Profoto 2400ws packs just for the background. Sean was the other assistant and Jeff was the boss. I never fit in but I wasn’t sure if it was just me or the crew. Sean and I stayed friends for years on and we found each other on Facebook recently. Jeff, from what I figured out, is doing his fashion thing in New York. He had that life down. I just couldn’t, as much as I wanted, manage that…just couldn’t be fakey. Maybe they saw threw me. I wasn’t one of them.

I always attributed the high end photography life to being one of the cool kids in high school. No matter how hard you tried, you just didn’t have that je ne sais quoi that it takes. Don’t get me wrong, I was a pretty cool kid. Maybe not the coolest but cool enough. The parties revolved around Paul, Diane, and me…in one way or another…or maybe it was because we knew Diane’s sisters were gonna take care of us. Who knew…you might if you knew me back then.

Either way, I was priming myself for the life of studios, models, big lights, and a life of eternal black/dark clothing. It was hard to shake the black shirts for rubba slippas, but it happened.

Jeff is the guy holding his thumbs up. Life was up at the time. Not as much as I would have liked as I always felt I was just on the edge of making it in the assistant world. No long stints with Annie, Michael, Steven, or Gilies. Just day players with the biggies and dailies with Nathaniels and Stephanies. Life was good at the time but I always wanted more. But now looking back, it was enough. Nathaniel emailed me to congratulate me on the NYT story last week. He’s told me in the past I’m the only past assistant that made something of myself…and to think I made it in Hawaii.

I can’t complain too much but a man can dream…

And to think, I am wearing an old vintage Duran Duran tshirt…maybe thats why I wasn’t cool. Or maybe too cool for the fashion crowd.