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.

A hot dawg

A hot dawg

I shot Yukako holding a hot dog in like 2005 or six.  It was during our first trip back to NYC after moving to HNL.  I can’t remember where we were but its late night and I had a wave of nostalgia.  I guess it was from the recent March issues of Bazaar and Elle mags I found downstairs the other night.  I paged through them looking at photo credits and didn’t recognize any of the new names in the magazines.   Photo big shots like Burbridge, Meier, and McDean were all replaced by unknown names.  Probably young guys with photoshop skills and computer visions.

Digital has opened the world to anyone who has a camera and a computer.  So many people are creating work all over the world which was once only done by by a select few in New York.  The once iconic names of photography are being knocked over by the masses.  What attracted me to photography was the elitism of a small clan of professionals who set the bar high and limited those who could enter their ranks. Maybe not so much attracted me but more frustrated me as I sat on the fringe once as an assistant…hoping for that break to assist the elites.  No amount of trying helped as it seemed more a trivial game based on whims and so and so’s.  New York was good for that.  Maybe I just didn’t know it at the time.

Feels like anyone with a camera now is a professional.  The barrier is lower and the work is, I dare to say, improving.  Indeed, but hints of banality creep off the pages as photoshop filters and plug ins are taking over where skill with lighting, cameras, and film once danced harmonically.

Everyone now is a hot dog.  But are they tasty?




Yes the secret is OUT.  I’m going to be on this week’s episode of the new HAWAII FIVE O!!!!!

I actually pulled in by the local coordinator, Angie, to coordinate a “beach photo shoot” as the episode was about a famous fashion photographer killed while on assignment in Hawaii.

Here is the synopsis of the show:   HAWAII FIVE-0 “Ho’ ohuli Na’ au” Season 1 Episode 22 – Five-0 focuses on several key suspects when world-renowned photographer Renny Sinclair is murdered while on assignment in Hawaii shooting the annual swimsuit edition of a top sports magazine, on HAWAII FIVE-0, Monday, May 2 (10:00-11:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.

I was tasked to coordinate all photographic lighting and grip equipment for “made for TV photo shoot.”  Production relied on my skills to make it look believable as well as functional as I also had to assist Hawaii Five O director Brad Turner (Alias, Smallville, 24, and many others) during his real photo shoot.

Brad wanted to try his hand at actually taking still photos and the production again relied on my skill to make sure Brad’s photo shoots were perfect.  I sadly was not hired to push a button but all the work put in definitely gave the imagery my signature.  Brad did a great job and the images we shot on the beach and inside a studio were phenomenal.  Really nice work and, I must say, fantastic lighting.

But the best part of this job was actually playing a photo assistant on TV!  With all the hard work put in, production decided that they couldn’t rely on an extra to act like a real photographer/photo assistant so they had me be the on-screen assistant to the actor.  Sadly, no lines.  (Damn…I could hear myself screaming CARRY YOUR OWN *&^%! LUGGAGE, NATHANIEL!  And if any of you photographers I worked back in NYC and abroad read this, just substitute your name and your demands, you ^%#$!!!!)

And the actor, no less, was RICK SPRINGFIELD.  Yes, Jessie’s Girl, yes General Hospital, yes mega 80’s great.  How fun. Yes only being a young lad back in 1981 when Jessie’s Girl became the #1 single, I sremember the song as a kid and more so now due to the recent 80’s revival and subsequent playing of that song on lite rock radio and being a staple on classic 80’s music cds.  I found myself recalling lyrics throughout the long waits between filming to fill the void.

Where can I find a woman like that

The episode’s set was out on the North Shore and filmed for three days.  The early call times had us out in the chilly Hawaiian dawn setting up the photographic lights for the show.  For the first part of the job, my task was to dress a beach setting creating the feel of a real magazine photo shoot in Hawaii.  The directors wanted more flash than what I would call functionality but the key phrase was the “bigger, the flashier, the better.”  I set up my Profoto 7Bs and one Profoto 7A pack, an Elinchrome Octabank, a few umbrellas, and used several California Sun Bounce reflectors.  All the lights were synced to the set camera Springfield, who plays famed photographer Renny Sinclair, to fire when he faked his pictures.

I was surprised to also find that I actually had to coach Springfield in the art of photography.  He had very little experience knowing how to act like a professional so I coached him on how to properly hold a large DLSR camera, how focus and zoom in/out with the lens, how to properly stand when taking the pictures, and even what dialogue to use as he interacted with the actress Serinda Swan, who played the bikini wearing fashion model.  With the dialogue, I had to channel my inner Austin Powers and gave Springfield such key phrases as “right in the lens, baby” and “give it to me, baby” and other over-the-top phrases that make for good TV.  I kept quiet but I really wanted to teach him how to be a super fashion ass but it never came to be.  I did ask him if he was an ass in the show but he thought I called him an ass.  Funny.

During the filming,  I basically just held a Profoto Ring Flash above his head during the scene and acted as if I knew what I was doing.  I think I frowned most of the time feigning super interest in the lighting, exposure, etc…I had no dialogue and was loutishly dressed by wardrobe in a loud Hawaiian printed shirt along with a black muscle shirt.  I felt more LA than HNL, but I figured people would be looking at Springfield and not me.

Rick was sort of a cool dude.  As I’ve worked and photographed other celebrities, its really no big deal to be around people with fame.  We chattered about this and that, the models tiny bikinis and the likes.   He actually joked around with me as he thought I was surely just an extra but was surprised to see me actually taking test shots of him and testing the lights in several instances.  I think most of the crew were surprised to see that extra jump out and work grip and lighting.

With Brad’s photo shoots, we shot on the beach and inside a studio.  The show needed several still shots that would be published in a book of Renny Sinclair’s photographic work.  The book’s photographs held clues leading the detectives to Renny’s murderer.  I, along with several union assistants, set up several 9′ seamless backgrounds, numerous lights, and allowed the director snap fashion photographs of several of the actresses on the show including famed model and actress Angela Lindvall.  Brad actually threw me the camera in one of his shots to let me photograph Angela as he knew I could make her shine a bit more than he.  I can’t say any of the images they used for the show/book are mine but if you are keen you might spot a bit of my signature in the show as well.

On a side note, its no secret Renny is killed in the show as CBS released the show synopsis.  Without watching the show, can any of you 80’s kids guess who kills him?