My first paid portrait session was an interesting one to say the least. At the time I had recently moved to a neighborhood on the West Side of Manhattan called Hell’s Kitchen. I was really interested in photography and had recently been given a manual Nikon film camera as a Christmas present by my boss Hank. I had been shooting bands for years with various point and shoot cameras and had grown tired of it. One night I was photographing this band at a really crappy club somewhere in Jersey. Shortly after the band finished its set this beautiful woman came up to me. We started talking and she asked if I had ever worked with any models or done any head shot type work. I totally lied my ass off and told her “yeah, I’ve done my share.” I gave her my card and a few weeks later we got together and mapped out what would be my first paid photography job. The plan was to drive to the Delaware River Gap where we’d do a series of nudes and semi nudes in the woods, the water and throughout the mountainous area around the river. I was so green. I had no idea what I was doing but I was confident and excited. I was also clueless. I agreed to do the job for a measly hundred dollars and would give up the negatives. A rookie mistake I would regret but never repeat.
On the day of the session she came to pick me up. Finding a parking space right in front of my building seemed like a miracle until we came back downstairs to see her car had been towed. She had failed to read the “No Parking” “All violators will be towed at their own expense.led to read the “No Parking” “All violators will be towed at their own expense. I felt horrible but for some dumb reason partly responsible. So off to the towing garage we went (with her wearing nothing but pajamas nonetheless) We got to the garage on the nearby West Side Highway and paid the $250 towing fine. Then on the same day she had to go down to City Hall to pay a ticket. (with her wearing nothing but pajamas nonetheless) All the while she was a trooper and took it all in stride. We made the most of the rest of the day shooting pictures by City Hall, the Bull down by the financial center and down at the ferry station. All the while being followed by tourists and random pervs with cameras. (with her wearing nothing but pajamas nonetheless) We decided to reschedule and start fresh the next day.
The weather on that particular day was beautiful. As we arrived at our location the sun was soft and a comforting breeze welcomed us. We started out following the paths but soon found a waterfall and climbed the fence to get our first shots. She was so natural and simply breath taking. I was waste deep in water when I took those first shots. After a few minutes we climbed back over the fence and headed up to the top of the waterfall. As I began to climb the fence I put my bag on the top of the wooden fence. As I started to lift myself up over to the other side the bag tipped, fell and went right down the fall to the top ledge. My heart sunk. Everything besides my camera was in that bag. My keys, my money, my wallet, the film. No matter what… I had to get that bag back or die trying. I carefully made my way towards the edge of the fall to see my bag secured to the landing below and unfortunately out of reach. We looked at each other puzzled but I knew there was only one thing to do. Walk back down and somehow climb up the waterfall. Now this wasn’t the waterfall you see Harrison Ford dive off of in the movie “The Fugitive” but it sure as hell seemed like it to me. I waded through thewater and started climbing.
My model looking down on me yelling “James, be careful. Please!!!” Rock by rock, ledge by ledge I finally made it to where my bag was wedged and was able to grab hold. As hard as it was getting up the fall. It was harder making my way down with a sopping wet and much heavier bag. By now a small crowd had gathered on a pathway behind me and were even cheering me on to a degree. I swear I had William Shatners voice in the back of my head narrating his then show “Rescue 911”. It was a truly surreal moment. As I made my way to the bottom the crowed let out a small cheer and clapped. I made my way back to the trail and to my surprise the film had been protected and only the clothes inside and my wallet were soaked. I walked back up the path. Gingerly climbed over the fence and finished our session. It was the easiest hundred dollars I ever made. I’m still mad I gave up my negatives but managed to keep the prints in pretty good shape.