Photograph from March 2002
Over the past 20-plus years with Bass Player, Art Director and photographer Paul Haggard has accumulated a shelf full of broken cameras and some dusty memories. He will recount some over the next few columns until either he can't remember any more, or they fail to be interesting— whichever comes first.
The Boy scouts of Amerca have a motto. They raise their right hands with three fingers skyward and promise to “Be Prepared.” Not a bad motto, as mottoes go. It certainly has a more pragmatic ring than “When in doubt, just add cheese,” or “Bros before hoes,” or “We’re Primus and we suck.” And in general, I have found that living said motto will most likely help lead down a path of success.
So, do you think I would follow my own philosophy?
I thought so.
MeShell Ndegeocello was the subject of my next shoot and as usual, I went through my standard checklist before departing the office. Camera? Check. Breath mints? Check. Strobes? Of course. I never go anywhere without strobes. I like my shots to be tack-sharp, rarely shooting at anything less than 1/200th of a second, and then using high-power strobes to burst a 1/10,000th of a second, image-freezing flash right down the middle of that. If that don’t stamp a sharp image on 50 ISO film, nothing will.
With confidence (and joie de vivre) I collected my last-minute thoughts and stood up to leave my desk when the phone rang. It was MeShell’s publicist.
“Are you heading over to the shoot? Just a reminder that MeShell can’t shoot with strobes. They bother her.”
“Wh- wh- what do you mean, n- n- no strobes? I had instantaneously developed a pronounced stutter.
“Can’t use ’em. See you.”
On the way over, driving in what could only be described as a road-safe fetal position, I did my best to reassure myself that it was okay; that I could shoot with whatever dim February light was left in the room. Too late to rent any other lights, I would supplement the ambient room with the tungsten modelling lamps in the strobe heads.
I felt now completely unprepared. I was no Boy Scout.
But I am lucky. MeShell was great to work with and managed to hold herself perfectly still for the nerve-racking 1/8th of a second exposure duration (an eternity in shutter terms). The lighting setup proved to deliver dramatic and moody, rather than bright and sharp, and what resulted from all this improvising was surprisingly much more beautiful than I had expected, with golden, warm tonality courtesy of the tungsten lamps which I never would have considered if I had blustered in with strobes-a-blazin’.
Subsequently, I have added this unorthodox method to my repertoire and take time to convince myself regularly that it was a natural progression of style and technique. (Paul, you are quite clever, aren’t you? Why, yes, Paul, I am.) And now I can live the scout motto fully, except that lately I have been putting a lot of cheese on stuff.