Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Inadvertent Accordion


Many years ago, when I was a mere fledgling photographer, still in school and a sponge of knowledge, I traveled to Billings, MT to participate in a wedding.  It was there I first met him.  A young wedding photographer named Tony Smith.  I clearly recall how the young women in the wedding party talked about him, as if he were Adonis.  The guys thought he was goofy, and a knucklehead, but I saw him for what he really was.   Later, he would become an accomplished and decorated professional.  But back then, all those years ago, he was fresh, cocky, and everything I thought a wedding photographer should be.  I hung on his every word, seeking to absorb any knowledge he might pass on, even inadvertently.

The Myers Brothers

I had set up a small studio space in my home, and was gaining experience with studio portraiture, but I struggled to put my subjects at ease.  So as I loitered at the wedding reception, I made my way through the crowd until I was standing next to this young professional, hoping to ask his advice as to how to relax my subjects.  Even though he was only a few years older than me, I took the reverential approach.

The Springers

   "Mr. Smith, " I timidly asked, "I am an aspiring photographer.  Could you give me some advice on how to put my studio subjects at ease?"  "You need a prop," he said.  "Something fun and unusual that people will have fun with.  They will relax, and then you take their picture."  "Like what kind of prop?" I asked.  "I dunno" he said.  "Maybe a chainsaw."   Yes, I was fresh off the farm.   The chainsaw worked great for exactly one client before it went horribly wrong.

Will Sibra

Years later, when a woman with a Russian accent showed up at my door with a baby in her arms and a dna test proving I was the father, I immediately though of "Mr." Smith and his advice to me.  And I was thankful for what he taught me--to be cynical, untrusting, and demanding of confirmation by no less than a notary public.  Thanks, Tony.  

After briefly experimenting with log chains, I settled on the accordion.   Ambrose Bierce said "The accordion is an instrument in harmony with the sentiments of an assassin."  Mr. Bierce wrote the short story "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" which I feel is one of the best shorts ever written.  Had they lived at the same time, he and Myron Floren would have been great friends.  Perhaps even collaborators.  

Jon Tester & Shon

The accordion has been very very good to me.  I have no idea how many people I've photographed with it.   A thousand?  I don't know.  Like I said, I have no idea.  Most of the shots were never printed.  Many were likely discarded with the rejects.  Every now and then one surfaces, like these shown here.  

Rebeka Benzing

Without meaning to, my accordions taught me about people:  how they laugh, how they anguish.  How they love, and yes, how they lie.

It's the inadvertent education that is the most useful, isn't it?  

Jeff LaVoi

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