My first job in photography was working as an assistant to Taso Vendikos. He did fashion work for Abraham and Strauss and was also the guy who shot the old Ilford black girl/white girl image for the ads and boxes of paper.
Until I worked for Taso, a part of me thought I might become cool like David Hemmings in "Blow Up". I was going to be a NY fashion photog with a cool studio, an E Type Jag and a model/girlfriend. Oh yeah, turtleneck shirts too. His studio was on the corner of Sutton Place so I knew it had to be good.
I loaded film into Hasseblads, took light meter readings, shot the Polaroid, ran for coffee, developed the film and made contact sheets. I also took a lot of abuse and from the first day, I knew I had made a mistake.
The advice I got from assistants who worked for other photographers in the building was to stick it out for six months. That way I could network and find other photographers who would hire me. If I wanted that.
Taso had an issue with cleanliness. His place was always a mess and his equipment was constantly failing because he was rough with it. His personal hygiene wasn't very good either. He spent many nights in the studio so he didn't have to go home to Long Island. That or he managed to trick some wannabe model into sleeping with him.
It was a most unpleasant and soul-crushing experience. For that, I was paid 125.00 per week. I did get to spend the day with O.J. Simpson once. He was a real gentleman.
You know about the #MeToo thing, of course. Taso was the reason why I found out what misogyny meant. He was always trying to "cop a feel" or barging into the dressing room at just the right time. When the models were on set, there was always a cringe-worthy moment when he would try to either kiss one or find some reason to adjust the front of a blouse. There was a stylist who was hired for that but Taso was very "hands-on". More than once I was asked by a model not to leave the studio before she did. They all avoided being alone with Taso.
As a kid, photography was the only thing I ever wanted to do. Magazines and books were all I had to learn from until I eventually got a camera that had adjustable shutter speeds and F-Stops. I soon realized that my pictures didn't look like the ones I had seen in those magazines. I was doing camera club and school newspaper pictures.
One day my high school girlfriend's mother had shown me the Arbus catalog from the MoMA show. It blew my mind. This was photography that made my stomach flip-flop. It was gorgeous. I couldn't take my eyes off of those images. That was nothing like I was doing and I wanted to do that.
When I took the job with Taso, I was already aware in my heart of the kind of images I wanted to make. But the chance of maybe becoming David Hemmings still appealed to another part of me. I thought I could be fashion guy by day and real-life photographer by night. Besides, those turtlenecks looked good on me. I was soon disabused of the notion that I could do or even want both.
I have to thank Taso for so clearly showing me what I did not want to do and what I did not want to become. So many years later I can smile about some of the experience. But with all that is in the news about how (some) men treat women, I am reminded of how embarrassed I felt for my sex at the age of 20. And, how badly I felt for the women. I didn't say anything about it to him though I knew it was wrong So there's that too.
I am also grateful to have seen the work of a female photographer that was unlike anything I had seen before and it showed me the way.
Though I worked for a few other photographers as a freelancer, I soon stopped. I found that the business of fashion photography had very little to do with what I wanted to do with it.