January 24, 2011

Sad day...

Saturday morning I woke up around 9:00 and staggered into the kitchen to turn on my electric tea kettle to make French press coffee. My morning ritual. I usually wake up in a good mood feeling like I have a clean slate to begin my day. I had nothing pending and being that it was 16 degrees outside I could justify staying at home sitting at my computer all day editing and purging images.
I turned on my phone while waiting for the water to boil and as it found its signal I heard the buzz that I had received a message. That always sparks an instantaneous Pavlovian response of a knot in my stomach knowing that someone had sent me something during the night. The message was from my friend Ron and said, "Holy Crap, Anita Bethel died." I couldn't believe what I was reading. I set the phone back down and tried to process what I had just read.
Anita Bethel was both a client and a friend who worked for Fairchild/Conde Nast in the photo department. In fact, Anita gave me one of my first jobs back in 1995 when the company was just Fairchild. She may have actually saved me from moving back to Virginia because before shooting for Fairchild I was pretty much broke and only had one or two other clients. I was giving serious thought to leaving New York and the assignments she gave me prevented that from happening. I remember taking my portfolio to her and how kind she was flipping through my amateurish pages (compared to what she must have seen from others). She hired me to shoot a portrait a few days after our first meeting and shortly thereafter I was doing multiple jobs a day for them. A portrait at 10:00am for HFN, a fashion presentation at 2:00 for WWD. Nearly every time I came to the office she greeted me with a big smile and a hug. And, she was always so supportive and complimentary about the photos I took. Perhaps sensing my insecurities, she would often call me to tell me how great everything came out. She was an easy audience and I could always make her laugh out loud with some "behind the scenes" tale of a recent assignment she had given me. Once in the late 90s she sent me to shoot a portrait of Nick Nolte. When I went to the office to pick up film and Polaroid (remember that?) we got into a discussion about who might win in a fight between Nick and Tommy Lee Jones. While shooting him later that day I told him about our discussion and asked him who might win that fight. I had him write down the answer on one of the Polaroids I had taken. When I got back to the office I handed her the Polaroid. It said, "Anita, Tommy Lee is my brother... Nick." She howled and thought it was so cool that I had gotten her an autograph and had mentioned our fight discussion.
A few weeks ago I spoke to her and we had agreed to have lunch or dinner in the near future. Neither of us followed up on it and now I have great regret that we hadn't. Sometimes clients are just clients... and sometimes they evolve into something much more special. Like Anita.

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