A Week in the Life of a Celebrity Photographer

A Week in the Life of a Celebrity Photographer

Notes from different corners of the world.
Sept. 17 1997 3:30 AM

A Week in the Life of a Celebrity Photographer

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       Just as expected, Tuesday's looking nightmarish. Nieman Marcus (5:30), Elaine's (6), Bloomingdale's (6:30), Cigar Fashion (7), Saks Fifth Avenue (7:30), Diesel Superstore (9), Maxim's (9), Spy (9), and Wax (11:30). And those are just the parties Patrick agreed to attend.
       The first event is complicated. Officially, it has a dual purpose: to honor Liz Tilberis, the editor of Harper's Bazaar, for her work as president of the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund; and to celebrate the opening of Linda Wells and Liz TilberisBloomingdale's newly redesigned arcade area. In fact, evenings like this--a well-known stage in the life cycle of a charity drive--serve many purposes. Charities get a lot of mileage out of their affiliation with celebrities, especially those in the media who can both attract and produce coverage. Many of those celebrities, in turn, enjoy the high profile that the platform affords them (though Tilberis, a survivor of ovarian cancer, is famously serious about her work for OCRF). The store gets a high-minded excuse to show off its new decor, and to ring up some after-hours sales, a portion of which goes to the charity. And for Bloomingdale's, the affiliation with Harper's Bazaar can't hurt. This isn't the first time the store has honored Tilberis--in fact, it's not even the first time it has honored her today. And to make it that much more confusing, Lisa Loeb is here publicizing her new Geffen Records album, and playing a set to which no one is listening.
       For Patrick, all these intersecting interests just mean there are that many more sponsors, all of whom must be photographed in various combinations and all of whom must be credited in the captions. He puts everyone at ease, chatting and joking and allowing himself to be teased about his now Arafat-worthy stubble beard, but he doesn't stop shooting the whole hour he's there.
       Lypsinka and Marina ScianoWalking down Lexington Avenue, he pulls out the packet of photocopied invitations and tries to map out a route that includes them all, even though he's stationed assistants at every one. "It's Sophie's Choice," he says, sighing.
       Outside Saks, we run into the film crew that's making a documentary about Patrick. He generously offers to help them get into the party.
       The bash that Visionaire throws to celebrate each new limited-edition, hand-bound, multimedia issue is, in the end, one of the few parties one can't just talk one's way into. Not that that keeps the crowd manageable; by the time Patrick arrives, it's already so tightly packed that motion of any kind is difficult (and motion toward the bar is out of the question). He lets the drag queen at the door know that a film crew might be showing up soon to shoot him. She winces. "They're big," he assures her, choosing the wrong word (she's less concerned with their stature than their size). "Very big. The real thing." It's hot and loud and everyone's wearing black, but Patrick is in heaven: "God, it's like Visionaire editors and Visionettesyou can't take a bad picture here." Many of the guests are models, some of them world-famous, and everyone is happy to see him. Unlike the last few engagements, which were mainly commercial, this is a social event for him, and he shoots everyone he sees. "Let me ask you something," one of the designers asks me. "Does Patrick always have film in his camera?"
       Patrick gathers up the muscle boys--hired to serve as human podiums for the issue, and dressed only in black lace underwear--for a photo with the editors. When the other photographers see the shot, they crowd around, and then the TV cameras arrive, and soon Patrick is giving an interview to Fashion TV. "I think the perception of Visionaire is ... a very heightened perception," he says, faking it successfully.
       Sometime between the fourth and fifth party, Patrick starts complaining. He always complains about his work--that all this party-going forces him to keep crazy hours, that being friends with a few thousand people makes it hard to be close with any of them, that he's been pigeonholed by his own success, that he can rarely enjoy a party because he's usually halfway out the door to the next. I try to remind him that it's all by his choosing: He employs a full staff of well-qualified assistants who would be happy to cover more parties, leaving him to attend only one a night. Or to have quiet dinners with friends. Or to go to sleep before 4. But he doesn't really listen to my response; he seems to know that all the complaining is just part of the game.

Ariel Kaminer is a contributing editor at New York magazine. Patrick McMullan is a free-lance photographer.