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. 16 1997 3:30 AM

A Week in the Life of a Celebrity Photographer

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     6 to 7 is the hour of the staged photo-op, the time of day when all across New York people of some renown are stood up against a neutral background and asked to smile while holding a new product. Or shaking someone's hand. Or wearing some designer's creation. Tonight's photo-op is at the Algonquin, where the Susan Magrino Agency is trying to help the hotel get back in touch, commercially speaking, with its literary past, and so has scheduled a series of events with writers and artists. In an hour or so, Frank McCourt will read in the Oak Room, but first he must stand with Spalding Gray and give the cameras what they want. McCourt, the most photographed man in publishing this year, has been through it all so many times he barely notices (unlike Gray, who still seems to find it a bit of a nuisance). Patrick snaps a few shots, but he gets bored, and starts explaining to the other photographers who these guys are. "People want me to introduce you to them," he tells McCourt. "It's your old Irish charm," McCourt responds. But McCourt must read and Patrick must run. "What was his book about?" he asks me, hailing a cab. "Ashes?"      Between 6:30 and 8:30 it's all about the cocktail party, and toward that end we're zooming all the way up to the Cooper Hewitt Museum, for the launch of Condé Nast Sports for Women. The tent out back is striated like some geological core sample: tiny tot soccer players and Nadia Comaneci closer to the grass, magazine executives in the middle, basketball stars and Gabrielle Reese up at the top. People are shooting hoops and jumping rope and eating mini-burgers from silver platters. Patrick gets the kids to huddle together for a shot, then weaves through the crowd guided only by the beacon of celebrity, from sports stars to publishing figures to attractive future someones. Lucy Sisman, a design director, asks Patrick if "this whole Diana thing" is getting him down: "I mean, you're getting lumped in." "I spend a lot of time trying to unlump myself," he says.      By the time we arrive at 51st Street, Patrick is nearly frantic. He's got to make a brief appearance at the opening of Pino Luongo's new restaurant/boutique, Tuscan Square, but he's promised to be way across town in 15 minutes. To make it worse, the entire block has been turned into a Tuscan village--actually laid with sod--and inside the building a two-story mass of bodies is jockeying for a spot at the roast pig and salt-baked fish buffet. Patrick has no time to eat, however: he's like O.J. at the airport, shooting pictures, making acquaintances, kissing cheeks, but never slowing down. We're out in 15 minutes.      At the Copacabana, the arrival scene is pure Oscar night: klieg lights, red carpet, a dozen security guards in black tie, and 40 or so photographers restrained behind velvet ropes. The security guys make a fuss over Patrick (who has flirted with all of them just as much as he has with the stars). "Get this guy cleaned up," they say, "get him backstage and give him a shave." The other photographers say hi, then hiss "paparazzo" as he walks past their pen and into the club. "Not that word," he mutters. The party, for Oscar de la Renta's new perfume, is already cooking. A twelve-piece merengue band is playing loud and waiters are distributing pink cocktails with tinsel flourishes. De la Renta's constituency arrives in waves: first the fashion crowd (Anna Wintour--actually swaying--and a tableful of models), then his clients (Barbara Walters, Claudia Cohen, and the ladies who lunch), and finally the gossips (the Post's Richard Johnson, the Daily News' George Rush). By the time Albita, the Cuban singer, takes the stage, it's so crowded that the only way to move is to latch onto someone who's already built up some momentum, and soon there are conga lines snaking through the place, bumping into dancing celebrities. At last, the evening's true blowout. A friend of Patrick's comes up and says she is tired, she ought to head home. He looks at her, momentarily dumbstruck, shocked for the first time all night.

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