You can always count on a professional photo shoot to cause a stir.
I'm not talking about, say, the "photographers" we spot almost weekly in the alleys and empty lots around our offices with "models" posing provocatively against some grimy warehouse, or the guy with a monster digital and zoom lens among a Canon-clutching crowd at a tourist spot. I mean a real photo shoot, with the stand lights, colorful gelled spotlights, umbrellas, reflectors, assistants, the works. Sometimes, though the onlookers are so distracting we have to shoo them away, but often, they simply add an interesting aside when we're asked, "So, how'd the shoot go?"
Regardless of the subject matter — you could be shooting something as pedestrian as a lump of colorless clay on a plate — pedestrians will stop to watch. A few examples from recent photo shoots:
While at the Shack Up Inn in Mississippi, stylist Alicia George, a Russian model named Alina, and I were huddled together, straddling a long-abandoned set of railroad tracks for the last shot of the day. A pickup truck with two ball-cap-clad "do-gooders" stopped and asked us if we needed a ride.
Now, there were lights set up everywhere and Alina was in a formal gown. No sentient being would think we were damsels in distress needing help from kindly passersby. I'd be gracious and attribute this to Southern hospitality, but seeing as how these two Samaritans completely ignored our male photographer and art director, I simply can't. They watched for a while, making various comments under their breath and wolf whistling before riding off into the sunset, sadly, with no model riding shotgun.
Sometimes, the city police and other security-types are a bit, er, wary about what we're doing, and why. Take for example, the September 2006 cover story on the city's "Unsolved Mysteries," featuring a shadowy figure in a trench coat and hat standing in front of a vintage car in a dark downtown alley. Oh yeah, that looked sketchy to everyone, to be sure. This June, we shot the Germantown High School cheerleaders, and you can imagine what the combination of a gaggle of pretty young girls in cheerleading uniforms and a camera crew did to onlookers, especially of the teenage, male variety. Last year's City Guide cover, featuring Amy LaVere, Thomas Boggs (whom we miss dearly), Dave Brown, and Steve Cohen reenacting the famous "million dollar quartet" Sun Studio photo from 1956 made the tourists at rock-and-roll's sacred ground go wild trying to catch a glimpse of what was happening in the other room. The windows along the outside of the shoot were filled with sweat-soaked faces peering in to see what the fuss was about.
Same goes for the 2006 City Guide shoot at Stax, where those on the audio tour ripped the headphones from their ears as they stopped to watch Linn Sitler, Mayor AC Wharton, Jackie Nichols, and Dr. Scott Morris pose in the museum's restored country church. Then there was the group of teenagers who practically exploded into fits of giggles when they found out we were shooting a tasty concoction called Tang Pie at a local shake-and-burger joint for a "summer treats" feature.
So you can imagine the ruckus raised on a recent Sunday just before midnight on Beale when we shot Preston Shannon for this issue's cover. This is, after all, one of the kings of the blues, smack in the middle of Beale, wailing as though his heart was just shattered into billions of tiny pieces, one leg propped up as he sat on his amp. We had a mob around us going nuts, and I couldn't blame them one bit. (I do, however, blame those buckets-o-booze called Divers sold on the street for some of the runaways who got past our security patrol to mug with Shannon like some drunken photo-free-for-all.) One woman assured us, repeatedly, that we'd made a great decision using Shannon by singing, Ray Charles-style, "You got the right one, bab-aaaay," over and over and over . . .
We agree — we did get the right one. One shot, one place, one person, to encapsulate all things Memphis for the annual City Guide? If ever there is a Memphis scene, this cover is it.
So we got the shot, beat the crowds, and I guarantee, felt a heck of a lot better than the off-key but on-target songstress the next day, ba-baaaay.