Bread and Puppet

A couple of weeks after leaving my job as first assistant for Annie Leibovitz, I hooked up with a puppet theater I had seen previously in Vermont. They were doing five blocks of performances for a big anti-nuke parade in NYC. Bread and Puppet Theater was the vision of Peter Schumann. The theater was political and strange and brilliant. One thing they were NOT was photo friendly. They hated photographers and journalists of any kind. At the parade I followed them all the way up Fifth Avenue and, near the end around 60th St., I saw Elisabeth Biondi in the crowd – then a photo editor of a publication called GEO… I ran over to her and said, “You should do a story on this group!” She said, “Call me next week and come by to tell me about them.” At the time I had a little stutter… and had a really hard time asking for Elisabeth on the phone. After a couple of tries I got through and set up an appointment that launched my career. I got the assignment to go up to VERY northern Vermont where Bread & Puppet were based and start my very first assignment for one of the top photo driven magazines in the world. I took my one camera and one lens – and the knowledge that I had never shot color before except for assisting Annie.

I went back and forth between New York and Glover, Vermont for many weeks. Gaining the company’s trust was the real key – knowing when to hit the gas and when to blend into the scenery. Each time I came back to New York and showed the work to Elisabeth she said I did not have the story yet. To complicate matters, the editor of GEO at the time hated the story – mostly hated Bread & Puppet’s politics. Schumann and the puppeteers allowed me to take pictures, but refused to ever pose for me…which was the shot I needed to finish the story. At the end of October after working on the story for over three months it was the moment of truth. I was totally out of money, having opened accounts on credit at several labs in New York.

If the story would have been killed I would have had to pack up and get out of New York. Elisabeth told me I had one last chance to make the story work or they would kill it. I went back up to Vermont where winter was just about to set in. The days were getting shorter. I tried to get my shots for several days, then on my last day I was watching a late afternoon rehearsal and I begged them, “PLEASE!! I put up a black piece of fabric on the wall of the barn. Would you just stand in front of it for me?” The sun was setting as the puppeteers got their masks and stood there for a couple of moments for me. I had one camera. One lens. A sliver of light to get these shots. I thanked them, said goodbye and packed up. Back in New York I had to present the new photos to the top editors at GEO. The room was tense – especially for me knowing all I had riding on their decision. After I showed the new work, applause broke out. My story was accepted. It ran fourteen pages AND the shot of the puppet mask with the veil wearing the pink dress became the cover of that issue of the magazine.