kyle cassidy (kylecassidy) wrote,
kyle cassidy

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Amanda Palmer called a few weeks ago and asked if I wanted to be part of a project to help the New York Public Library. How could you not? Plus I'd been trying to figure out how to help librarians anyway. Amanda wanted to parody a Damien Hirsh sculpture as performance art and get people to donate children's books to the NYPL. This because she's about to have a baby and she'd recently read about the benefits that children experience when their parent's read to them. (She wrote about that here.) So why not collect a bunch of her fans who may or may not be old enough to have children but are old enough to buy books and have them come donate books to the library? It was funded through her Patreon page which is a way to crowd fund artists to do art projects they might not otherwise be able to do -- like a recurring monthly kickstarter.

Her performance art was going to be out in front of the library, my thought was to do a studio portrait inside first with lights and a backdrop and then go take a few outside.

Naked pregnant lady collecting books for kids and teaching a lesson about contemporary sculptors. Right here. At the New York Public Library.

I'd planned on shooting this whole thing with a Leica M9 to keep my kit small, with a 28, 35, 50, and 90mm lenses along with two studio flashes, four radio triggers and two light stands to keep the amount of stuff I had to carry small, because I was also packing a giant 10 foot by 20 foot muslin backdrop which weighed a lot. I packed the night before but when I got up the next morning, I added a Nikon d800 as a backup with a 28-70 f2.8 and a Fuji x20.

I took an Amtrak to NYC, sitting in front of a guy who was trying to pick up the woman in the seat next to him by telling her he "edited Lovecraft anthologies" (note: this probably would work on me). Not to be outdone she said "I know the drummer from The Band." He paused and said "What band?" "The Band," she said, like he was an idiot, "he dedicates songs to me when they play."

Luckily I'd packed a pair of noise isolating earphones and I cranked up "heavy rainstorm" on my white noise generator and read a book. By the time we got to NYC he's looked up "The Band" on wikipedia surreptitiously somewhere and was telling her that the drummer died years ago. I grabbed my bags and fled.

Longtime Dresden Dolls vibes man Ryan Anas met me out front and with great joy we carried all the gear to the NY Public Library.

I hadn't seen Amanda in a while. She flashed her gigantic belly at me ... it's really ... big.

I took a selfie with the PalmerGaiman, about to be the first of his generation and then Ryan, said "hi" to the people who are probably behind the @NYPL twitter feed, and while the hair and makeup team started, I went off to lunch in a gloriously empty pub where I had a terrible veggie burger and we went back and set up my studio. Michael Pope was there with his team, videotaping everything in time lapse and real time and occasionally Pope would run through blasting photos with his iPhone doing something that I didn't understand. The makeup team was laboring through anything (ahem) painting half of Amanda bronze and the other half see-thru.

This is designer Anya Klepikov, who's done some amazing NY theater sets
and was responsible for much of this happening.
Half painted! Clickenzee to EMBIGGEN!

Nicole Blackman arrived, who happens to be my favorite poet on Earth. She's friends with Amanda somehow. I was very influenced by her performance art piece "The Courtesan Tales" when working on Who Killed Amanda Palmer and I thanked her in my credits for the book. Three years later someone forwards me this Tweet from Nicole Blackman that says "Who the heck is Kyle Cassidy and why did he thank me in the credits for this book?" And now there she is, sitting in a nest of clothes, constructed mostly of feathers, writing something.

Nicole and Ryan helped me fine tune the lights and just as the makeup was finishing, Neil Gaiman came in with novelists Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman at the last minute, second-guessed my whole lighting setup and started rearranging it. I took a test shot and the display screen on my M9, instead of showing what I'd just photographed, showed only a series of vertical lines.

"Ok," Amanda said, "let's do this," and she stepped onto the set. I pulled the radio trigger off my Leica and put it on the Nikon and started shooting. This is the essence of being prepared. Have a plan, assume that plan will fail, have a backup plan. I bring a backup for everything. Lights, cables, cameras. It doesn't have to be identical, or even equal, but you need to know how you're going to get something done if the way you'd planned it isn't going to work out.

So this is it. You pack for hours, you travel for hours, you setup for
hours and you take photos for 4 minutes. Clickenzee to EMBIGGEN!

The Nikon worked fine, and we shot for about five minutes. At the very end John Cameron Mitchel, director (and star) of Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Shortbus walked in, gasped at Amanda's belly and made a joyful scene.

Not sure what happened to turn my Leica into a necklace. It seemed to recover later.
I suspect it might have been related to the flash trigger. Not sure if that's my hope
or not. JCM & AFP. Clickenzee to EMBIGGEN!

My photos done, we went outside in a line where a crowd was already waiting, unsure of what was happening, books clutched in their hands, waiting for the magic. Amanda climbed up through the crowd onto the platform of bookshelves, raised her sword and a cheer went up.

She stayed there for about fifteen minutes (which is a long time to hold a sword up over your head) people came along in a line and deposited their book donations to the NY public library, then Neil helped Amanda down, kissed her on the makeup covered cheek and went back. The library hauled off their score in a gigantic cart. I stayed around and talked to people outside for a while, then went back, tore down my kit, headed off for a late night snack with some friends and headed home.

The next morning I got up and edited photos and read on the Internet all the outrage about pregnant breasts and children's books not going together. I'll leave you to Google "advantages of reading to your children".

Ok. I'll also leave you with this photo of a giant crate of books that now belong to the New York Public Library that you can borrow and read to your kid. Or someone else's.

Giant tub-of-books. Clickenzee to see if yours is one of the ones
on the top.

You can read Amanda's blog about the whole thing, see more photos and shiznit here.

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