Two Photos

This is a photo of me when I was about 25. It was taken by my good friend Pat Dagler, a wonderful photographer who died very young from a horrible illness. She was a black woman with enormous charm, passion and deep personal/political commitments. I loved her dearly. I don’t know what has happened to her amazing collection of photos.

I remember very vividly when this photo was taken. It was during a softball game in Central Park in 1969. That’s a baseball glove on my lap and I think I am eating a flower. What struck me most about the photo when I first saw it was how sexy and alive I looked, at least to myself, when in actuality I felt worn out and beyond depressed when it was taken. I had hit rock bottom.

Pat gave me two other photos she took that day. One was of my girlfriend Charlotte Hastings. Her face glowing with a smile that lit up the universe. The other photo was of me and Charlotte embracing, with my closest friend Arnie Sachar walking on a small hill in the background carrying his briefcase. The game was organized by another friend, Peter Wolff. All are dead now.

This second photo was taken about eight years ago when I was in my mid 60s. The great photographer George Malave asked if he could come over to photograph me. It was for a project he was working on. For the next couple of hours he shot me from various angles and from various locations in my apartment. Nothing came out right. I sensed his frustration. But maybe it was more mine than his. I hated how I looked in every one of the photos he took. Something drastic needed to be done. Suddenly I flashed on my downstairs neighbor, a strikingly beautiful, very thin, very dark woman from Zimbabwe. Someone in her late 20s or early 30s with real flair and charisma. Imagining myself being her, I put on a wide brimmed black hat that had a small red heart pinned on it and sat on a chair in the hallway. The very next photo was the one that he would use. Most striking to me was that I looked much, much younger than I had in any of the other photos. So much so I was embarrassed that people would think the photo had been touched up. Still, I seriously doubt anyone looking at it would see a breathtaking Zimbabwean beauty. But that is exactly who I see whenever I look at it.

Robert Roth