doing the sunday times



was a time when making studied photos for the times had wednesday's the food day of the week. claiborne would send a couple of recipes up to the studio in the country. he was mostly late with the fax, last minute, hailing from mississippi he liked to procrastinate. the thermal paper wouldn't crank out till tuesday midnight. which didn't give a lot of time making the thursday deadline, when the sunday times put the back of the magazine to bed. meaning the editor needed finished photographs by noon the latest. working backwards, it took four hours to process, as a rush, so the film was at the lab by eight. the drive from the studio had me on the road at six. dinner, always the dish after it was photographed late wednesday evening. background, selection of plates, silver ware, napkins, the shot was set and ready for food to be plated. set and lighting designed, dummy food in place and final polaroid. film loaded, sinar camera ready on tripod for final set. food culled, prepared and cooked, shopping for this specific recipe, pencilling an idea, calling long island for corrections, proof reading (ten cups of tomatoes?) claiborne's fax. craig liked to vary his column. one week it was french, next indian, then pacific rim, or what they called 'asian', on to tempura, cacciucco and sauerkraut, tomato sauce (off season), whole poached salmon, truffled eggs, mexican a la diana kennedy, tarte tatin, shark teriyaki over charcoal, senate bean soup and yes, that desert he famously called chess pie.

i had a lovely assistent then, she knew my ins and outs after fashion. she did dishes and windows, rushed off to the city for stuff not to be had at the locals. she tended the cat and the dog and sometimes watched over me. the times paid five hundred a shot, including expenses. not a frivol, factoring craig's fixings, props, film and those facet makings of a studio kitchen. so it was mostly up to me to do the whole thing by myself. not that i'd be complaining. claiborne's fancies taught me to cook. he put an astounding array of foods at my camera, in my fridge and ultimately onto my table.

i did this for some fifteen years. virtually every week. in the end i thought i'd do something for craig. i called him up, yes, i dared, i had made a terrific bouillabaisse for him. 'wha markel', he said in his best southern, 'ah'd be much charmed'. and so it came that i drove my creation down to east hampton some early september. he wasn't well, a cold, some misery of the heart. but he graciously ate my food and likely or not, he loved it. a nice cuvĂ©e of champagne to wash down the soup made him feel better. he wanted to know about me, and we talked some about that. not feeling shy after champagne, i asked about him. he lowered his head and smiled at me over his cheaters. i really didn't expect much from my question, but he took his time to answer. he wasn't doing so well, everybody knew that the times had become frustrating, this was '87 and he'd been with the paper since before '57. then to my total surprise he talked about being gay, he'd been out of the closet for years, but this love for that man was killing him. it had become too much, flying down for a few days to a man had a wife with demands. worse, everybody knew. what could i say? i hadn't known. i listened, with some compassion i think, though in the end i really couldn't understand. his sadness took me unawares, it came so out of the blue. he looked at me, and suddenly smiled, you wouldn't know, of course not, how could you. he asked me about coffee then, his eyes twinkling anew, may be some 'ahce' cream with it?


i lived in san francisco when i read he had died. they always say 'it was as though i had lost an old friend'. but i had. it set me back quite a bit, that man no more, he whose passion had taught me so much, half of my photographs had depended on him. my old diary says this all happened some hundred years ago. of course it did. and as then it feels like fall now.