i had no idea i would one day be a photographer, except that i've always liked taking pictures. a friend had given me an old leica and two rolls of tri-x, for a trip to london. by the time the train got to oostende i had shot all seventy-two pictures and bought more film before boarding the boat-train. i was sixteen. who knows what i took photos of then, but i spent my two weeks and some thirty additional rolls in london and must have imaged each and virtually every corner in town, night and day and much time in the in-between. back home i dared to quit school, my parents were horrified. they tried to talk me into becoming a doctor, at least a dentist. walde huth, a fashion and art photographer then and a distant aunt, endured, suggesting the famous photo-school in munich. i was accepted as number twenty-seven in a class of twenty. seven applicants changed their minds early and by july munich was mine. the library teacher there made me see avedon's observations. penn's moments preserved was to be my work book for class. why he chose those books for me i couldn't say. not even eighteen, i was fearless and full of it. three months of class had me in new york, if in my mind. letters to america went out soon after, my small midterm portfolio attached, one to avedon, the other to penn, asking for a job as assistent. letters from new york came back. penn's a simple no, but avedon's was signed, suggesting i might write again after graduation. this made me float through my classes, it was like a promise, it meant new york, no less, but my friends called me crazy, my parents thought i was dreaming. school's commencement came towards the end of sixty-three. the day of november twenty-two, to be precise. celebrating in high spirits, then suddenly, all rose at those terrible news, tears in every face. just in june jfk had famously claimed all of berlin, revered as he was in germany then, no-one could believe the news of now.
mail from america arrived almost a year later. imagine. the letter said i'd get to try out for avedon during the paris collections, assisting him for two weeks in the old bazaar studio on rue jean-goujon. observing god at work, serving, richard avedon, any which way. i was in a trance when i walked into the empty studio and saw a small man in jeans and an open shirt walking towards me. he came closer, intense eyes behind large glasses, a shock of unruly hair, and who would that be? i extended my hand. i'm michael geiger - i'm richard avedon. we shook, i was electrified. like touching a two-twenty volt open wire. soon sweeping the floor, helping to hang no seam for that afternoon's shoot, loading those rollei cameras he then liked to work. i'd be developing film, printing contacts, anything, always fast, faster, in a rush, on roller skates. watching every move on set and off. jean shrimpton half naked getting made up, monsieur alexandre doing her hair, the dior dress of the night arriving. fitted and off she went, royalty, floating on to the set. i'm in with the incrowd, that music blaring over and again, endlessly, a switched on avedon rousing the show, turning her on, psyching her up, the two as in a feverish dance, strobe lights flashing, shot after flaring shot. assistants, helpers, studio manager, ready to yield in any an instant. milling about in the back, bazaar's fashion crew prepping the next dress. roast beef on rye, a mess of food, on card tables, coffee urns, the crew taking a bite, a sip between sets. never sleeping, off till next day, dancing in the dark with the shrimp at chez castel. asking belmondo on the next bar stool at three in french what time it was. playing through late nights, working hard all day. really hard! for all that i wouldn't hear about new york until much later.
flat out wasted, dead broke and a slight disappointed, a munich school mate drove to the rescue with his girl and her little sister. riding back through the night in his old bug, cramped at first in the tightly packed rear, tighter and tangled as we went on, and yes, it was dark. we got to munich sometimes late next afternoon, exhausted yet elated after that long drive. i stayed with my friends, at their loft, tagged to the sister, making plans even before the call for new york would come. during school i had worked for christophorus, the porsche magazine. yes, they would loan out a dark blue nine-eleven for a week. to do that car, with that girl, during fall foliage, round about lake konstance for fabulous pictures. the girl was in place, as was the car and snagging a case of leicas and some forty rolls of kodachrome was easy. i called hotels en route for free overnights. i was a heel asking my dad for a loan. this would become that metaphorical reference which lead to my venture's demise. i oughtn't have told him of my plans. see, the letter from avedon came that very day. though clearly addressed to me, he read it first; i was to be in new york by mid october. father simply quashed the car, hence my trip. i was livid. new york, i thought, could have waited the extra week.