Story Behind The Photo #2 – Maximum Security Prison with a Manson Family Member

Sitting in a friends living room, it was fascinating to hear the writer talk about interviewing a Manson Family member in max security, in a morbid way.
Then she said the photographer she took with her, totally screwed the assignment.
One camera, dressed a bit off, and was scared witless. Missed most of the possible shots.
She needed to find another photographer.
My buddy suggested me.
After looking at some of my photos she agreed.
I asked her when we would be going, and she said it would just be me, as she had already wrote the interview.
I did as much background as I could, and got notes from the writer.
With an official letter from the publication, a plane ticket, and my camera bags filled with his favorite cigarettes, I took off.
Nothing like hearing the actual door of a prison close behind you to know the truth.
While walking the line, my accompanying guard told me how much he respected my work from Nam.
I had never been to Nam. I said thank you.
Meeting with BB, I started to lay out my gear. There were some other inmates in the room, and I asked them all what they were in for.
The last one said I didn’t want to know.
I agreed, and gave him a smoke.
The guy knew his poses and we started to shoot.

During the process I asked him for his side of the story.
His freedom had been challenged, so he had to kill.
My gear was a Nikon F3, FM, and Nikon F that I always carried. Fully manual, and as the expression goes, I could hammer nails with it all day, and it would still be in focus.
And both of the other cameras did go down.
The final set-ups were done with the F. Whew!
Yes, I had a speedlight, changing bag (used when the cameras went down) and tons of film, B&W, and ektachrome.
There was one shot that I wanted to do, and the guard was a bit concerned.
With the lights out, or very dim, I wanted to spray the scene with a fire extinguisher for atmosphere and hit the scene with a flash. Hell, he had an automatic weapon.
So, we did it.

 


Throughout the shoot we talked a lot.
“When did you get those tattoos?”” In here” “Really, how?” “Broken guitar string and ink from a pen” “damn, that had to hurt!” “You know how long I’ve been in here? THAT hurts”
As a self-taught musician, we discussed his music, styles, etc.
After the shoot. I met with his therapist who told me he was really a good guy.
I sent him contact sheets, and transparencies, as I had promised.
A short while later, I was at home, and I get a collect call from the prison.
He wanted to chat.

Loved the photos, but unfortunately couldn’t get the slides as they were in plastic mounts and could have been made into a weapon.
How did he get my phone number?
The writer said he really like meeting me, and wanted to let me know he liked the photos.
Yes, I did change my number.
This was perhaps the most exhilarating, single photo shoot I had done.
The magazine came out and it was great to see the full page spreads of the photos.

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