The Cook, the photographer and the poison ivy: Story of a photo shoot

Two women in dappled sunlight, Shelter Island, 1974

While it seems true that every photograph can tell a story either through the explicit hand of the photographer or through the viewer’s imagination, it’s not often that we hear directly from both the photographer and the subject about the context or circumstances of that moment.

Last year I published a post called Ripple Effects: Subject, students and teacher remember a moment, which got a great response. The post arose from an email I received from one of Harold’s former students at Windham College, Susan Auslander. She wrote simply:

“Back in the 70’s I used to model for Harold’s classes. He took a beautiful picture of me which he called Lady in the Lake. It is in his book Harold Feinstein: A Retrospective. Would love to meet you.”

I later recorded a brief interview with Susan to get her memories of that moment and also spoke with Elizabeth Brooke, another student who was standing on the river bank when the photo was taken. Audio from both conversations is in the post.

Lady in the lake, Putney, Vermont, 1974

It wasn’t long after posting the blog that I heard from another of Harold’s friends, Virginia, from the days when he lived in Putney, VT.

Harold with students at Windham College, 1974
“He had an exhibition in our restaurant, The Cook, that summer. His friend, Diane, was also in the photo with me, both of us nakedly entwined, in dappled light, in a patch of poison ivy we later discovered! We were all friends in Putney, and invited Harold down to do an exhibition for the restaurant we were starting. He took others that day in the patch of poison ivy, and I believe one of bodies curled up, only the torsos showing, was printed for the exhibition… Those years with Harold brightened our lives in Putney…His visit to Shelter Island that summer when we launched our restaurant was memorable, as was his exhibition on our walls. It was the only time I had been photographed professionally, not to speak of in the nude! I never dreamed it would find itself into his albums. But I did know how creative and alive he was, always intelligently seeking out images, expressive with his eyes. We met up a few years later in New York City and of course I will always remember Harold’s place as a New Yorker. I have never met anyone like him. He was so open and exuberant. Thank you for listening to my memories of those days, I was 22 and 23 then, and now am 64.”

Not long before receiving Virginia’s email with her recollections, I listened to a tape of Harold speaking about his work while walking through a retrospective exhibition at the Zoller Gallery at Penn State University. He spoke with enthusiasm when describing this photograph. Click below to hear Harold’s brief description to the photo shoot.

Click to hear Harold’s brief description to the photo shoot.

I’ve always been a sucker for dappled light… light falling through leaves; the way is falls… on bodies in particular..I was asked to have a show at a restaurant that my friend was a chef in. And they gave me one week’s notice… I said, okay, but only on the basis that I would do all nude pictures for it. I wanted it to inspire me to get working. I have pictures of the whole group. I said: ‘Let’s all take our clothes off and go into the field.’

And they did! And those very photographs comprised the show itself. Harold told me later that it was one of those magical days when everything was “in the flow.” But he never mentioned the poison ivy! I’m not sure he ever knew!

Four Torsos, Shelter Island, NY, 1974