If you spend any amount of time in the French Quarter, you’ve seen artist and photographer George Dureau riding his bicycle through the streets or talking to people outside his studio on Bienville Street, his speech and mannerisms enlivened by dramatic flourishes. Even at 81, he’s still full of plenty of sound and fury, a good portion of which he leveraged for months — “I need to dye my hair” or “I need to fix my beard” — whenever I tried to plan a day to have him sit for me. Ultimately, it turned out that planning wasn’t the way to go.
If you don’t know about George, you should. More famous for his paintings, his photography also constitutes a remarkable body of work. When he lived in New York in the ’70s he palled around with Robert Mapplethorpe, whom George has said refined many of his ideas for a mass audience. Looking at the prints George has scattered throughout his place, it’s not hard to see similarities. If Mapplethorpe was the more skilled technician, though, George scores higher in sensitivity, humanity and compassion. As one would expect, he also has an excellent eye. Every time I go into his studio I see something new and feel like I’m in art school.
One Saturday morning last June, my friend Katie (a mutual friend of George’s) and I were going over to George’s home/studio to visit, and I decided to take my camera. When I suggested to George that I shoot his portrait, he responded not with dramatic evasion but with, “Where do you want me?”
I found a spot with good light near one of the tall windows on the second floor where he keeps a couple of small wooden chairs, and then he asked playfully, “How do you want me?”
I didn’t think George’s attention would hold very long, so I had to work quickly. Before I even had my lens cap off, he ran through a series of poses and expressions, some whimsical, some mock-serious, some flamboyant. At one point mid-way through shooting, he settled back and I got this shot — not a put-on or a pose, but a genuine moment of vulnerability and circumspection. The whole process took about 15 minutes.
I shot this with a Canon 5D mk ii, 70-200mm lens at a focal length of 100mm. Shutter speed 1/200, iso 400, aperture f4.
Fine art and fashion photographer Jason Kruppa writes about photography for NolaVie. Read more about him at kruppaworks.com.