Is all of life a stage……or a circus?…..
Art Chantry: Since everybody here was getting off on reminiscing about The Rocket yesterday, I thought I’d continue with another rocket story. I will refrain from telling too many Rocket stories, because there were SO MANY utterly crazy tales to tell, that I don’t think they could ever really be all told. That place at that time was intense and completely nuts. The stuff I saw happen could fill VOLUMES, and that’s just me. god knows what others witnessed. It was a heady time for all.
So, this is the story of the ‘uncle bonsai’ cover. It was in january, 1986. I had been called back as art director (i think then editor bob newman – now a famous ny magazine designer – was the one who asked me back again.) Their last art director, Rick Jost (later an art director at nordstrom), had just quit (the average life span for an AD was around 9 months, give or take.) My agreement was to get the magazine back under control and then hire and train a replacement for myself (i really didn’t want the gig any more at that time).
I suggested a well known and very talented designer by the name of Kate Thompson as my replacement. She was a great choice, so I set about getting her on (for the almost zero pay) and showing her how to do the “rocket art director” job (not that there was much to teach somebody with her experience).
So, the cover I’m showing you here to day was kate’s very first magazine cover totally art directed all by her lonesome. She later went on to a rather fabulously successful career (as did a legion of ex-rocket designers). She worked for the weekly, the Seattle Times and eventually Paul Allen. from there she drifted into disney and abc news, where she became the art director of the abc news website. she continues to free lance to this day and as an editorial designer, hiring in as an outside consultant to re-design both print and non print media. This description really doesn’t do justice to the vastness of her career. She was also art director at grove press for a time and even worked for GTE doing phone books. Basically, she’s done it all at one point or another.
But, this was her FIRST cover for a magazine. the subject was a locally successful singing group called “uncle bonsai” on the occasion of their first record release. The general design and (especially) the typography is iconographically Kate’s style from that period. But look at that photograph. You might notice the elephant.
Kate hired Karen Moskowitz (later a renowned cover photographer and rock portrait photographer. among many other things, she went on to do a large number of tv guide covers.) Karen was notorious for her elaborate set shots. She would spare no effort to turn a simple portrait shot into an elaborate and seemingly impossible display of sheer bravado – and all for a $150 (our pay for a cover shot).
Karen decided she wanted to photograph an elephant (who wouldn’t). Kate, excited about the shoot, went along with the idea. Karen arranged to have the elephant and the band and everything to be at the Woodland Park zoo at a pre-arranged early hour. I went (to help and observe. I vowed to keep my mouth shut and let Kate manage the whole thing). Also along were Karen’s assistant, the zoo marketing person, the band, the band’s management, the zoo’s manager, a couple of the zoo’s board of directors and various hanger’s on and romantic interests. Oh, yeah, there was also an elephant handler and Bamboo, the zoo’s star elephant.
Karen’s idea was to have the elephant rear up on it’s hind legs and wave it’s front legs high in the air above the heads of the band (dressed in their 80′s stage costumes – it was 30 degrees that day. they froze their tush’s off). The band was supposed to stand proudly below
wailing elephant, but frankly, they were too scared. They pretty much cowered.
So, everything got set up, bamboo was positioned, the band was positioned, the trainer thumped bamboo on the shoulder, everybody held their (frozen) breathe and bamboo reared upon her hind legs into the frigid air while everybody gasped. karen, laying on the icy frosted grass, said, “GREAT!” and shot ONE FRAME!
I was mortified. I didn’t know what to do. the elephant was again positioned and the trainer tapped her and she reared up and the whole thing was repeated. The band ran in and posed and everybody held their breathe and karen, rolling around on the ground to get that “low angle” show fired…. ONE FRAME.
I looked at kate (who was officially in charge) and her eyes were as wide a imaginable and she looked at me with “what the hell is going on here, what do i do?” look. I didn’t know what to do. I said, “Karen, take more frames.” She looked at me trying to understand what I meant, but the moment was so surreal and intense and so weirdly crazy that the process got repeated and repeated and repeated, each time a single frame was shot. Man, I would have been firing away like a crazy person. Just get that shot before somebody got squished.
Finally, at the peak of frustration by every one, karen was rolling around on the grass, Bamboo reared up and she didn’t shoot. Instead she said to the trainer, “can you move her about two feet to the left?” the trainer finally turned around and fired one angry glance at karen and said in very loud commanding voice, “lady! it’s an ELEPHANT!!!”
Man, that was priceless. It was one of those cozmic double take moments. The whole scene was deflated like a toy balloon and then karen fired about three thousand frames and got this amazing photo over the next few seconds. But, what a moment that was. totally nutzoid.
And, Bamboo? how did the elephant react? Well, a couple years later, bamboo started to go a little ‘off’. the people at the zoo became afraid of her behavior and she was transfered to another zoo with a different environment for her. basically, bamboo cracked. I wonder why?
Art Chantry:”I would have enjoyed this more it it were hand drawn” that’s such an incredibly “2010″ thing to say. man, it sorta grinds on me. this was 1986 – 24 years ago. what was the world like in 1986? not all that many of you were even mentally AWARE yet. a lot of you weren’t even born yet. this is not photoshop. it’s a REAL ELEPHANT! right there. in the photo. get your mind a round that for a second.
and the entire budget was $150. even by 1986 standards, that was less than nothing.
Art Chantry can be reached at email@example.com