The summer after I graduated college in 2004 I thought I would spend a few weeks sending out resumes, go on a couple of interviews, and then I'd start living in "the real world" as a working photographer. I didn't realize how hard it would be just to get an interview. Then, I didn't realize all the ways I could blow an interview.
I spent 3 months sending out resumes in between my drinking binges, 4 months in Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore, 2 weeks in London, and 1 month of mass resume faxing and over $100 at Kinkos before I got my first offer to be a photo assistant for fashion photographer, Justin Santos. I had no prior professional experience as a photo assistant and had very little knowledge of cameras and flashes from lack of training from Rutgers. (Rutgers is a wonderful school but they focused more on fine art study than technical training). To say that I had embellished my resume would be a major understatement. The only truths on my resume were my name and phone number. I had lied about all prior experiences, making up names of photographers I had previously shot for, and made up clients that the made up photographers had shot for. I listed names of lights and cameras and techniques that I was supposed to know but didn't. Even my home address was made up since I wasn’t living in New York at the time. If I had received my resume I would have hired me too.
After interviewing with Justin, and for once acing that, he said he'd give me a trial day at a shoot with the lead singer of Scissor Sisters for Out Magazine the following week. If I did well, he would hire me. On the shoot day, I got there early and Justin and crew (Agent and 2 assistants) were late. The lighting rental came with $5000 worth of equipment rentals and dropped everything off on the sidewalk. I, by myself, carried 800 pounds of equipment up to the second floor studio. I believe that was what impressed Justin. I was reliable and I could probably bench more than him.
During the shoot I had no idea what trouble my resume fabrication would cause me. The photo editors of Out, Scissor Sisters' manager, Justin's agent, hair, makeup, and creative directors, were all there shouting different orders all at once. Justin was yelling for equipment that I had never heard of, let alone know what they looked like. His first assistant, Georgi Georgiev (yes that is his real name), was asking me to hand him films I did not know. Editors were telling me to adjust the lights in techniques I never learned. I scurried around for 8 hours, tripping over lights, and exposing film. The fact that Justin still hired me should tell you something about him. He's an idiot.
Since Justin caught on quick that I clearly had no experience and had no idea what I was doing, he decided to use me for unpaid "intern" days which were spent in the studio "learning the ropes" in between shoot days and dark room days. I was paid $100 for shoot days and dark room days which is $150 less than what I should have been paid, experience or no experience. I would leave my house at 6am to catch the 6:24 am train into NYC to get to the studio by 8am. I would spend a few hours getting familiar with his cameras and filing his negatives and making calls to potential clients. Then I would head off to the darkroom in Brooklyn and print until midnight, when they closed. Then, I would catch the 12:37 train and arrive home at 1:54 am only to get up at 5:30am again for work the next day. I did this 7 days a week.
Somewhere in between all this hustling around, I could only blame my fatigue for not hearing when Justin mentioned his "side project" to me. Justin told me that on the days that we weren't shooting for editorial clients we will be shooting for his "side project," LuxPorn, a company that he co-owns. Ok sure. More shooting meant more training for me. I loved shoot days. As I rode home on the 12:37 train I thought to myself, "LuxPorn, Luxporn...Could I be shooting porn?" Thinking and pondering for 2 minutes. "No way.”
The next day I showed up for the shoot early and set up the lights and backdrop. Georgi Georgiev helped me. We did not speak much. Justin showed up when we were done setting up, a diva always. The model was late so Justin decided to use this time to brief me on the shoot. "Ok Nina, whatever you do, do not look at his penis." (Penis was pronounced Pe-nith). I think I would have been fine had he not told me this. Since he gave me specific orders to not look at his penis, I felt I was going to have an Austin Powers outburst moment (Molee, Molee, Molee, Molee!) and just ogle at his penis shouting, "Penis! Penis! Penis! Penis!" Not looking was even more difficult when I had to lint brush his black t-shirt (his sole article of clothing) that hung loosely over his penis. I had to be careful not to look but to also not blush when rolling the lint brush over his t-shirt, over his penis. This was the moment I realized I was working in porn.
My friend Alan was the first person I called on the train home. Conversation went as so:
Me: Dude, I think I'm working in porn.
Alan: HAHAHAHA. What do you mean you think you are working in porn?
Me: I mean, I dunno. I started assisting this fashion photographer and today we shot porn.
Alan: HAHAHA. How does one not realize they've gotten into porn?
The next few months were a blur between intern days, shoot days, dark room days, and porn days. I worked 14 hour days, 7 days a week. I ate a breakfast bar on the morning train, packed a king size bag of peanut M&M's which I split between lunch and dinner. Justin never ate. There was no place near his studio to buy food. He never asked if I wanted to take a lunch. So I didn't.
Some days I would be at the dark room from 8am until 12am. I would be printing 16x20 images of penises of all sizes and "poses". Color printing is rather tricky. You have to get the perfect ratio of Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow for the penis to not be too blue, too pink, or too yellow. I would tack up these larger than life size penises on the natural light wall, step back a few feet and stare at the penises through the color correctors. "Do you think that's too pink? Or too yellow?" I would ask the other assistants in the dark room, forgetting that I had a 20 inch picture of a penis tacked up to the wall. "Wow, I want your job," gushed a gay printer, drooling over my work.
On my way home I called Alan again.
Me: Dude, guess what I did all day.
Me: Looked at pictures of penises all day through a magnifying lens to see if the focus is sharp.
Alan: You do realize you can’t even put this on your resume right?
On another printing day Justin came with me. We had a deadline and needed 4 printing hands instead of 2. Standing with our backs to each other in the darkroom, Justin nonchalantly asked me if I did drugs. "No," I answered. "Are you like against it?" He asked. "No," I said," I just never got into it, you know?" "Oh good," he says, "Don't do it." I turned around and saw him doing lines off of a print of a penis. That was when I realized why we never breaked for lunch.
Post Note: I no longer work for Justin. He has since left for California without paying me the last $500 that he owes me. That bastard.