A python in her room

1960s, 1970s, Art Kane, Inspirational Images, Margrit Ramme, Queen magazine, thea porter

“You love your boyfriend and he’s left you. You’re alone in a big city and an empty apartment.” Kane had not yet picked up his camera, but Margrit Ramme was working on the sadness. She was also scared of the snake. The editors of Queen magazine had asked for an entire issue to be called “Art Kane’s New York,” including fashions, and he had said all right—but don’t expect to see laughing girls running down Fifth Avenue. He had just divorced his second wife, had not yet met Jean Pagliuso or photographed Larry Rivers, and felt fairly bitter.

If you want to call it Art Kane’s New York, he told Queen, you’ll have to accept pictures showing that the place right now is kind of empty for me. Righto, they said.

He left the studio and rummaged around for real-life locations. He had found the apartment on Gramercy Park, and decided to shoot the fashions there before the furniture came in. Truth is, he wasn’t motivated entirely by a desire to display his mood. Not only does training as an art director make him look for a theme when he has space for an essay, as against a bunch of random shots that just present the merchandise; Art Kane loves almost more than anything else to tell a story.

He also loves snakes. The first boy scout in the Bronx to get a Reptile Study merit badge, he kept 32 of them at home despite a mother who tried to make him flush the first one down the toilet.

This story would reflect the dilemma of a lovely woman—always beautifully dressed, of course—searching for a man, for identity, for something. A snake would be not only an obvious male symbol but also a reminder of a Garden of Eden to start it off. Since Kane had given, his collection to the Bronx Zoo when he was drafted, he called All-Tame Animals, a pro-vider of non-human performers in New York. They referred him to a snake owner in one of the city’s residential hotels, asking that he be discreet; she would be evicted if the manage-ment discovered that she kept a boa constrictor and a python in her room. So Kane was Uncle Joe when he called to ask about Cousin Bea: “She must be a really big girl by now. Oh, six feet six, that sounds good.” And Patricia? “Over eight feet tall? My goodness.” He went over to see them. Their owner showed him the boa in her bathtub and pulled the python out of a closet. “Terrific,” he said. “Bring them up to my place at 10 o’clock tomorrow.”

When she arrived with the snakes in a laundry bag, Kane was moving white window shades up and down, studying the way they filtered the natural light he would use all day. Morning light came softly through the west-facing windows of the living room. He arranged the python, then stood back to peer through a Nikon. Moving forward, back, left, right, he kept the model close to the center of the frame. He was using a 24mm lens, not only for depth of field that would keep the picture sharp from front to back but also to make objects near the edges seem to lean away, focusing attention on the center.

“Okay, Margrit, you’re unhappy, unaware, the two of you can never really come together. . . .” Bracketing—one shot at a normal exposure, one above, one below—he redesigned the picture as he moved. “That’s it, keep it, keep it,” he told her when he liked what was happening. “Now, hold every pose for three clicks and then change … Beautiful. Now keep that until I say stop. I want to explore this until we’ve eaten it up.”

Ninety minutes later he had eaten up the male-female situation (above) and moved to the bedroom (below) to set up an identity problem. A second model had arrived. “You’re clothed and you’re naked,” Kane said, “you’re really the same woman, trying to figure out who you are.” This time he wanted to stretch the image more alarmingly toward the edges, so he put on the 21mm lens that he had used to shock the editors of Vogue on his first fashion assignment.

Images originally published in Queen magazine .

(date not given but looks circa 1969/70 to me, especially given Queen merged with Harpers Bazaar in 1970).

Clothes are uncredited here but both look like Thea Porter to me.

Photographed by Art Kane.

Scanned from Art Kane: The Persuasive Image, 1975.

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