New York Stories


I recently bought one of Penguin's nicely packaged classics - On the Road by Jack Kerouac. Gave it to my son to read. It must still be a right of passage. Saw this clip on YouTube with Kerouac reading with jazz in the background. The images of New York are sensational. It all just kind of works and reminds me of first trip to the big apple in 1987. It was the autumn, I arrived the day before Columbus Day. Americans love a parade.

It also reminds me a photo I have by Norman Parkinson called New York, New York. I used the image in a poster for the Auckland Opera Company, set next to an image of a Geisha holding her blonde, blue-eyed son (who was actually my son Taylor), wrapped in the Stars and Stripes. My interpretation of the Madam Butterfly's central theme was the pursuit of the American Dream.

At the time there was no Internet, so tracking the copyright owner was tricky. I got in touch with Conde Nast in New York fax to ask their picture editors what they knew. I was directed to the estate of the late, great Parkinson in the UK. They were reluctanct to allow the picture to be used. It had just been licensed to UTA, the french airline and, they emphasised, it was a very important picture. I persisited and got the reply that I could use it for about 15,000 dollars. I would discuss it with my client I said. In fact I didn't discuss it at all. The next day I informed my contact that my client was a provincial opera company, the ads would not be widely seen but that we were keen to use the image and could offer 250 sterling. With nothing to lose but the concept I had sold to the client I waited for the reply which came through the fax overnight. They accepted my offer. Within the week I had an excellent print from the negative in my hot little hands. Though the print hasno commercial value and is unsigned it is a wonderful thing and serves to remind that "if you don't ask - you won't get"

Norman Parkinson New York photo

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