We are what we pretend to be

This past winter, on a job in Indianapolis, I had a few hours to kill.  After a cursory search on Yelp, I discovered that walking distance from my hotel was The Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library.  It sounded a little like something Charlie Kaufman would have made up, but after a long walk in the freezing cold, there it was.  A tiny storefront on an otherwise unremarkable street.  Why did I go?  I wasn't even sure at the time.  I knew of the great writer's work (though somehow I managed to never read his books all through college), and it seemed like the cultured thing to do.  But not having read any of his books, I still wasn't sure what exactly was compelling me to visit.  It wasn't until later, back in New York, that I realized it was a slight, unconscious pilgrimage on my part.  Mr. Vonnegut is the only subject in my entire career to have walked out on a shoot before I could photograph him.  It was in my early days of shooting, and the experience of having someone do that really shook me up.  Though the way it happened wasn't at all dramatic. There was no scene, no storming out.  In a blue-walled Greek restaurant he was finishing up an interview for a German magazine, while I was setting up my lights around the corner.  And apparently he decided he'd had enough.  His agent put him in a cab and when I walked back in to say I was ready for him, there was no one there.  The feeling of taking down my lights after having this iconic mind just speed away in some dingy yellow cab left a pit in my stomach.  The magazine editor wasn't even upset.  Vonnegut's reputation must have preceded him.  When I told this story, no one seemed surprised.  But it stayed with me.  

In 2007, when he passed away, I was reminded of it again.  I felt a small sting of regret as I saw all the images of him float across the media.  And then it faded from my memory, or so I thought.  Until I saw this odd museum pop up on my iPhone screen.  So this cranky, brilliant man I needed to go visit one more time, even if it was, fittingly, only flat screen videos of him talking on a wall, or his voice as disembodied quotes painted large next to his library of books.  In this Memorial Library I poked around, chatted to the young book clerk working there alone, then sat for a few minutes on a polished wooden bench in the small room displaying his artwork (he was also a painter of sorts).  After a bit, I was ready.  I got up, pulled my hood over my eyes, and walked back out to the cold gray of Indiana.

Vonnegut quote on the wall of the reading room in his Memorial Library.

Vonnegut quote on the wall of the reading room in his Memorial Library.