Renae with Bialys.
For about twenty years I had a great deal with my favorite bakery in town. I would put up photographs on their walls of people which also featured their products and they would give me free coffee and pastries every day. One day my assistant, Renae, and I were working in the studio and we started talking about the ongoing show. We decided to shoot some baked bagels, which are apparently called "bialys" and quick as can be Renae popped off her shirt, grabbed the baked goods and struck a pose.
The original of this was shot on color slide film with big soft lights. I converted it to a quadratone in PhotoShop and we printed it as a 20 by 30 inch print. In due time the print was mounted, matted and framed and we delivered it to Sweetish Hill Bakery. The owner put it up over the condiments. Every time someone walked over to put cream in their coffee or sugar in their tea the print would catch their attention.
In the ten years that it hung on the wall one person complained that it was inappropriate. The owner told her that, if she was really upset by the artwork, she might be more comfortable buying her bread and pastries somewhere else.
But then something strange happened. The print started getting stolen. It happened twice and cynic that I am I immediately suspected the intolerant woman and her cronies. And in artistic defiance we quickly reprinted the image and had it back up on the wall in short order. A few months later it was stolen again. And again we put up a new copy.
Eventually the show ran it's decade long course and I showed up one morning to take all the work down. The regulars leapt from their tables, cast aside their New York Times and hung up their iPhones.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" They demanded. I told them I was taking down my art. "Don't touch the Bialy Girl photo and we won't hurt you." They responded. I left it there for a few more weeks. I came back after hours, eventually, and removed the photograph.
One day a few weeks later I got a phone call from a woman who demanded to know if I was the owner of the image of the "bagel girl" photo that had hung in the bakery. Upon learning that I was she asked how much I would charge for the print and the framing of the "Bialy Girl" image. I told her a ridiculous price and she accepted without hesitation. She then asked when should she come by and pick up the artwork.
I was curious though. Why did she want it? She explained that she had a teenaged grandson who had tacky posters of J. Lo. up in his room. She was determined to give him something she thought was more tasteful.
She showed up on the appointed day in a beautiful, black, Bentley automobile. She took a cursory look at the print in the frame and then proceeded to peel off a number of bills from a wad of $100's. I helped her put the print in the trunk and she was gone.
So, what does this have to do with the stolen photographs? Well, about a year later I was having coffee and an empanada at the bakery when I was approached by two "thirty-something" women. They asked me if I was the photographer who used to show mostly naked people and pastry photos at the bakery. In a very embarrassed way they asked me what kind of price I would have given to two struggling college women who loved the print, if they had asked. As it was academic at this point I said that if they wanted it because they liked the art I probably would have sold a print like that for $250 back then.
They looked at each other and nodded. Then one of the women reached into her pocket and pulled out that much cash. She sheepishly handed me the money.
She could tell I was curious by the look on my face. The both smiled sweetly and said, "Don't ask."
I never found out what happened to the other stolen print but I like to think someone liked it and couldn't afford what they assumed the print might cost. I keep going back to the bakery. At heart I'm an optimist. I keep thinking someone will walk up, shrug in a confessional sort of way and hand me more money.
Food and cute girls. Who can resist?