The short version. One of the foremost authorities on constitutional law, ever. Attorney for president Richard M. Nixon during the Watergate hearings. And so much more. An amazing figure in an amazingly profession.
I was hired by Private Clubs Magazine ( an American Express publication for Platinum Card Members) to photograph Mr. Wright. This was back in the days (mid-1990's) when you could actually get a legend on the phone and set up the logistics directly. Because of his very busy schedule he requested that we shoot at his office in the University of Texas Law School. Fine with me. I liked working on location.
I've always been a contrarian and this day was no different. While I contemplated packing for the short trip from my studio in downtown Austin to the UT campus I looked over a drawer full of Hasselblad cameras and half a dozen Zeiss lenses. I also contemplated taking my Profoto power packs or a set of monolights. In the end I gave in to my "on again/off again" infatuation with my old, twin lens Rolleiflex cameras. One to use and one to sit in the case as backup. Not the most intuitive choice for a premium assignment with a premium magazine. Just to do some "reverse" gilding of the lillies I passed on the studio lighting and grabbed an old Metz "potato masher" flash, a Vivitar 285 flash, a shoot thru umbrella and a couple of small light stands. Reminder: This was a decade before the word "Strobist" showed up in our collective vocabulary.....
Everything fit in two bags.
I showed up and we chatted for a few minutes. We decided to use his office as our studio. He walked down the hall for a few minutes to make a few phone calls and when he came back I had my lights set up, the optical slave tested and everything carefully metered. No polaroid and no instant preview.
The first thing he remarked about when he returned was the Rollei cameras. He knew all about em. Had friends who'd shot with the for decades. Then he asked me where to sit and what to do. I had just done a job for another magazine about a friend of Mr. Wright and we talked about the famous banker for a few minutes. When I saw expressions I liked I asked him to "hold" and I clicked the shutter.
I loaded a new roll after every 12 frames and, in the intervening time, we talked about law and presidential power. He was a republican and I a democrat but that was a time when people could hold different opinions and still have the benefit of mutual respect. I shot three rolls of twelve exposure film and then our time was up. The magazine picked and ran the close up. I like the medium distance shot.
At the time it was just another assignment but over time I've come to understand the stature of Charles Alan Wright and I marvel that he was so patient and accessible.
Why did I choose to use "lesser" gear to do the shot? I knew I wouldn't have time to spend on fancy lighting set-ups and I knew that in the small law offices I wouldn't have the option to go long and compress and still get a feel for the office. I'd just read a book by Fritz Henle, published in the 1960's and marveled that he was able to do an incredibly wide range of images, all with the Rollei twin lens cameras.
Back in the pre-paradigm days we did things a bit differently than what gets done now. I shot with ISO 100 transparency film which was pretty unforgiving where exposure was concerned. We always metered carefully. We didn't have RAW to save our butts. Going "sans" Polaroid was a bit of hubris but I was on a roll. Now we'd cover it with 200 frames in raw. Back then we had more confidence.
One person asked me why I had him sit for the photos. I remembered that he was about six foot three inches tall and, with the waist level finder on the Rollei I would have had to be on a ladder to pull off the right camera/subject elevation. At five feet eight inches tall I've stood on enough boxes, thank you.