Over the years I’ve taken a lot of portraits of people. Some were famous; some not so much, and a lot were in between. I don’t see these images as photographs as much as I see them as relationships and synergies that for the slightest moment fit perfectly into a context, a place and a time. Most of my best portraits are total surprises to me as they happen, and when everything fits, the energy of the scene has form and substance to it. These folks and I had a thing going on for somewhere around 1/60th of a second and the child of that relationship is the portrait. As most children do, they stick pretty close to home. I’ll never forget them. Each and every image has a story and is a story. That’s the nature of a portrait.
This is another one of those portraits where everything didn’t look like it would work and then suddenly it did.
Jim Ratcliffe (Dr. Bliss to those who know) has a lot of potential left in him. As of this writing, we’re still trying to get our magazine/brand called Ten & Two off the ground and when we do, Dr. Bliss will be our main contributor when it comes to cocktails and wine. Dr. Bliss always imagined one version of himself as a closet writer, but doctoring got the best of him and one thing led to another. We’re doing our best to right that wrong, but at this point there’s no telling what will happen next.
In our second issue we highlighted a story by Jim titled The Search For The Perfect Manhattan, which addressed the glories of one of the foundational drinks in the world of cocktails – the Manhattan. The concept was solid – a story based on the old mystery novel’s of guys like Dashiell Hammet. For this piece the story was actually a take off on The Thin Man, and it was a brilliant take on the whole gig (highlighted on this web site in Ten & Two PDF’s). The story manages to weave itself though spey fishing on the Skagit in WA State and in turn to a search for the ellusive cocktail in the back alleys of Seattle. You gotta read it. Brilliant stuff.
We had a great photo of a Manhattan, but we really needed a portrait of Dr. Bliss looking every bit the part of the 1950’s sluth Nick Charles, while searching out the perfect cocktail. We talked about this shot for months, and I went through the usual amount of pissing and moaning and brooding and pondering while getting nowhere fast.
We had set up a date in Seattle with Bliss, Al Nagao (AKA The Chinaman) and I going to a Seattle Mariners game with the Minnesota Twins. The Chinaman has a thing about the Twins. Something about Harmin Killebrew, but that's another story. We agreed that we’d figure something out and come up with a shot for the Manhattan piece as well. I had a couple of lame ideas in mind, but nothing worth even pouting about at this point. Often, you simply have to trust your ability to find solutions and allow them to simply happen by themselves.
This is another one of those situations where as a photographer you take multiple elements, all peripherally related, and throw them together in the right mix at the right time and magic happens. I had gone to a prop store and got the overcoat and the hat, which fit the scene and the detective persona, but we had no idea what to do with them. Dr. Bliss and The Chinaman were staying at the hotel Vintage Park in Seattle. On the first floor was an Italian restaurant called Tulio. They had a cocktail lounge. That seemed to fit the mood, and I think Bliss saw the lounge first. He mentioned it to me and I approached the manager of the restaurant. I was sure she was gonna turn us down, but the place was closed for a bit and damned if she didn’t give us permission to impose. Unbelievable. She just let us walk in withoiut a permit or a fee. Sometimes, getting what you want is simply a matter of asking permission.
We walked into the lounge area and my jaw dropped. It was the perfect set up for this illustration. For all the times things don’t work and all the times you waste your time, seeing this scene appear was like going home. It just came at us in a rush, and all the distractions from the outside world disappeared in an instant. The Chinaman helped with the led lights I had brought. We got Bliss into the coat and hat, and he effortlessly became a detective looking for a drink in 1955. His expression was dead on it. He was born for this scene. It’s all business when you’re searching for perfect. The cocktail sign and the bottles on the wall fit seamlessly into the softly blurred background. Once again it was as though I had nothing to do with it. All we needed to do was allow it to happen. It was as though they litterally made this bar fourty years ago knowing we were coming to do this photo in 2012. It made sense that the martini glass in his hand should be empty, because he hadn’t found anything – he was searching. The last touch was to turn the whole scene into a sepia look so it fit with 1950 something.
I love this portrait. Many thanks to Tullio. Mick and the boys say “You can’t always get what you want”, but every once in a while you get exactly what you came for. As a photographer, that’s why you come to town.