I had the opportunity of a lifetime yesterday: to spend a few minutes talking with – and photographing – Salman Rushdie.
Rushdie is one of my favorite authors. I didn’t even like reading before I read Midnight’s Children. He is intelligent, relaxed, and, above all, hilarious. Really. It may not be his image, but he certainly is a funny man. Though humor isn’t the first thing that comes across on his face.
During a press conference with him at the Internationales Literaturfestival Berlin (International Literature Festival, if you got lost in the German there), he responded with humor to any question he didn’t like. I appreciate this. When someone asked him why he spends so much time writing about religion if he thinks “the idea of God is ridiculous” he responded by saying, “Oh, did I say that? Sometimes I can’t stop myself”.
With the combination of persistence and gentleness that I try to approach photography with, I managed to snag him for five minutes afterwards. He was chatting with his translator and some festival sponsors. Afterwards, I walked out with him and one of the festival organizers. We spoke about the Wizard of Oz – one of his favorites, a tale which is little known in Germany. And the Berlin Wall and days of a divided Berlin (he spoke of having a coffee with Günther Grass on Unter den Linden, then in the east, before the wall came down). As we come out to the courtyard, before being mobbed by the other photographers, I pulled out the camera I had had around my neck all day but hadn’t yet used: a medium format Zeiss Ikon rangefinder from the 50’s that my wife’s family gifted on to me some time ago. Someone else had already asked him if he had a minute for some shots, a journalist who was sitting in the courtyard uploading her shots to her agency already.
She got her shots, another journalist jumped in to. By then, Rushdie was looking to see if he could escape. I pointed to the camera and asked if he had the patience for one more shot. He saw the camera, smiled, and agreed. I shot it. One frame. HP5, 1/300th of a second, f/5.6. I took the camera down, to his surprise. “That’s it?”. That’s it. He came over, ran his finger around the lens and told me what a beautiful camera it was. And then came the most outstanding compliment I have ever gotten or ever will get as a photographer: “Just like with Richard Avedon”.
That shot on film is nowhere to be found on my website – to see that, you’ll have to come check out my studio in Berlin for now.
Afterwards, I went back to the author’s tent with him and had the chance to sit across the table from him for a solid half hour. A professor and an actor who would later be on the stage with him, another photographer, and some of the festival organizers and staff were there, and we had the chance to speak about literature, films, festivals, and who knows what else.