I’ll never forget the first piece of advice ever given to me by Patrick McMullan. “Don’t get photographed while doing high-kicks on a stripper pole,” he admonished while snapping pics of me doing my best impression of a “sexy lady,” a la Liz Lemon.
“But I’m having fun!” I whined as I made another one-legged hop around the pole at The Box. Besides, I was having my photo taken by New York’s premier nightlife photographer, so I must have finally been doing something right. I’ve even been considering handing over my Bat Mitzvah photos for Mr. McMullan to slap up on his site, since as everyone knows, the number of images of a person on Patrickmcmullan.com precisely reflects their social status, emotional well-being and innate value as a member of the human race. (I had 3.)
It’s even better if you can actually have your moniker appear in the caption, instead of the haunting “?” symbol reserved for the smiling no-names. (Double points if the spelling’s right.) Ben Widdicombe even deemed the man a verb in an article for The New York Times last year: “‘To Patrick’ somebody means to look them up on the Web site of Patrick McMullan, the ubiquitous society photographer,” he wrote. “It’s part social networking, part Social Register.”
I had begged Mr. McMullan to tell me his secrets—when does he click the shutter, and when does he give his index finger the moment off?—and he’d agreed to tutor me for a week, which was a little like having the world’s best sensai agree to train you in the art of whatever they did with those swords in Kill Bill. It would not be easy; in fact, it would be some of the hardest physical and mental labor I’d undertaken in awhile, though complaining to friends about having to schlep to yet another gala or $1,500-a-plate dinner earned me little sympathy.
Perhaps the most important lesson I gleaned from Mr. McMullan was this: I had to quit smoking. And drinking. And would probably need to start going to the gym. Not for health reasons, mind you, just so I could keep pace with the 56-year-old photographer.
If you’ve ever seen Mr. McMullan at a party, you know what I’m talking about. He is the world’s most sociable Tasmanian devil, and if he isn’t running over to kiss you hello and tell you how beautiful you look, it’s only because someone else has grabbed his arm first to entice him to their party in the Hamptons. Well, either that or you are not important.
Another lesson: A new lady on the scene should strive to be photographed with handsome, eligible young men more famous than herself. Patrick had no problem imparting that lesson in front of the men he was talking about, which made for some awkward encounters (“Hi, we’ve never met, but apparently you are more attractive and important than me, so say ‘Cheese!’”). On our first two outings, Patrick had me pose with male model (and baby socialite) Nick Hissom as well as Gagosian Gallery co-director Kenny Maxwell.
A final word of advice: Ask to see every shot someone takes of you. “And don’t be scared to ask them to take it again if you don’t like how you look,” Mr. McMullan told me while buzzing around the room. “First of all, more photos equals more photos. Secondly, you want the best photos of yourself out there, and when photographers have more poses to choose from, they’ll pick the one that looks the best.”
(Not my proudest moment: With Nick Hissum at the Box, photo by Patrick McMullan.)
Nick Hunt, one of Patrick’s photographers, was a little more specific with his advice for posing. At the after-party for Friends with Kids at the Boom Boom Room, the handsome blond would bark directions before taking a photo. “Stop sticking your leg out! Elbows IN!” he winced, exasperated, as I tried a cocky hand-on-my-hip pose. Only once he had successfully maneuvered me into position did he deign to take my photo.
Patrick’s eye is not that discriminating when it comes to poses. “When I look around a room, I’m looking for pretty girls,” he said one night at at the Park Avenue Armory, pretty much summing up the party philosophy of most single men. “And people who dress well,” he added, pointing and clicking at a woman sporting a stunning red dress. I felt slighted: Hadn’t I bought this very expensive Tommy Hilfiger blazer just that evening to add a dash of sophistication and class to my wardrobe? But compared to the women at the art fair, I felt like I should be handing out pot-stickers and collecting empty wine glasses, not posing with Jonathan Farkas.
Clearly, it was time to get freaky. After checking out the lookbook for designer Gemma Kahng, I stopped by her showroom in midtown and decided on a corset with a foot-long collar that rose over the shoulders with a neckline that plunged halfway to my bellybutton. Imagine Lydia from Beetlejuice if she were a SuicideGirl. That night at the MoMA benefit for the Armory show (Armory week is as confusing as Fashion Week), I was stopped at the door by a bevy of photographers. I couldn’t walk two feet without someone asking for a photo. Maybe I had finally figured out how to get noticed at parties: dress like an insane person with a nice rack.
On Thursday, I was to accompany Mr. McMullan to the Museum of the City of New York’s Winter Gala at the Plaza Hotel. Now, I had never been to the Plaza, but I had seen Home Alone 2 so I knew it was a fancy place. This would be a black-tie event, so I decided I had to be absolutely stunning as I made my entrance into society on the arm of its favorite photographer. Gemma had provided me with another amazing outfit for the evening—one that highlighted my…er…assets but added a touch of class. It was a sweeping black train skirt with a punky leather and lace demi-jacket and a tight velvet camisole.
I expected Patrick to be impressed, but he gave a fatherly cluck when he saw how revealing my dress was. “Don’t get me wrong, you look great,” he assured me. But it was the women I needed to win over that evening, not the men. And no lady likes to be confronted on her home turf by some newbie who is turning her husband’s head. “You want to be invited to sit on committees with these women, and they won’t ask you if they find you threatening,” Mr. McMullan explained. “That’s why ingenue look was created: for girls to enter society attractively, but not dangerously so.”
So from frump to high-class hooker in just two days. That’s got to be some sort of Pretty Woman record. Still, I barely had time to be mortified. As soon as we arrived, Patrick jumped out of the cab and started doing his salutations: twirling the women and putting on a mock British accent. “You look faaabulous my darling,” he would say to a societess like Melissa Berkelhammer. “Let me get a picture of you with my date, Drew Grant from The New York Observer.”
By the end of the evening, I had been photographed with Roosevelts, Mirsepahis, and a parade of other names much bigger than my own. The next day, I Patricked myself: 36 results. Not bad for starters.
Follow Drew Grant via RSS.