The only photograph you’ll ever regret is the one you didn’t take.
Happens all the time— the one that got away.
Ask any photographer and they’ll tell you all about it: the elusive photograph that escaped them— that one fleeting moment when everything aligned so perfectly— yet was gone in an instant, gone and uncaptured. For me, it was 8,208 days ago and I’ve never forgotten it. I was dating a music manager at the time and one of the musicians he represented was in need of new promotional photos. And so I was asked to take them. Until that moment, photographing a living, breathing person wasn’t something I’d considered— My “expertise” was limited to landscapes with a few tin signs and old Pepsi machines thrown in for good measure. That’s what worked for me then— I was young and I was shy.
But, Matt Sevier and I were already good friends, so that did put me a tad at ease. And, I did want to help. We met that day in Fishtown, which at the time was not quite the destination hotspot we know it to be today. The first outfit of choice was a classic black jacket and shirt. The shirt was vintage. I took a few shots of him in an alley, sitting on steps, and with a cat or two, as one does. We then spent some time pouring over alternate wardrobe choices— pajamas somehow came into play: pajamas and a derby. And so out we went, again.
As we turned down a small neighborhood street, there was an unusual absence of people and the normal “goings on” that you’d expect for a weekday. We were the only two people in sight and we walked along in silence, as I took in my surroundings. I was searching for the perfect backdrop. A few moments later, I felt the friction before I noticed the sound: wheels. Someone was rolling something. We both turned around to find a man pulling the most perfect, old-school, picturesque balloon cart. It couldn’t have been a more ideal set up: Matt was wearing pajamas and a derby! And the street was desolate— how much better can it get? A shot of Matt pulling that cart would’ve been— as they say, the money shot. But, I was too afraid to ask, so I hemmed and hawed and the moment passed us by. I missed the opportunity.
We moved along and soon found an abandoned building— we didn’t see any signs forbidding us to enter, so we did— figuring it would be full of photo opportunities. Well, let’s just say it didn’t disappoint. Moments after we started scoping out the location, two of Philadelphia’s finest were approaching us. Imagine what it looked like to them: Again, Matt was in pajamas! Within a matter of seconds, not only was he in pajamas, he was in handcuffs and was bent over the hood of the patrol car! We were both talking fervently at the same time, pleading our case. Scouting out locations? For a photo shoot? They weren’t buying it. Thankfully though, after talking with us a few more minutes, they agreed we were being truthful. The handcuffs were removed.
They walked us back to the main road and we chatted about this and that. Before saying our goodbyes, they apologized (as did we, because apparently we were trespassing) and I managed to talk them into a photo. I wasn’t missing this opportunity! They were both great sports and even hammed it up— putting Matt in handcuffs once again— using them as a prop for the photograph this time, of course.
Once they’d left, we were flooded with relief and giddy from the wackiness of it all. We sprinted across Delaware Avenue, laughing, if not a bit shaken. It was then that we stumbled upon an old Chevy pickup sitting in a small patch of grass. We weren’t far from Matt’s house, so I asked him to change back into his first outfit. When we returned to the pickup, I had him sit on the bumper. I looked through my viewfinder and it was familiar— that one fleeting moment when everything aligned so perfectly— so I composed the shot, clicked the shutter, and right then I took one of my favorite photographs ever. And I knew it.
That next week, I went to the photo lab to pick up the print I’d ordered of that photograph. I opened the box, looked at it, and put the lid back on. I paid for my print, tucked it under my arm, and left the store. As I walked down the busy city street, I smiled. My smile got bigger as I walked along. The shot was great. It was great and it was mine. I felt validated. I was a photographer. And I knew it.
So, in the end, was there a missed opportunity that day? Not by a long shot— and certainly not by a missed shot.
*My original 35mm negatives were scanned via a virtual drum scanner by Keith Yahrling at Philadelphia Photo Arts Center. I didn’t do much retouching to these photographs, as I wanted them to remain as close to the originals as possible.