Thursday, July 28, 2011
Old friend and collaborator Jesse James for people magazine. I’ve put the people story here as well as a bunch of other stuff from our long journey together these last 10 years. Jesse and I have a pretty great history of creative collaboration..I first met him on a story for GQ in 2000, he was just starting to blow up as his bikes were getting a lot of attention and the Discovery channel show “motorcycle mania” which was about him and was the highest rated discovery show ever, and I think it still is. That show had everyone, including GQ, trying to find out who this guy was..Jesse and I got each other and got along well then on those 2 days together, and the pics were awesome.. ..some subjects you just click with better…maybe it was our similar ages and middle class suburban background. So Fast forward a few years, we reconnected on a cover story I shot for Popular Mechanics magazine about a flying car he built for the show Monster Garage, a show that was created for him by Discovery as he was so popular, and it turned into a hugely popular show also.. When I met him again on that shoot, we caught up, chatted about the GQ shoot and I brought a few prints for him from that shoot. It was then that he said “we should do something together”, at which I responded, “cool, lets do it. I will have some ideas for you and will stop by your shop when I’m in LA in 3 weeks.” It was a vague gesture on both our parts, but I did stop by his place next time I was in LA and told him of my ideas for a book with him.. And that’s how our best body of work ,“Jesse James and his Beautiful Machines” was born. It was great working on that book as Jesse trusted my vision completely, and its still a creative highlight in my life and career. I’m sure even in 50 years it will still look timeless. During the making of the book, design, edit, writing, etc, I kept asking myself, “will I want this on my bookshelf in 50 years?” very simple guiding vision, but crucial. And the truth is that yes, I will be very proud of it even in 50 years..People always think it’s a book about motorcycles, and while motorcycles are all through the book, they are just the metaphor and object that serves as the real subject of the book, which is mans drive, ability, and determination to make things out of metal with their hands and some tools. That’s how I pitched it to jesse, not a boring book about you and motorcycles, but a book about what its like to bend metal into something beautiful and useful. Still stoked about it. And jesse and I became pretty good friends during the making of it.… So when Chris Dougherty from people called to ask if I would head down to Austin to shoot jesse for a feature, I said yes… he had a book coming out and people had the scoop…I was excited to see him again as I had talked and texted with him since the cheating on Sandy scandal happened, but hadn’t seen him and was eager to hang with him a bit again and just see him. I know he was eager to see me too as he was stoked I was shooting the story and wanted me to get there a day early and stop by his house… when I think about it, I think he was looking for pieces of his past that gave him good and pleasant memories, and I was that to him as our history was always about good stuff, and we did the book during his time with Sandy. I’ve gone through the same kind of thing after a love affair gone bad, and grasped at good pieces and memories of my past during the love affair for comfort, and I’m sure that was part of the reason he wanted to see me…to grasp at what was, and see that not all in his life was completely destroyed, that there was still good there. .the pain he must have been going through was certainly profound, and nothing that I’ve experienced…It was great to see him again when I got to his house. He gave a big hug letting me know he was glad I was still there for him. Our relationship has always been rock steady. We weren’t pals or best friends or anything like that, just a constant good thing. When the Sandy thing broke, I instantly contacted him letting him know that a. I was feeling for him and there for him and b. I wouldn’t throw him under the bus and release bad pictures of him for the tabloids to use (I was getting calls, believe me, as no one has an archive on jesse like me). Ultimately I could have made some money off of pictures I had of him when it all went down, but life and friendship and ultimately my work is just too important to sell it for the wrong reasons for money. I thought about it for a quick minute, but just not who I am… It was awesome seeing him for a couple of days, reminiscing a bit, and just hanging out and taking pics like the old days....He was definitely different than before the scandal, he seemed to lose a lot of the anger and edge that he had deep down, I guess all the therapy he went through and pain of it all helped him let go of it..I actually missed the old jesse a bit as that edge and intensity is what made him so good at what he did, and made you want to be around him and his world. At some point though he had to let go of it all and just try and re-ground, which is what he did..…it was great hanging with him and his kids and seeing him as a dad too, which I had never really seen. The shoot was great, jesse has always trusted me and done whatever I wanted him to do (which is hard for him), and generally just a couple of good days. It was great seeing his awesome spread in Austin, a far cry from Long Beach. We even talked about a couple of book ideas again…we said goodbyes, I headed back to NYC and even had a text from him the following day making sure I got home ok…I don’t think our history is over at this point, jesse is the ultimate phoenix, he will rise from the ashes of his self destructed previous life, its just who he is….at one point during the shoot, he said something to me that was so profound and pretty much summed it all up, who he is, why cheated on sandy, and where he will be again someday but a better version... As we walked around he showed me his new shop, which was his garage at his new house, he talked about the 40,000 square foot factory/shop that was west coast choppers in long beach but was now closed. That huge world and business totally gone at this point..He said “it’s funny but I’m back where I started. I started in my moms garage welding and building bikes, and now its full circle, I’m in my garage welding and building bikes, just me.” He never was comfortable with all that WCC had become, and deep deep down I’ve always known he was scared and uncomfortable with the success of WCC, you could always see it in his eyes and I had seen him all along the way and it was obvious…and he always made a point to tell me he was “just a welder”….
Posted by nathaniel at 3:00 PM