Did you know that there’s a theater on the second floor of the Apple Store in Soho? I confess that I did not. In fact, I’m not sure I’d ever been on the second floor of said store until this past Monday (August 8) when I walked up the pale lucite steps (or whatever kind of steps they are) to take my place with the sixty or seventy other people who had come out for “Looking for Dragons,” the latest installment of the store’s Meet the Artist series. This night, the artist was my friend Bill Hayward, a passionate and relentlessly innovative photographer, painter, filmmaker, and choreographer.
Hayward began by showing his portraits of musicians, politicians, artists, and actors—images first published in magazines such as Rolling Stone, Interview, and GQ. Ronald Reagan, Bob Dylan, and Robert Duvall all made appearances. “He was a lot like the characters he played,” Hayward said of Duvall. Sonny Rollins popped onscreen, grinning and looking toward the ceiling, his sax cradled in one arm at his side. Later, a close-up of a cruel-eyed man who did not smile. “Anyone know who that is?” Hayward asked. “Anyone?” It was Roy Cohn, whose baleful legacy was cemented during the Army-McCarthy hearings in the 1950s.
Despite his success, Hayward told us he’d grown restive as a portrait photographer. “I can tell you how to sit and I can light you and dress you and make an image….but in the end it's not so much about you as what I did to you, and in the end I found the process hollow and unfulfilling.” He described how his focus expanded from the face to include the whole body, in motion or at rest. He showed photographs he’d manipulated in the dark room, or developed into prints and painted on, waxed, or changed by some other means. One particularly powerful piece (top) had begun life as a black and white close-up of a woman’s face that Hayward had shellacked directly onto a specially designed raw wood frame then driven through with screws and covered with in beeswax.
Hayward shared several clips and stills from his current film project, Asphalt, Muscle and Bone, as well as a generous selection of images from his ongoing series “Portraits of the Collaborative Self,” for which Hayward reverses the usual relationship between the photographer and subject. Hayward’s subjects
I guess this as good a place as any to mention that I myself have done a portrait of the collaborative self, though years too late to appear in Bad Behavior. I can attest that the process is just as intense and intensive as it appears. I went in to my session with a few favorite quotes scrawled on a notepad, figuring I’d paint one or the other on the wall and that’d be that. Hayward vetoed this approach out of hand. All the words, he said, had to be my own. We sat down and started talking—not brainstorming, mind you, just shooting the breeze. About an hour and a half later, I was telling him about my then unfinished novel, The Gospel of Anarchy, and found myself describing a symbol of particular significance to my characters: the “A” for anarchy inscribed in a heart, shot through with an arrow that replaces the crossbar of the “A”. We chose this as the image, and then I spent about an hour actually making the thing out of construction paper and black paint. Then we hung it from the ceiling, along with some lengths of string, and played around with arrangements until I had something I liked. Then we started shooting. My feelings about the final image are complex and difficult to describe, and they may evolve further still if and when it is ever published—but the ultimate significance of the image, it seems to me, is as the memorialization of the experience, and the experience itself was a gift.
Over the years, Hayward has become more interested in collaborating with people who—unlike actors and writers—are not professional self-expressers. He now seeks out people who may have literally never before been given the kind of “permission” that he can offer them—a class full of 8th graders, for example, or a fireman veteran of 9/11. He showed us portraits of the collaborative self from all over the country: outside the Dallas book depository where Oswald supposedly shot Kennedy, on the Crow Indian reservation, in a one-room schoolhouse in Montana. Another book of these images is in the works. Hayward calls it, fittingly, The Human Bible.