PRICE ON PRICE:
A Dialogue About Photography & Life
photos by Lucien Capehart
Is Michael Price your real name?
Funny you should ask that question. My father's Hungarian name was Irvitz Pricinszko, which was later Americanized to Irving Price. My mother, whose family was exiled from the Iberian Peninsula, insisted I use the name Miguel Cuenta instead. Later in high school I adapted the nom de plume Fred Kline when I ordered free albums from the Columbia Record Club. I've been back to Michael Price for sometime now.
Did you have a happy childhood?
I spent the first 8 years of my life on my grandmother's farm. All the food we ate was grown or raised on the farm. I literally would see chickens running around with their heads cut off. My dream was to grow up and drive a tractor with big wheels. Once I started school, everything went downhill.
You had a problem with structure or authority?
Both. Here is one example: After one too many wisecracks, my 7th grade math teacher Mr. Fierra picked me up out of my seat, dragged me down the hall into the boy's room and threw me head first into the urinal. When I regained consciousness, I called my father, who came to the school and basically finished what Mr. Fierra started. Needless to say, I hated the educational system. Somehow I obtained a high school diploma.
When did you first become interested in photography?
My father owned one of the first Polaroid Land Cameras. If I was good, he would let me apply the fixer to the newly developed print. At the time, it wasn't known how highly toxic that chemical stick was. Later, it was hypothesized that my social and behavioral problems were due to the exposure I had with Polaroid fixer. By then, my parents had given me a Kodak Instamatic camera to use. I loved the smell of those blue flash cubes. I guess you could say photography is in my blood.
Who were your early artistic influences?
Bud Abbott and Lou Costello were right up there along with Laurel and Hardy. Also, The Three Stooges (with the original Curly), Leonard Bernstein and Hieronymus Bosch.
What motivates you to be creative?
Food, money, business class tickets, Heidi Klum... not necessarily in that particular order.
Where do you find your inspiration for a portrait?
I start with a form of transcendental meditation, almost putting myself in another state of mind... being open to visions. For example, I may be asked to take a portrait of an 80 year-old man from Boca Raton who competes in triathlons. I may have a “vision” of him wearing a lime-green Speedo bathing suit, bathing cap, holding a cool Mojito in one hand, and build from there.
Is there any one photograph that has had an impact on you personally?
I'd have to say it's the iconic photo Robert Jackson took of Jack Ruby shooting Lee Harvey Oswald. Jackson won the Pulitzer Prize in 1964 for that photo, which proves it pays to be in the right place at the right time. Coincidentally, a few years ago I photographed that very .38-caliber Colt Cobra that a collector in Florida purchased from Jack Ruby's estate. He held the gun in his hand and said to me, “This is the gun that killed Lee Harvey Oswald.” I then replied, “Guns don't kill people, people kill people.”
You prefer working with people?
As opposed to circus animals, yes. A few years ago I was hired by a South Florida publication to photograph a local fellow whose nickname is “Tarzan.” Tarzan kept a menagerie of wild animals on his secluded compound, which included tigers, lions and panthers. I was feeling a bit apprehensive about this assignment from the start. Once I arrived, I decided it would be easier to focus just on one animal and chose a beautiful Bengal-Siberian tiger for the portrait. The problem was, the tiger never stood still. I asked Tarzan if he could get the tiger to stay one spot and at the same time “cuddle up” to it. Tarzan barked back at me, “Are you crazy! This is a 600 pound tiger and he'll do whatever he wants to do.” A few months later, Bobo made international headlines when he escaped from the compound and was killed by Florida Wildlife officials.
Have your photographs been exhibited within the concept of the equivalent to evoke some sense of equivalency from an audience response?
What? I mean, yes. Precisely!
Is there any one aspect that has significantly contributed to your success as a photographer?
Showing up on time. Other than that, it's a crap-shoot.
Any memorable moments or assignments?
Not to name names, but on the negative side, there was the verbal abuse I received from Burt Reynolds and Pete Rose. I was young and a bit naive. Today, that would be a much different story. Then there was the “World's Largest Nude Wedding” in Jamaica. All was going well until a bride brushed by me and a stem from her bouquet scratched my cornea.
What advise do you have for someone today considering a career in photography?
I would recommend they go out and find a chimp or monkey and teach it how to use a camera. The novelty of it may set you apart from the thousands of other photographers trying to get hired for an assignment these days.
Are there any other art forms that interest you?
Music is important to me. I'm currently taking drum lessons so I can join a reggae band, possibly to help supplement my income from photography.
Do you have a mantra?
“As sands through an hourglass, so are the days of our lives.” Has anyone used that one yet?