Introduction by DrHGuy
The photos taken by Chris Buck for use in “Cohen on Wry” by Michael Krugman (Flaunt: Oct 2001) are some of my personal favorites because they compellingly convey the unique amalgamation of gravitas, geniality, and graciousness that defined Leonard Cohen. Chris has also provided the intriguing back story of the shoot that resulted in these superb images.
Leonard Cohen 2001 Photo Session by Chris Buck
I’m frequently asked to name my favorite photo session of my career, and I always answer “Leonard Cohen.” It’s not because this is the best photograph in my new book UNEASY (a 30-year portrait retrospective) but it was a sitting with someone I most admired, as a musician and as a man.
After the shoot I wrote six pages of handwritten notes about the experience, the text below is culled from that material.
July 20, 2001, at his home, Los Angeles
For lunch today I had a pastrami sandwich with a side of chopped liver. Leonard Cohen made it for me.
I walked into the kitchen and there was a small man leaning over a stove, wearing a dark suit and hat. As I entered Leonard Cohen turned to me, and with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth he said, “Nice to meet you, do you want some coffee, man?”
He gave me a tour of the house so I could decide where to shoot. We saw the various bedrooms, the bathroom, the back guesthouse and his upstairs studio, where he recorded his recent album.
As we stepped out of the guesthouse I asked him who the Rosicrucians were. He said that they were a group who started in Egypt – mystics who then developed over the centuries. They give seminars that you can sign up for and attend. I asked if they had contacted him (as someone who had endorsed them in his song Dress Rehearsal Rag). He laughed, and made it clear that he hadn’t really endorsed them.
As we were speaking I saw an upside down beetle squirming on the driveway. I excused myself for a second and turned it over, allowing it to fly away. Leonard seemed pleased and thanked me for the gesture.
It felt magical to have this little Buddhist moment with Leonard Cohen, but I was also aware that I was probably trying to impress him.
I some took time away to sit at a wooden table in his living room to collect my thoughts and notes to prepare for the photo session. After few minutes wandered into the room and sat on the arm of a big chair a few feet from me. He could tell I was nervous, and I told him that I really wanted to do something great and special. He looked at me and said, “If you are meant to make a really wonderful picture, there is nothing in this world or any other that can stop that from happening.” And I thought, “Wow, that’s cool.” He paused and then said, “If you’re meant to make a bad picture, there’s nothing in this world or any other that can stop that either.”
We had been told that we had two hours for the shoot, and after exactly 120 minutes we stopped and Leonard Cohen made lunch for my assistant and I. He said that he’d gone to the Jewish deli that morning and picked up ingredients, and that the chicken liver was really good today. I agreed to have some it tasted pretty great. Was it really an exceptional batch of chopped liver, or was it just special because Leonard Cohen offered it to me? This I’ll never have a sure answer for.
More information about Chris Buck’s book Uneasy at Uneasy by Chris Buck