Reflections on Shooting Isamu Noguchi
From: Perfect Timing by Marvin Lazarus
October 1, 1959
New York City
Noguchi has cancelled three or four dates before at the last minute. This time I left work and that if a call came into me on my private wire Mrs. Gold was to say that I was not here and on my way to his place. I arrived there early before he could escape; but his name was not on the bulletin board. I knew he kept temporary quarters in a photography studio---but the place full of the same. Finally I broke down and called him. He was waiting for me.
Went to lunch.
Returned to studio. He said Newman always posed him and set up picture exactly. I said I worked differently. Noguchi said he used to do this (for Newman) when he was younger but now he has no time. He said he should have cancelled today but was embarrassed. Noguchi said he was going to work and I could shoot but he had no time to pose.
He was working on two large pieces of balsa wood, glued together to make rough shapes. Then he used a band saw to rough cut them. He said he was putting me to work and I had to help him with the sawing. Then he uses chisels at very fast speed. Stands the thing up by an aluminum pipe fitted into bottom which fits into a metal plate having a rod coming up from it.
Took many shots but difficult to get much as he was moving rapidly across the room. Meanwhile he was looking for a new studio and real estate agents kept calling and the super came in to repair the refrigerator etc. Finally after two hours I asked him to stand still, there was a wonderful sculpture set up where I had originally entered---- and he took it apart as soon as he began to work. I asked him to put it together—he wasn’t happy but he did. I parked him there and told him to stand still. Got a few shots and then his patience wore out.
It was a warm day and what with the strain I was soaking wet. At about 2:30 pm he invited me to go.
When we went to lunch—before any pictures—he invited me to come around at night at factory where Edison Price manufactured lighting fixtures. He said doing aluminum sculpture there…. Said I would. Went at 6:00 pm. He made it plain he was not going to cooperate but I was free to shoot as long as I did not interfere. I stuck to the agreement and didn’t say a word all evening.
First he makes a design with paper cut outs; a mock up in paper. Then as assistant lines out a large sheet of aluminum the design is put on graph paper and transferred like a mural job to the aluminum sheet. Then they use machines to cut the aluminum.
While shooting Noguchi said another artist is here. Ellsworth Kelly. Noguchi’s endless series of shapes and forms done at breakneck speed was startling. The man is endowed with a fantastic visual imagination.