Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Serious business

10:30 AM. Photo: JH.
Wednesday, August 29, 2012. Yesterday was a very warm summer day, followed by a warm summer evening with some humidity and no promise of rain.

Party pictures, as you may have noticed, is a staple on the NYSD, as it is on many other web sites from single bloggers to corporatized behemoths, not to mention a multitude of magazines and newspapers.

The reason for this is simple: people like to look at pictures of people. Many also like to look at pictures of themselves. Nowadays it is not unusual to see a man or a woman work the room to catch the camera’s eye. It’s called vanity or self-promotion. Take your pick; we’re in New York.

A page in the Rotogravure from the Omaha World-Herald in 1914.
In the past twelve years that JH and I have been running the NYSD, we’ve seen the staple grow to phenomenon. Here in New York, during those years, party pictures have become a lucrative division of the billion dollar events planning industry, dominated by a small group of professional photographers.

So it’s serious business, providing employment, assisting many good causes, publicizing many a professional (and non-pro) individual, enhancing many other businesses and industries, i.e., fashion, technology, retailing, etc. And giving you something to look at and even think about it.

The phenomenon has actually been around since the late 19th century when we figured out how to transmit photographs to print, and the entire population read newspapers everyday. “The photographers will snap us, And you’ll find that you’re in the Rotogravure… in your Easter bonnet” went the line from the classic  Irving Berlin tune “Easter Parade.” (ed.’s note: Often found in Sunday editions of newspapers in the 1920s and '30s —

In the 1960s when John Fairchild succeeded his father in running the family business called Fairchild Publications – a group of trade industry dailies – he added a new flavor to their fashion rag then known as Women’s Wear Daily. Party Pictures under the heading of “EYE.” These pictures, along with some copy about whatever party (often a benefit), took Fairchild out of strictly trade and into the big time of fashion magazines. It promoted the fashion industry, the charities, the egos of those among us who can’t resist a few minutes of “fame,” and it fed the growing appetite the paper’s readers who took it all in every weekday morning in New York. Life among the savages.
John Fairchild back in the day when it was the Party Pictures that ruled.
Mr. Fairchlld used those party pictures to spread his gospel of gossip (who’s in, what’s out; who ranks, who stinks), He had a substantive effect on the paper’s business as well as people’s careers and even their private lives.

He also invented what today is called snark – although back then it was call “bitchy.” For example, there was a man ubiquitously on the social scene named Jerry Zipkin. An exponent of the social man (Harry Lehr set the tone earlier in the century, as you read here last Friday) who made the lifestyle his business.

Unlike Harry Lehr, Zipkin did not have to marry for money. He had lots of it (New York real estate). A social gadfly, known to be gay among his set, tending to be sharp-tongued and caustic, as well as rude, and even improbably imperious, he was, nevertheless, very popular with the ladies who lunch. He was often seen at benefits and galas and balls with one of those ladies on his arm.

John Fairchild (above, right) referred to Jerry Zipkin (pictured with Nan Kempner and below) not by name, but as the “walker” and then "Social Moth."
John Fairchild noted that popularity in his EYE columns by taking to referring to Mr. Zipkin not by name, but as the “walker” – meaning not quite the man for all seasons, but good enough for getting the girl over the threshold respectably if not connubially; or – a fag or a fairy (gay was just entering the vernacular). 

The term eventually faded from Zipkin’s public identity but stuck for the type of social male, entering the language meaning: a gay man who escorts social women to parties. And not to be confused with gigolo who provided service in exchange for hard currency. A walker presumably had his own money. Or someone else’s. Although ...

The word “walker” may have been introduced in WWD originally in its edit copy. I can’t remember precisely. But it was in the paper’s EYE that it made its impact.

Later on in the life of the publication, they  gave Zipkin a new caption: Social Moth. A new dig. Every time they published a picture of him, there it was: Social Moth. This was much more of an insult to him than “walker” in the long run, because the liberation movements were by then in full flourish and “gay” was out and proud (although Zipkin, preferred being “in” and arrogant, at least in the public’s perception).

The name Social Moth  was a bitchy/snarky way of tweaking a man who was a tweaker himself. Tit-for-tat. Although, there came a moment in this frenetic tableau when Mr. Z was frequently seen escorting a very social, highly publicized fashion figure, a married woman, whose name was famous in America and Europe.

EYE pointed out the frequent duo by captioning her as “Mrs. Social Moth.” An insult by implication (old fashioned, Wildean snark), the lady – who was always a lady --  rightfully found it offensive. Steps were taken (gingerly – as nobody wanted to draw ire from Mr. Fairchild’s powerful pen), to quell the phlegmatic wit of the man and his editors. Eventually the subsequent captions returned the lady to her rightful identity. But Social Moth remained for Zip.

Until. Ronald Reagan was elected President and Jerry Zipkin, a First Buddy and social counselor to the First Lady, became a power to reckon with. R-E-S-P-E-C-T, just like the song says. But by then John Fairchild was either tired of it all or bored stiff and the world went vanilla.
Jerry Zipkin, Nan Kempner, Annette Reed, Judy Peabody, Henry Kravis, Chessy Rayner, Mica Ertegun, and Pat Buckley at Carolyne Roehm's fashion show in 1989 (Copyright Photograph by Dafydd Jones).
Party Pictures are no longer an instrument of satire or parody (to most of us). They serve many purposes, as noted above. They please the reader, the event planners, the charities, the hosts, the individuals.

Or almost. The issue of “privacy” has emerged in the last couple of years, with many who have had their pictures taken at parties and events, and continue to have their pictures taken at parties and events, yet who later make requests to have their pictures removed  after they’ve been published. Sometimes five years after. Even ten.

Why? A million reasons like: “I’ve had plastic surgery and I don’t look like that anymore,” or “I’m not going out with her anymore,” or “I’m starting a new job and my boss doesn’t want my picture on the web,” or “I’m being stalked and I’ve been advised by lawyers to remove my pictures from the internet” (she doesn’t want the person “stalking” her to be able to “identify” her?), or “my husband hates that picture,” or “I’ve lost weight and don’t want to be reminded,” or “we’ve broken up,” or “my girlfriend doesn’t like it” or “remove immediately and call to confirm.”

Many requests are made by people whose images are all over the internet, including of course, on Google, and even more frequently on the various outlets of social media. Some just want to be removed from the digital world entirely and, one presumes, to return to “privacy.”
The old boy himself, home at last and free from care (and party pictures) photographed in his Swiss chalet by Simon Upton for the September 2012 issue of Vanity Fair.
It’s too late. We’ve left that planet. We now call it communication and it apparently rules our lives and our egos. We’ve quite naturally fallen into this massive proletarianizing (my word but it says it) of the society. Right, Prince Harry? It’s done; over. The only thing that could change that would be some kind of phenomenal natural event that could deliver a worldwide power outage. And even then ...

You can get your picture removed from Google or go through the long tedious process or removing them from Facebook, etc. This can be done by removing the name from the picture. BUT even then, they’re out there somewhere in the detritus in cyberspace. We are in the 21st century. It’s beyond progress. It’s evolution, leading to God knows what.

We on the NYSD don’t remove pictures that we’ve published because it’s time consuming and pointless. Those pictures if they’re of any interest to anyone, have already been tagged by sometimes countless others. We remove people’s names which eventually is repeated by Google so that people Googling another won’t see that picture. Let’s hope so.

There is a solution for those who years later come to regret a situation with the now common activity of posing for a public camera. Don't. Today it’s as common as the cellphone which has even become a camera and a vidcam. Ironically with all this, we pay less attention to the world around us, including others in the room or on the walk, but we’re always on the phone. Even at the party.

Contact DPC here.