I first met Eléonore Hendricks after I had already fallen in love with her.
Let me start over.
Eléonore Hendricks: photographer, actor, writer, casting director, acting coach extraordinaire. And an Outlaw if I’ve ever known one.
I met Eléonore in early 2008 on Canal and Thompson St., about to board the A to Far Rock for a day at the old and mostly deserted, pre-renovation Aqueduct, with my friends Josh Safdie and Ronnie Bronstein. The day was still ahead of us, and the ghostly, abandoned, off-season track, empty stands and raceway awaited us with no thoroughbreds, riders, or betting public to be sure of. I remember this beautiful girl with a camera crossing Canal St. and running up to us and it was just for a second, but I thought they said her name was Eléonore and that she looked familiar.
The track lived up to its promise. Josh and Ronnie were scouting the place (more like casing the joint) for some idea they were cooking up. A pale air of silence hung over the place, the betting floor with the big board, dead tickets littered across the dirty tile. It was so quiet. I can still hear it. It felt like one of those days you can never repeat.
And out of nowhere, a voice. Then a face. There was this girl again. I knew I’d seen her in something. Then it hit me. She was in Dito Montiel’s A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, one of my favorite films made in New York from recent years. And she was fascinating, even then, only a fading memory of certain lines she had or the way she looked in certain shots staying with me. She took those pictures of us then.
They mean so much to me still, especially because I made no connection of this in my mind at the time upon meeting her...upon spending this day with her and her taking these pictures. And at the heart of the memory and the fact that she was the one there documenting the start of it all, is a part of her she would say comes as no surprise, but to the rest of us, it is everything. It was my first introduction to someone I’d already kind of fallen in love with, who I would then go on to work with closely, and that she enchanted me with her performance that was so striking and startling, in a way that gave such great pause, should come as no surprise to those who have seen her on film. She stands out.
Eléonore sent me those pictures a year later. Her and Josh had made a wonderful film, her and I had worked together on a short that was starting to play places, and we were all pursuing our own films and dreams. Looking back, it was her pictures that really stayed with me when she wasn’t around or I wasn’t around -- not her acting (which was my favorite of anyone of my generation or otherwise and still is), not her personality (always changing, always ecstatic in some way, always brutally honest) -- but the pictures. They stayed with me as a voice always calling me back, always leaving me something to remember her by. That’s what I still think of when I try to recount how I know her and who she is -- how this is a person who constantly was/is orienting herself with the world around her as a collector; a rampant, hungry, never incurious collector, gathering more faces and voices and eyes than she knows what to do with. The way she has made her own, like casting a film from the street up, is something that really moves me, and these pictures are the truest source of understanding that method.
Eléonore and I have worked together in many different guises and roles: director/actor, actor/actor, photographer/ subject, friend/friend, and now interviewer/interviewee -- so this one here is still new. Please bear with us as we’re trying it on for size. I posed many pictures and questions to Eléonore and what follows are her responses.
Eléonore: I love these photos you chose, maybe it’s the people in them or the situation, but it makes me happy to see a selection like this. Many of my photos are of people, and behind each portrait is that person, and then there’s what I know and remember of my relationship with that person, so its totally loaded. Each portrait -- that’s what’s nice about taking photos for me, it strikes up a feeling in me, and through me, and I can experience that person or moment in my mind and even in my body again. Is that gross? I mean my blood shifts temperature, and I hear an echo of the voice, or feeling of meeting eyes, and the tension or comfort. It makes me pleased you feel something too when looking at these.
LOUISIANA SWAMP THING
Louisiana Swamp Thing. I was working on the film “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” I was asked down there to work with the actors, or “non- actors” as their acting coach. The whole experience was new. I made some friends down there, one of whom is this fellow Gordon, he was the script supervisor so we were working closely together at times, and he’s just an all around swell fellow.
This afternoon a couple of us decided to take a trip on our day off to the beach, Grande Isle- wasn’t much of a beach but some interesting shore birds, this was about the time of the big BP oil spill. Oil hadn’t yet hit shore. Ah and we had the most delicious feast! Ordered 10 lbs of crawfish from a gas station convenience store- scrumptious- this photo is Gordon washing them down with a tropical daiquiri.
Still down working on “Beasts of the Southern Wild” in the Bayou of Louisiana, this is the gas station a.k.a. our production headquarters. Precious and her daughter, Dusty Rose, came by to show us their reptile pets. They had some cool snakes, and the two of them were pretty special.
THIS LAND IS YOUR LAND
I was on a trip in South Dakota on the Pine Ridge Reservation, a Lakota Indian Reservation, with a director and now good friend Chloe Zhao, and producer Mollye Asher, the 3 of us went out to do casting for Chloe’s film, it’s a coming of age story about a 17 year old Lakota kid. I spent about 3 or 4 weeks out there. We held open calls, walked through towns, and went to events, all to meet people from the area and to find the cast for this film.
Now, when I’m in a new place I tend to ask a lot of questions. I want to learn about where I am and whom I’m meeting. I love listening to people. And I knew virtually nothing about the Lakota or their history, so I was learning a lot. The young man in this image here showing me his six-pack is great. His name is Cody Reddy, and that’s his girlfriend Evelyn. We’re about to go have a meal together after watching several hours of him and his dad breaking a wild horse. Cody is sexy and confident, he’s such a good rider maybe one of the best his age on the reservation, he races horses. He dresses like many boys his age, thuggish, many boys on the rez wear a similar style. Then others are more “traditional” or native in their hair style and outfits. I really loved this contrast in him. He has this very specialized skill of taming beast- though to know a wild animal is far from an urban kid’s skill, and yet he dresses like a city kid. He’s never been outside of South Dakota, but wants to explore so badly. In this photo he’s joking around but also showing off. It’s cocky but in the best way. I admire this.
This is of an elder at a Pow Wow. The Pow Wow is a celebration where people are dressed in traditional costume, some dance while others are singing and playing drums. The event took place in a rather drab convention center with fluorescent lights in a big auditorium. Then spectators watch. The audience includes Natives as well as White tourists. I found the dance and the music to be beautiful and overpowering but I thought there was something sad about the display of the tradition. At the event there were stands set up with jewelry and other traditional objects for sale. I got sucked into looking at the jewelry and other things to buy, and I felt ugly be- cause of it. (Ugly- is a word I picked up from Johnny, Cody’s brother- he used the word often when describing sad or fucked up feeling). So this elder is dressed in a traditional dress, but he also has a number pinned to him. All of the dancers did. There is something ugly about him wearing a number when he was so noble and wise looking- life and living in a free way was fucked up for the Native Americans. The way he’s looking at me, its detest.
Jessy just had her baby at a home birth during the Blizzard of 2012. Her boyfriend was being a jerk and just sitting around getting high. And her friend Sara, my buddy, asked me come to help out. I also had wanted to come photograph. It was such an extreme experience, to see the first hours of life. I didn’t see the birth, but arrived just about an hour after the baby was born. Everyone was exhausted. My friend Sara and I stayed up throughout the morning and mid-day to check on mom and babe.
This is the first time Jessy, the mom, changed her son’s diaper. There was such exhaustion, no medical professionals, no one had dealt with a baby, with a life so delicate. But life was happening and dirty diapers had to be changed.
Before getting the job working on “Beasts of the Southern Wild” I felt this urgency to move for good down to New Orleans, about that same time my friend Claire who I worked with at a video store, had that wanderlust to travel too. We first scheduled a ride share via craigslist to take us down. She had some trouble finding a sitter for her dog, and I ended up taking the ride share solo part of the way with a juggler driving a U-haul down to another Renaissance fair in Austin TX. I got off in Virgina and Claire met up with me by bus. We then took the Amtrak the rest of the way down. Ended up running into some friends by coincidence heading the same way. This is a cigarette break and an Amish fellow on the left I had wanted to take a portrait of but hadn’t the courage to ask upfront. So it’s a sneak.
PREGNANT AND OTHER LIFE
Wow, this is Sarah. I was at a concert casting for teens, and I saw this young woman sitting by herself. And all sounds and people disappeared. She was the saddest girl in the world. I could feel it. I’ve felt that same thing many times. When you feel alone, and life moves around you and you feel nothing, so much of nothing that you may as well be dead. I know that feeling, and I saw her and she made me my heart bleed for her in pity. Because it hurts so bad, you want to just die, but you don’t even have the muscle in your arms strong enough to make that happen so you feel more pitiful. But she was so pretty in the light and she didn’t know it. Well, I know how she felt, and I saw her beauty, she looked so beautiful in that sadness and I could see it. And at first I snuck a photo of her, but that wasn’t enough, I went up to her gently, I said "you look so beautiful," I said "please don’t move because I want to make a portrait of you just like this." And we both started crying because she knew I understood, but she was also so surprised to be noticed. I took a few photos of her and then I sat with her and we just wept a bit and hugged and then we exchanged numbers. She was so beautiful sitting in that light, and I think she understood, and I think she felt beautiful.
Maiko. She’s a dream. She is my dear friend, she is a part of me, and I’m a part of her. We went to mexico together, she’s a filmmaker and she was showing her first feature film at a film festival in Mexico City. She used to live in NYC but is no longer allowed to live here. I missed her and Mexico is pretty close compared to Japan, so I went down and we spent 10 days together traveling. We spent 26 hours on a bus to get to a magical place on the coast called Chicaua. I lost one of my cameras on the bus. Maiko and I spent 4 days on the beach, it was desolate, we spent all day and the sun was so strong. We would rotate baking and dipping into the water then baking and burying ourselves in the sand. Maiko doesn’t like extra unnecessary stuff. So she didn’t wear sunscreen. She doesn’t do things like that, she’s pure. She’s probably some celestial being. But anyway she baked and burnt and became so dark. And here is a portrait of her eyes dreaming beyond existence. She looks so exquisite. And that’s really who she is.
This fellow just looked great. I went to a demolition derby at a county fair upstate NY, it was my first time, and I got really excited. I snuck around a barricade so I could be close to all the derby cars as they revved up and prepared to get smashed. Oil, gasoline, beer, cigarettes, mud and blood amidst steel, males, muscle, and testosterone. It’s just awesome! I was trying to capture it all as best I could. I was giddy so maybe that’s why this guy is looking at me like this.
Christmas Eve 2011, I went to midnight Mass up at St John the Divine, with Josh and Sara, two of my Jewish friends. We all enjoyed the experience. And I saw this choir boy who walked down in procession with the other clergy, incense in hand, and he was so pretty I asked to take his portrait.
Religion is a foreign language for me, my mother was raised Catholic but never impressed that in me and my father is atheist of a Quaker family. When I was about 3 or 4 my parents brought me to a midnight Mass, my first time in a church. My father bent down as things were getting started after the organ music played and whispered, “Pretty soon someone called a Priest is going to come out, and do you know what he does? He eats little children.” I was terrified.
THE MARTYRDOM OF SAINT TRISTAN
The Martyrdom of St Tristan. So this is part of a series of a kid I met while casting, his name is Tristan. I wanted to photograph him and he wanted to be photographed. We had fun. He’s 17 and gay and really open, and fun. I wanted to make him into a Saint in the pictures- we were just messing around, he had a plastic skull so he was holding it in a faux allegorical way. I like the light on him and his zits.
SHE IS A DANCER
My friend Renas Sidhamed- I met her in Italy when we were both around sixteen, she also went to Smith College with me. We’re friends but we don’t see each other much any more. She came to stay with me in NYC while she went for an interview at the UN, or the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund- I cant understand what she does, but she’s also a ballet dancer. And she’s awesome, and tough and does it her way. I went to my first Ramadan dinner at her family’s house in Rome- that home doesn’t exist anymore for her. This photo was taken after we had been talking for a while, catching up, she handles burden with such grace.
FAREWELL MY FRIEND MIKE
My friend Mike. I moved into this apartment in 2004 - that’s a long time living in the same place- the man who lived across the hall from me for 35 years was Mike Kosem. He was my dear friend from the moment I moved in to his death in 2009. He called me his guardian angel. I like that and he was my Grandpa.
He lived on the 5th floor of a walk-up and for the first years I lived in the building he would walk down at times to take a walk or run a few errands. But increasingly he became homebound, and would have deliveries, or I would run an errand or someone else in the building sometimes would. He loved to lean out the window and see the happenings of the street. He sang loudly and I could hear it through the walls. Sometimes it was a Muslim prayer song, other times an old favorite, or some made up ballad- but he would belt it! We had fun together. Ha his apartment was crawling! Crawling with cock roaches and mice! Hahaha it was terrific, you’d look down at a table covered with papers, magnifying glass, phones, tape players, and rye bread and canned foods and you’d see little movements everywhere! When I left something out on the counter or on the floor they’d come running over to my place too.
I checked in on Mike often, aw I don’t wanna write about this.. oof its making me tear up. So anyway I was holding him when he died, brought him to the hospital when I found him in the state he was in and stayed with him till he passed. It was a good way. I even got ahold of his only daughter and grandson, they hadn’t seen him for years. We were all with him holding his cold hand when he died. It was good. Mike loved to serenade me and he was my dear friend. The photo here is of his refrigerator door, with special instructions for his diet, “Today do not eat” and a diagram of the human heart. He was an inventor and engineer, in his day. He had invented an artificial heart mechanism, but his designs were stolen and the invention ended up saving countless lives. He always used to say we would be millionaires if we won the case.
All images © Eléonore Hendricks 2013