It was a Saturday evening in May 2003. The place: Robert Evans Beverly Hills home and estate. The occasion: Brett Ratner's forthcoming book Hilhaven Lodge was being showcased during Book Expo America by powerHouse Books. The crowd included Jeff Bridges, Sean Combs, Ashton Kutcher, and Joel Grey. Patrick McMullan was taking photographs. Tanqueray martinis were being served. But all of that happened later in the evening—after the surprise guest had arrived.
As photographer Jim Jocoy remembers, “It was exciting from the moment I arrived. I remember going over early, before the guests had begun to arrive, when it was only that staff setting up for the event. I remember turning into the entryway and seeing security there. The front of the residence was modest. I walked into the foyer. The main room was grand southern California: high ceilings and couches hugging around the room. To the right was a hallway with collection of framed photographs. I spent some time looking at them.
“I remember I was looking through the front window and I saw a black Rolls Royce pull up. I didn’t see who was in it. There was a bush obstructing my view when the door opened. I leisure returned to the front door, and walked outside. I asked [powerHouse Publicity Associate] Jose Ortiz who had arrived. He told me.
“Oh My Gosh! I was still low key. I wanted to see so I leisurely tried to stalk him, very casually. I decided to go explore the estate, to walk around and see for myself. I remember walking out on to the estate property and seeing how fantastic the water fountain was, sprinkling into the pool. And the tennis courts, where the Kennedy had played. I really soaked in his Architectural Digest style, including his wife at that time, who was tall, statuesque, and blonde. She had the presence and the power of the lady of the house.
“I went into the screening room, which was between the pool and the tennis courts, and I remember seeing Michael at the other end of the room, all alone looking at the powerHouse books. He had one in his hand. It was the book on black bikers, Brooklyn Kings. I remember being so nervous at that moment, I just kinda backpedaled out of the room. I didn’t have the nerve to get the photo.
“My strategy was just to drink martinis. It helped me lose some inhibitions. I remember the evening unfolding. The weather was perfect. I remember Paris Hilton coming in with her sister, and her sister disappearing into the back, and I realized that there was an area where things were private. I remember Robert Evans welcoming everyone and giving a little talk. The next thing I knew, everyone had congregated around Michael in the screening room and had taken out their camera, so I did the same and I took a few.
“Later, I saw Michael off to the side, and I asked him if I could take a few photos, and he said yes. He was very sweet. Everyone was seated around, in a nice little clutch, and I casually snapped a few photographs paparazzi style. I was a little bold with that. And I remember Michael looking at [powerHouse Sales Director] Kristian Orozco, who was wearing leather pants, and exclaiming, ‘Those pants are hot!’"
Jocoy’s Polaroids from the evening are part of a larger body of work that spans the first decade of the new millennium and features subjects as diverse as Charo, Shepard Fairey, and Joe Strummer. His direct style of portraiture is highly accessible. He points, he shoots, he scores. Since he first returned to photography in 2002, after a break that lasted more than twenty years, Jocoy has consistently surprised and amazed with a casual edge that continues to engage.
Jocoy observes, “I knew that with the publication of my first book, We’re Desperate, that an exciting chapter in my life was about to begin. I started debating whether to get a Polaroid or a digital camera; I chose the Polaroid because I like the whole idea of being in close proximity to my subjects. I knew I would be meeting people I’d never have access to before, as well as reconnecting with many of the people I had photographed in We’re Desperate. I knew I was going to be more social than I had been in a very long time, and I wanted to have an artifact/photograph of those encounters.
“The Polaroid is a party camera. It’s social. It requires you to ask permission, because it takes the best pictures very close up. In my mind I had an idea of Warhol images: straight on classic portraiture. I like how he took a one-dollar image and turned it into a fifty-thousand-dollar silkscreen. The aesthetics of the Polaroids had a lot working for it.
“I wanted in-your-face glamour shots and that’s what materialized. I wanted to use a Polaroid because it required me to be more interactive. I couldn’t shoot from a across the room. I’d have to come close. It was like going on safari and coming back with something. I didn’t have to cross my fingers when I went home. I had the artifacts in my pocket.”