Today is the first day of spring, 2013, and it’s a sunny day in Chicago. And 14 degrees. Fahrenheit. This makes me just crabby enough to trot out the only portrait I’ve taken that, to my knowledge at least, was not the person I was assigned to photograph. On another sunny day, this one in July 10, 2003 I headed to the Goodman theater to photograph comedy legend Del Close for an article that would soon appear in Chicago magazine. I set up lights and camera, and waited. That he’d been dead for four years, I thought, might make for an interesting image.
Before Close moved on in 1999, he requested that his skull be preserved, then donated to the Goodman theater’s prop department. Above all other uses in performance, he wanted it to be cast as the jester Yorick in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. In my case he made his entrance in a clear plexiglass box, resting on a red pillow in a small office adjacent to the theater.
Printed from a Polaroid Type 54 negative, the above photograph was an outtake that I’ve always liked. With its rough edges, processing aberrations, and unbelievably fine grain, the whole of the picture has always felt more than a little surreal to me.
Three years later Close’s friend Charna Halpern, charged with delivering his skull to the Goodman, admitted to the New Yorker that, because logistics kept her from producing the actual item, a substitute was purchased from an anatomical supply company. She did mention that a lot of care was taken in finding one that would resemble Close, donating what I hope is now considered to be, at very least, his stunt double.
A brief search shows me that on Myspace, Del Close’s Skull has 1197 friends.
Categories: Portraits in places