Deirdre Kelly

Camille Paglia Glad To Meet Me


I miss the days when, as a reporter, I did my stories working alongside a photographer. We would travel to assignments, together, chewing the fat along the way in a Globe car,  and commiserating with each other about the job. We’d each stake the subject in our own way when we got there, giving each other the room respect and space to get our own bits done. A few times I acted as the bait, luring a subject out his front door while the photographer hid inside the car parked across the street, camera aimed at the guy’s head. I’d know to stand aside while asking my questions before having the door shut in my face, to allow my partner to get his shots. Yes, those were the good old days. Now, the expectation is that I report from my desk, using the phone or email, and ask for handouts, or still images, to publish with the story. It’s just not the same. There’s no bite to it anymore. No live action. And so I find myself nostalgic for the time I went with photographer Tibor Kolley, one of my newspaper’s greats, to interview Camille Paglia. The location was the old Four Seasons Hotel on Avenue Road in Toronto and the date was November, 1994. I was there to help her promote her new book, Vamps and Tramps, and Tibor was there to take her portrait. This wasn’t to be one of those bushwhack jobs. It was to be tasteful. Except the feminists turned it all upside down she. She launched an unprovoked attack on Tibor, nearly tearing his face off.  It was quite the scene and it made for quite the story, as you can read below:

She came, she bellowed, she almost conquered the patience of a veteran newspaper photographer assigned to shoot her for The Globe.

She is Camille Paglia, pistol-packing feminist, humanist, academic and author, who was in Toronto last week as part of a promotional tour for her new book, a collection of essays called Vamps and Tramps.

I was assigned to interview her, which was lucky for me because I admire her work. My colleague, Tibor Kolley, was assigned to shoot her, which was unlucky for him because in his 23 years on the job he had never met such a battle axe.

With me she was chatty, ebullient, charismatic. With him she was abrasive, aggressive, rude.

As a 47-year-old lesbian, she has a history of liking girls. Yet in her bestselling books she voices support for men, to the chagrin of New Age feminists who claim that men are the enemy.

Did she like me because of my sex? Distrust him because of his?

His mistake, if we need call it that, was twofold: he asked her if he could shoot her in her hotel room (a professional request she misread as something akin to a proposition for sex), and, eventually finding a neutral place in which to work, he aimed to shoot her from the ground up.

“What are you doing? Hey, I said what are you doing down there? Get up. Get up this instant. I don’t let anyone shoot me from that angle. No way. I once got burned that way. Time Magazine. They shot me from that angle and I looked terrible. I showed it to my friend Lauren Hutton, you know, the Vogue model, and she said, ‘Camille, never have your picture taken from that angle again] Not ever!’ And you see on the cover of my new book I am being shot straight on, by Lauren’s friend, now my friend, Luca Babini, and I’m wearing my military-issue jacket and my Emma Peel pose. Hey! Are you listening to me? I said no way are you taking my picture from that angle! I’m now in a position to take control of how I’m photographed, and that’s what I’m doing. Taking control!”

Tibor is on his knees, sweating under the lights he has painstakingly assembled for the shoot. Ms. Paglia, hot on her rant, keeps firing demands at him.

I can see Tibor is distressed. But trouper that he is, he tries to make the commandant happy. He stands up, runs a quick hand across his forehead, and then aims the camera at chest level. He’s about to take the first shot when Ms. Paglia explodes again.

“Hey! I’m not kidding! If you don’t do what I say, I’m walking. See. I’m walking already.”

And she is.

“You asked me not to shoot you from below and I’m not,” Tibor says.

“Ooooh, but you are! Get the camera up! Up, I say!”

The camera is a Hasselblad, with a viewfinder that the photographer has to look through from above.

“I have to aim the camera at chest level to get your head in. Do you want to check for yourself?”

Temporarily subdued, Ms. Paglia grimaces for the picture. But not before admonishing Tibor to make it snappy.

“You have four seconds.”

He aims, he shoots, and with only two seconds remaining he scores: a shot of the warrior queen pointing maniacally at her watch, indicating that the session is over after only six frames are exposed.

She then extends a warm hand to me.

“Isn’t it just chaos?” she says with a smile.

I nod like an idiot. Tibor curses.

She bounds down the stairs, a diva in charge of her own image.


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