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Bruce Weber On Haiti, The Kennedys and His Many, Many Pet Dogs

Bruce Weber at the Vanity Fair dinner, photographed by Patrick McMullan

It's been a busy week for legendary fashion photographer Bruce Weber. On Tuesday night, Vanity Fair threw the sometime Miami-dweller an intimate dinner party celebrating his first solo museum show, "Haiti/Little Haiti," a series of photos documenting Miami's Haitian community that recently opened at Museum of Contemporary Art.

Tonight The Standard Hotel is hosting a party in his honor fêting his publishing company Little Bear Press and the 10th anniversary of his All American Book monograph series. PAPER magazine's Mickey Boardman recently caught up with him.

Was your "Haiti/Little Haiti" project an assignment from the Miami Herald? Had you always been interested in Miami's Little Haiti neighborhood?
I had gone to Haiti on a vacation and I really, really liked it and said to a friend who helped us with our trip, 'What are the people like?' and he said, 'They stand tall.' And that's how I named the exhibition catalog [Standing Tall: Portraits of the Haitian Community in Miami, 2003 to 2010].

I always had it in my head how special the people were and what a good time I had there. Then I saw this documentary that Jonathan Demme made called The Agronomist, about a man who has a radio station where people call in and express their political views and listen to music. It's a great movie. I saw it at the Miami Film Festival and at that time the immigration situation was very difficult for Haitian people here. It's not as bad now but it's still not good. I went up to Jonathan afterwards and said 'Jonathan, what can I do?' He said, 'Well take your camera, Bruce, and go to the neighborhoods. Go to the prisons. Try to tell these people's stories in your photographs, so that the people in Miami realize they have a neighbor who it would be very worthwhile to embrace.'

In a way your fashion work has a documentary-style to it. It really captures moments. Did you approach this project the way you approach any shoot or was this something different for you?
Helmut Newton always said to me photographers are taking the same picture their whole lives. This is no different than if I was doing a sitting for a magazine. I always try to tell stories with pictures. Sometimes I do and sometimes I don't.

And Ted Kennedy invited you to show the pictures in Washington, right?
He had seen the pictures in the Miami Herald supplement and he and his staff invited us to come to Washington and have an exhibition in the Rotunda. Right before the exhibition, a girl in his office called us and said there's a committee in Washington, under President Bush, that would not let the show go on because of some of the things I said in the text that deal with immigration -- like boats being stopped and people being taken into custody.

So I called up a friend of mine, Tom Brokaw, who was one of my neighbors in Montana, and I said, 'Tom you're good at this. What can I do?' He said, 'I know a Haitian woman who's a producer at NBC.' She came down and talked to me and said 'Look, I have an idea. I love Miami and I'm Haitian and I'm going to call this committee and tell them we're coming down to do a big special for NBC on the situation and we're also going to be in Washington doing the special.'

So because of the power of the press they said we could have the exhibition but couldn't show the text. I thought, well what you wear or don't wear is not against the law, so we put the text on T-shirts. About 15 of us wore these T-shirts at the exhibition. Ted Kennedy wasn't supposed to come because he was really busy but he came and spoke. It meant so much to the Haitian community. He spoke for 20 minutes and then I had a Haitian gentleman perform who played Harry Belafonte's first concert at Carnegie Hall. Ted said it brought tears to his eyes to hear that music in the Rotunda. He hadn't heard that music since his brother Bobby announced his candidacy for President.

You're having a party to celebrate Little Bear Press and your All-American book series at the Standard Hotel tonight. I know in one of your books you have a section on the Kennedys, right?
Yes, we've done two series of pictures of them. Little Bear did some very early pictures that were never seen from Palm Beach. I obviously really love those pictures; there's Joe Kennedy when he was quite elderly with all the grandchildren. And then there was that wonderful tribute where Ted Kennedy's son spoke about when his dad helped him go sledding when he first had his leg amputated.

You live part-time here in Miami in Golden Beach. Do you like Art Basel?
I think it's fun when people come and they get to see Miami and hopefully they bump into some people that they fall in love with and it's been a good experience. I think that Miami's really romantic. I love it when I drive around at night, and you know, the way it's lit -- I'm surprised more movies don't take advantage of that because it's a very romantic city. I've always felt that way about it -- ever since I came here when I was photographing for Calvin Klein so many years ago.

Is the city very dog-friendly? Because you usually have some dogs in tow.
Not particularly so. I can take my dog to C. Madeleine's clothing store. I can take him to a few pet stores but it's really hard to go around Miami with your dogs.

And what's your dog's name?
Well I have six of them. One of my dogs is True, who I made a movie about. Then I have Dream; he looks like the quarterback on a football team, he's a bit like Tom Brady. I have a new puppy, Tao, and he's just really laid back and open just like his name. Then I have a rescue dog called Billie Holiday and she's really a sweetheart. Wow, I have a lot of dogs. Then I have Kodiak and he was named after the bears on Kodiak Island in Alaska. And River, he's an English Golden and I named him after River Phoenix, somebody I liked very much and I photographed. I wanted to name one of my dogs after River. He kind of reminds me a little bit of River because he always needs a hug.

I know you're a fan of Tap Tap, the Haitian restaurant in Miami that many people have recommended to me. You had your show's opening night party there. I'm dying to go!
It's really a great restaurant and the music's fantastic. It has such a great feel. It makes you feel like you're in a restaurant in Port-au-Prince. The food's great and everybody who works there is great. All the waiters were dancing at the end of the night with the people from the museum. It was a great sight. You meet really interesting people there and it has the flavor. It's very exotic. What I love about Miami are the different neighborhoods, I really like that, and I like seeing all the characters.

Do you have other favorite Miami restaurants or clubs?
Well, because I work all of the time I don't go to a lot of clubs. But there are a few places that I like. I like Casa Tua. It's such a beautiful restaurant, and I like it that it's quiet -- you can talk to people and they can hear you. And I like some of the waiters at Joe Allen because I've known them for so long, and I love all of the people that work at Joe's Stone Crab, I think they're so great. I did a story for L'Uomo Vogue and I got to go back to all of the back rooms. It was just an amazing experience for me, I just loved it; it made me fall in love with Miami even more.

Meanwhile, check out Pharrell Williams' guide to Miami.

Comments (2)

  • I've seen a lot of his Http:// work, he is a great photographer.

  • I met you a few years ago while walking on Golden beach. We have a place just up the beach from you. You graciously allowed me to play with your dogs. You had just recently rescued the black dog that had an electrical cord wrapped around it's neck. We had just lost our 11 year old golden and you allowing us to play with yours helped . Every time I walk past you house I always whistle hoping you dogs will come out and play. Seeing your photo makes me feel like we are friends. My wife and I hope to see you and your dogs on the beach again.

    • 2 Comments / 1 Pages
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