Take a Picture, It Lasts Longer:
A Conversation With Wilde Deliliah,
Photographer of the Stars
She opens the door before I knock. Smoking a skinny cigarette in a skinny cigarette holder. Dressed in a silk gown and ballet shoes, she breathes loudly. Her fingernails are longer than her fingers, her hair buoyant, thick, and black. Her skin is covered with make-up but I detect wrinkles beneath the putty. Her posture is terrible. Wilde Deliliah is a photographer. The advertisement says, “Professional Band Photos. 8 x 10 glossies or mattes, b/w or color. I'll make you look better, if possible. Wildeflower Photo Studio (970) 358-9595.”
She offers me a cola. I accept. We sit at her kitchen table, which smells like boiled potatoes. I open a notebook and begin:
Me: So, what's it like being a photographer for the stars?
Wilde Deliliah: Honey, it's not what you might think. Everybody thinks I'm rich and I'm famous and beautiful. Well, at least I'm beautiful. Ha ha (hack) ha ha (cough). (Wheeze.) I make NO money at this job. I had an assistant but I had to let her go. So sad. She took a picture of this all-girl band and they insisted that a male stripper be included. What was he wearing? A drumstick. Can you believe? I told ‘em they shouldn't do it. I don't care how “punk rock” you are, putting a thing like that in a photo is gonna make you un-appealing. Well, you know about three weeks later, I sent them a thousand eight by ten black and whites of this thing (just like they asked) and they called me up and asked for their money back. You damn straight right I didn't give them back one dime. Unfortunately, my assistant, Sharley, felt sorry for the girls and…gave them a full refund. When I found out about that all I had to say was, “Sorry Sharley, you just gave away your next ten paychecks.” Sharley is working as a cake decorator now. It's a cutthroat business, being a photographer of the stars. Oh, I'd LIKE to cut the throats of some of [my clients], believe me. Most of ‘em I don't mind. They're harmless and young and ignorant. They don't know how little time they have before their dreams will die and their skin will sag. Most [of my customers are] pretty, young things who think that if they get a good picture taken they'll get on the cover of Rolling Stone. Now, keep in mind that I don't listen to music. Don't like the stuff. It's too distracting. When I have the radio on, I'm listening to traffic reports. [Because I don't listen] to music [I have a] different perspective on these Aretha Franklin wannabes. Oh, I know about Aretha and Bette Midler. Barbara Streisand. They're attractive ladies. Kids come in now days, they wanna look like sluts. Brainy Sears is their idol. With her hot-hip-hop-huggers pants and post-apoplectic shirts. Oh you should have seen them when Madonna was still alive. They all came in wearing their mom's underwear and their dad's make-up. The only fashion that I ever liked was CLASSY. Classy means Ella Fitzgerald. She was a large woman but she carried herself and dressed herself in a way these twiggy-types could never match. Now, you wonder what's a classy man? I'd say the Beatles were classy when they wore suits and black boots. This was before they got into lids and tabs. Those hippy sack o' dirt shirts they wore in India weren't classy. Anyway, even in their best days they didn't have a thing on Ella. Put a boy in a suit and he gets respect. Put a woman in a red evening gown and she gets anything she wants. “Everybody wants something or nobody would learn to ride a bike.” That's something my Uncle Carmine used to say. You have any idea what that means?
WD [interrupting]: I'll tell you what it means. It means Jack Shit. Nothing. You want good advice that makes sense? Listen to Wilde Deliliah. My advice to stars and starlets is simple: LOOK. NICE. I have filters and I can do touch ups. I know how to focus. If you have a lazy eye I know how to keep it out of the frame. But if you're wearing raggedy torn up t-shirts and crotchless underwear don't even come in. You can come in. I'll take any picture you want if you give me money. But you have to KNOW what you want. Lots of bands come in and they can never agree on a simple photo. You'd think they'd discuss it a little bit before they come in but it's always the same thing, “I think we should all be in a dumpster” “I think we should all lie on our backs with our heads in circle like a damn daisy,” or something other stupid. This photo is the first thing most people are going to see. It's more important than your music, the way I see it. So why not look important? I GOT a nice studio. Why don't you just wear nice clothes, put on a professional face and let me get a group shot of you standing around a steam trunk. It worked for the Beatles. I never photographed the Beatles. I took pictures of their records. I can show you some. I also take pictures of Ella Fitzgerald records. They're nice. Not as good as the actual original people on the records. But when you can't have the original and nobody even dresses like the original then what do you expect? I gotta find beauty somewhere. Speaking of beauty, I confess that I do take the occasional self-portrait. You WON'T be seeing those. No man sees my self-portraits unless he dates me. I don't think the camera would like you. If the camera doesn't like you. I don't like you. So I doubt you'll ever date me. Here's how I tell if the camera likes you. I ask it. You think I belong in the bughouse for talking to a camera. I didn't mean I ask it like that. I twirl the wheel of fortune. See. Look at this camera; it's a Cannon 38D with a dual focal point lens made in 1983, before electronics ruined the camera industry. But look at this little modification I made. [Deliliah has pinned a tiny arrow to the camera. With the flick of a finger, arrow spins freely. Around the edge of its circumference, where the numbers would be on a clock, are scratched four words: “Yes”, “No”, “Hell Yes”, “Hell No”]. Let's give it a spin. Sorry, Mister, but it says, “Hell no” I think it's time you left now. I have an appointment coming up. But first—
Hey! Where you goin', Honey? I was just teasing. I didn't mean, “go”. You know what hard-to-get means? I'm gonna take your picture. Don't you want one of my portraits in your article? Get back here! I have potatoes in the oven. I have more soda pop. Hey! I'm Wilde Deliliah, photographer of the stars, dammit! WHERE DO YOU THINK YOU'RE—
(Strapping wishes to thank Paul for introducing him to Wilde Deliliah.)
--Strapping Danforth, October, 2002