Patrick McMullan, the city's best-known photog-about-town, provides a pictorial record of just about every New York party worth mentioning. (In what might shock those who've followed his career since the days of Studio 54, McMullan himself isn't omnipresent; he long ago set up a stable of young men — they're all young men — who help him make a showing at all those events each night.) Usually, the photos end up on his Website, PatrickMcMullan.com, and in all sorts of magazines, including New York. But now they're being displayed in a gallery-ish exhibition. Over the past few weeks, he and curator Gavin Brown have picked photos from the PatrickMcMullan.com archives and dry-mounted them on the walls of the Chelsea bar Passerby, which loses its lease in September. That the whole enterprise may soon be torn down makes the whole thing even more artistic to McMullan, who — in great meta form — snapped photos of people looking at photos through the opening party the other night. Between snaps, he told us the secrets to his success.
The poster for this show is a photo of a kid in glasses with the words “Who Am I?” Huh?
First, it's my son, Liam. We needed someone for the poster, and I thought, How perfect would it be to have him because people will go, "Is that you when you were young?" Then, on my Website, if you're pictured there and the caption says "Who am I?" you can put who you are. Gavin found it funny that some of the most important people in the world have been identified as "Who am I?"
Henry Kissinger one time was a Who Am I. I think one of Kissinger's people fixed it for him the next day. I said, "That's Henry Kissinger!" and my younger assistants are like, "Who is that?" With my guys, if you aren't in Us magazine, people don't know who you are.
Do you ever have trouble getting into an event?
No. I only go to places where I am asked. It also depends on the night. If someone is out and it's not their thing and they just drop in and they aren't in the mood to be photographed, it's okay. I always ask everyone. I don't think people should have to be photographed if they don't want to.
What tips do you offer your subjects when posing for you?
I tell people to look down, with the chin out away from the neck, and to try to smile. I try to be a little funny. But really it's just take a deep breath, look straight ahead, and it's over. Make sure your hair is right first. And make sure when someone takes your picture that they know who you are. Don't just run off without giving your name.
Do celebrities accept your coaching if you see the photo might not be perfect?
They'll say to me, "Does that look good? Does that look good?" or "Take it over, do it over!" And I take another. I like to take pictures that make people feel they look good.