It all started with a Manuel Piña suit. My friend Pamela introduced me to this Spanish fashion designer. She took me to his showroom in New York City in 1981. I fell in love with the color of the gray wool jacket. It was 18% gray, or middle gray as we photographers like to call it. It is used for taking light meter readings, calculating exposure.
This suit demanded exquisite accessories. I chose a brushed steel grey silk blouse to go with it. The suit jacket is almost military, very straight lines, mid-thigh length. The jacket had an outer panel of gray, which revealed the back of the jacket is a crème color wool to match the skirt. The skirt continues the long lines, tapering to below the knees. I was measured for a custom fit. I chose a gray metallic pump with a variation on the theme wing-tips. This is my power suit. I am a fashion and beauty photographer still in 1981, and I mean business.
I had only been in New York for six months, when a spread of my photographs found their way into a porno magazine, without my permission. Yes, they were nudes. Or they turned out to be nudes. Sparky, the model, was a stripper, so I gave up trying to keep her clothes on during the shoot.
My first Manhattan studio had 90 feet of windows facing 24th street in the photography district. As I turned to load another roll of film I saw that we were putting on a show for the building across the street. All those windows on their fourth floor were filled with men cheering us on. They waved. Sparky couldn’t resist an audience. She waved back. Not with her hands.
Sparky loved the photographs, but she didn’t understand copyright law. The copies I made for her portfolio made their way to this sleazy men’s magazine. The spread even gave me photo credit, but this only made matters worse. I did not want to be associated with this rag. Sparky proudly gave me a copy of the magazine, which was how I found out about the infringement. This was all the proof I needed to avail myself of the protections provided by the Great Copyright Act of 1976. Using my work without permission is called infringement. Permission had to be in writing. I knew enough to stamp the slide mounts with “Kat Caverly ©”.
I called the publisher, “You used my photographs without my permission.” He wanted to meet with me as soon as possible. I agreed to come to his office. I had just the suit for this occasion. I wore it the first time for the meeting with this smut magazine publisher. Now it was my law suit.
I had my hair styled. Makeup done. I even wore earrings, which was rare. I never wear jewelry. The whole outfit worked together to say I knew a little something about fashion. I was Twiggy-thin and looked fabulous. But when I hit the street and tried to hail a cab on Seventh Avenue I realized that the design of the skirt made it impossible for me to walk in a normal stride. Now I know how geishas feel. I could not run.
I made it across the street to the cab, finally. There was no turning back to change and make it to my appointment with the porn king on time. So I tried to just walk daintily.
Mister Men’s Magazine met me in reception. Shaking his hand was all the proof I needed that he was slimy. He wasted no time in offering me $2500 for his indiscretion. He couldn’t undo the damage. He couldn’t take back all of the copies. It was a done deal, a one-time run. $2500 was a lot of money to this starving artist, and more money than I had ever made on the publishing of my photographs so far. I still didn’t know the law. I certainly did not know any lawyers.
I was done. He paid me immediately and joked that this was his business model; use photographs without permission only paying if caught. This would be a reoccurring theme in my career. What was I suppose to say, thank you? I couldn’t get out of his office fast enough.
Now I had to deal with walking on the street in this skirt again. When the cab dropped me off, I pulled the skirt up above my knees so I could now run across the street. After I got back to the studio, I took off the suit and immediately brought the skirt to my local tailor on 23rd Street to have slits cut into it.
all photography © Kat Caverly