I Should Have Shot That:
Ricky Powell’s Kennedy Ambush

07.30.12 Marina Galperina

ANIMAL’s original series I Should Have Shot That! asks photographers about that one shot that got away. This week, Ricky Powell talks about a missed photo of John F Kennedy Jr., among other things.

A couple of people I asked to take their picture, they said I rather you didn’t, but it would have been a good photo op. One was of John F Kennedy Jr. in the bathroom of this club. It was a Halloween party. He was in all camouflage. I was like, “Oh shit. Can I take your picture?” “You know, if you don’t mind, I rather you didn’t.” I said, “No problem dude, I had to ask.”

It was in this club in Tribeca. It was someone’s birthday party who was born on Halloween and I was in the bathroom taking a leak. I looked over and he was in the next urinal. I was like “Oh shit, how are you doing?” That happened also with Tito Puente. I was in a urinal of this club on 61st in 1980s. I was like “Oh shit, what up! Tito Puente!” I’m extending pleasantries. He had a gig on stage. Yeah, a urinal is a really good place to meet celebrities. Cool ones.

Mohammed Ali came to buy an ice cream bar at my stand in Rockefeller Center. He stepped up and I was like, “Oh my god.” I was like, “Oh my god.” He was real nice. I just couldn’t believe I didn’t bring my camera that day. He even shook my hand. That one hurt that I wasn’t prepared that day. Why didn’t I bring my camera? What are you a cop? Sometimes I forget. But then I got real mad. I got serious. If I’m going to be a street photographer, I gotta be ready. You never know!

And one time Al Pacino drove by in a jeep. I was standing on the corner and the jeep slowly drives by and I see Al Pacino doing this, sticking his head out, leaning out waving. There were a bunch of people around the corner because he was making a movie. He goes right by me and he looks right into my eyes, I’m like… Oh my god. I missed a golden opportunity. That would have been the best shot of Al Pacino. This was about twenty years ago.

So check this story of David Bowie. One time I was on Broadway and 22nd. I look across the street and I see David Bowie on the crosswalk, waiting to cross this way. And I’m like, “Oh shit, oh shit. Be cool, be cool.” I was working for a photo agency. This was 20 years ago. So, instead of rushing him, I just skedaddled across the street and came up to him and was said, “Oh shit! Rod Stewart!” And he laughed. I said, “Can I take a picture?” He looked me up and down and said, “Well, since you asked.” And I took the shot. He posed for me one real quick and I got the contact sheet back and the auto-focus camera… fuck, it happens sometimes… He turned out blurry and the background was sharp. This happens.

One time I was in De Niro’s restaurant and I saw Spike Lee, Scorsese and De Niro ducking out of this party and I ran across the room and right before their elevator closed, I flew in with them. And they all stopped talking, the three of them, and looked at me. I knew Spike Lee a little bit. I looked at them all and got down on one knee and said, “Please, just one shot?” And they started cracking up. “Go ahead.” And I took it. And the same shit happened. They came out blurry. One got cropped out. It was real tight.

I’ve lost a lot of negatives. I’ve had a lot of shit thrown out or stolen. I trained myself to just let it go because I’ve got tons of other shit and there’s tons of more shit to shoot. I don’t hold on to the past. I just relish in what I do have. One of the reasons I got into photography as a life-long thing… I figured when I was in college that I want to go into music, maybe pick up an instrument. But music can get played out. Every rhythm can get tapped out, but there’s always something to shoot. I left all that hip hop and celebrity shit behind though. Street photography is my forte now.

Tribeca? I think it was Ad-Rock’s birthday party. But I don’t talk about them anymore. They changed on me. They used to love me for being wild and crazy.

I wonder sometimes. I wrote last night, do I have a chip on my shoulder? Nah. I have a boulder on my shoulder.

Ricky Powell is a rowdy NY legend street photographer. I Should Have Shot That! series is illustrated by James Noel Smith.

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