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Chi Lives: Marc Hauser, a photographer who'll try anything



It was some years ago, and photographer Marc Hauser had 15 minutes with Woody Allen to shoot a cover for a Canadian magazine. Hauser brought along his partner, and his courage.

"Woody walked into the area we had set up for the session," recollects Hauser, "and right away I started shooting some SX-70 Polaroids. He took his glasses off, and his hands went over his face; he started screaming, 'Stop shooting! Stop shooting!' Finally he sat down, and after two frames he said, 'I think you've got it.'

"Well, then we started talking. He told a story about Bob Hope. He asked me what I thought of Bob Hope as a comedian. Like I thought about Bob Hope at all. But Woody said he'd been watching Bob Hope movies for a week straight and he thought the guy was terrific. Then he told me to stop the weird noises I was making. He had told me I had 15 minutes with him, but really I got even less than that."

Or more than that. The session yielded one telling portrait of Allen. He is sitting by a wood table, his back to sheer curtains through which light pours. Allen has on a white button-down shirt and the signature horn-rimmed glasses, and he is looking directly at the camera with ennui in his eyes.

"What makes my photographs is not the technical part," explains Hauser. "I'm no technician. What makes my pictures is me. People come in to see me, and I break down their walls. They open up and show that little sparkle in their eyes, or whatever's in their eyes. That's what people hire me for."

Hire him they do. Hauser, a friendly, rotund man who wears a four-carat diamond in one ear, grosses more than $1 million a year from his labors. The "Upstairs at the Harris" ads are his, and the portrait ads for Rolling Stone. He's captured Fred Winston for WLS advertising and University of Chicago professor Benjamin Bloom for Psychology Today.

Hauser snapped Oprah Winfrey for an airline magazine cover. "We had a pretend screaming contest in my studio during the session," says Hauser, "to see who could scream the loudest." The resulting image, featuring Oprah in a purple dress with the outlines of movie cameras behind her, turned into her publicity still.

Though Hauser, who's 35, travels a good deal, his base remains on a quiet street in Bucktown, in a bakery he has converted into a home and studio. There he operates rather simply for a big-leaguer. He uses a Hasselblad camera, a light-throwing "softbox," and some reflectors; a mottled blue-gray "sweep" normally serves as the backdrop for his portraits.

For a shooting Hauser employs an assistant and makeup and hair stylists, and catered food is trucked in. But the key to Hauser's trade is Hauser. "I do anything to get a good picture," he says. "I talk, I scream, I jump up and down. And people leave here feeling they've had a good time."

Three years ago, at Halloween, Hauser was shooting a children's ad for Marshall Field's when there was a knock on his door. It was a neighborhood kid dressed in a white sheet. Hauser paused to photograph the trick-or-treater, and he liked the result.

The next Halloween a troop of kids posed for Hauser, establishing a tradition that has now produced a portfolio. "In those pictures the kids come out from behind their costumes," says Hauser. "This is a poor neighborhood; often all the kids in a family sleep in one room. They lead crazy lives--and that shows in the pictures."

Hauser grew up in Wilmette. His father sold chemicals by day, color TVs by night. He also cultivated the hobby of photography, and Marc had picked up the same interest by the time he was 12. During his three years at New Trier High School West, he was apprenticing with Playboy contributing photographer Stan Malinowski.

As a senior, Marc shot layouts of seven New Trier girls for Playboy, but legal fears torpedoed the project. "Everyone was on edge at Playboy," Hauser says. "Even when the parents had signed consent forms, Hefner felt publishing the pictures would bring him too close to the child porno laws." But Hauser did contribute to a later feature on nudity on campus.

Deciding against college, he joined a Chicago firm called Album Graphics. Leon Russell, B.B. King, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Rod Stewart and Faces--all got the Hauser treatment. At 21 he had a Rolling Stone cover (of Jim Morrison). Later, Hauser taught at a Lincoln Park photo workshop called the Darkroom, and in 1976 became partners with photographer-producer Tony D'Orio, then an assistant to portrait photographer Jean Moss.

But drugs got the better of him. "I was really doing well, making lots of money. But I didn't know what to do with it, and I was bored. You know when you set goals for yourself when you're young? Well, there I was in my 20s, and I'd done it all. My head started getting weird. I began with drugs slowly but surely, hanging around with different people and taking a little pot here, a little pot there . . ."

At rock bottom, Hauser was consuming an ounce of cocaine a day, using vodka to bring him back from his excesses. The habit shattered the partnership. Commercial maker Joe Sedelmaier hired him to shoot some ads for a pasta machine, and Hauser couldn't do it. "Joe took me aside and screamed at me," recalls Hauser. "He said, 'You're fucking up! You're ruining a great career!'"

He told his parents, and he entered a drug-rehabilitation program at Evanston Hospital. That was in 1981. Hauser quit drugs and drink cold turkey, and now he's a member of both Narcotics Anonymous and AA. (The problem is that he's gained a lot of weight.)

A couple of savvy agents have helped rejuvenate Hauser's career, but so has Hauser. In 1983 he snared a large contract to do ads for Field's. He did a campaign for Spiegel Outlet Stores. A week with John Cougar Mellencamp produced not only an album cover but a moving picture of the singer with his cancer-ridden grandfather; it remains perhaps Hauser's best-known image. He's progressed to filming television commercials, but he insists his true love remains the still photo.

Two collections of Hauser photos have just been brought out by Man Mountain Publishing. Of Friends and Acquaintances ($40), with a foreword by Hauser's high school photography teacher, is full of photos from his adolescence on. Some are celebrated--Mike Ditka, composer Aaron Copeland, the magician David Copperfield, Woody Allen, the Mellencamps--but most are regular folk. Or not so regular, as witness the brother and sister who posed first clothed and then in the nude.

The second book, Halloween in Bucktown ($30), features the neighborhood youngsters who knock on Hauser's door every Halloween.

Tekno, a photo equipment house at 100 W. Erie, is hosting a publishing party Friday, August 14, from 5:30 to 9 PM. Photos from Hauser's two books will be on display. The affair is free and open to the public; the phone number is 787-8922. Afterwards, the exhibition moves to the gallery at Kroch's & Brentano's, 29 S. Wabash, for one month.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Kathy Richland.

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