Patrick McMullan is New York’s busiest party photographer, but tonight he’s feeling antisocial. The next week will be particularly hectic and, he claims, rather than go to the parties he’s been invited to tonight he’d rather stay home in his Greenwich Village studio, watch the Emmy Awards, and do laundry: “I have no great desire to go out, ever,” he tells me. “Once I’m home, going out seems like going to work.” Having seen Patrick in action–I used to write a column to accompany his pictures–I can’t take his protest very seriously. I know soon the phone will ring and someone will say he’s missed, and within moments he’ll be grabbing his camera and running for a cab.
He hauls out his accordion file full of invitations from people or organizations competing for a spot on the party pages of New York, Harper’s Bazaar, Interview, or any of the other magazines for which he works. The breast cancer fund-raiser is an easy yes; having survived against the odds when he was 26, he’ll go to any cancer-related event. The black-on-black invitation from Visionaire, the untouchably cool fashion un-magazine, is also a yes. Something else written on a piece of origami looks good, until he reads that it’s on a Saturday: “I never go out on Saturday. Unless it’s something very good.” Needless to say, Patrick never stays home on Saturday nights.
Please note that Patrick is not a member of the paparazzi. He considers them a threat to civil society, and thinks they need to be reined in. But mostly he just thinks they’re tacky: “The whole Diana thing has affected me only in that people from all walks of life keep asking how it’s affected me. I still do what I do. I’m an invited guest.” He would never go to a party where he wasn’t welcome as an equal, he’d never stand outside calling “Demi! Demi! Over here, Demi!” and he’d never publish an unflattering photograph. Nor is he interested in photographing only those faces that will interest People or the National Enquirer. He prides himself on knowing interesting figures in a wide variety of circles, from art to business to publishing to politics, and on being able to move from one to another, cross-fertilizing them as he goes. Last week Cindy Crawford thanked him for always taking the time to introduce her to new people. A while back, he published a photo of Katharine Graham just as she was making the unlikely acquaintance of Seal.
“I’ve been told I’m an entertaining and amusing dinner guest,” he says, only half in jest. “But people also know that I bring the great gift of publicity. And when I go to a party, people say, oh, this must be the party. Plus I suffer fools well.”
Tonight he opens the door to Quinn Films and a cacophony erupts. “Patrick! Patrick! Over here, Patrick!” A gaggle of young actresses in tight tank tops and flare-leg trousers preen and flirt, begging him to take their picture. He flirts back, first with them, then with the imposing British actor/director/casting agent who chides him for his rumpled collar, and then with everyone else, straight on up to the host, a banker-cum-filmmaker with a bad habit of passing around copies of his illustrious family tree. The people at this party–directors, Latin American financial backers, some promoters and writers, a publishing scion, and a smattering of very tall girls–seem actually to be friends with one another, unlike the guests at many of Patrick’s parties, who usually share little more than the same tier of the celebrity class. Indeed, some of tonight’s guests are becoming better friends as the evening wears on. While Patrick inspects the elaborate four-poster that nearly fills the bedroom, the door bursts open and two giggling bodies fall onto the bed. One is Anthony Haden-Guest, the Studio 54-era social chronicler, and the other is Emma, who, with her Midwestern accent and her blond ringlets, looks like someone who would once have been discovered at the counter at Schwabs, and who is drinking her wine straight out of the magnum bottle. While the bedside fax machine rings, the two of them arm-wrestle, shrieking with laughter and sliding to the floor. Patrick snaps a few shots and smiles.