Double Exposure


It’s the Lana Turner story of the movie,” says director
John Waters of how he discovered Chuck Shacochis, who made the photographs taken on screen
by the lead character in Waters’s new film, Pecker. For this movie about an
adorable goofball who snaps cockeyed pictures of his family and friends around his
Baltimore neighborhood, causing a sensation in the New York art world, Waters
needed to find someone to create photographs that would be believable in both contexts. He
asked the photographer Matt Mahurin if he could recommend anyone. “Matt said,
‘Well there’s somebody in Baltimore,’ ” Waters recounts,
“and when he told me his name, I was shocked because I’ve known Chuck
for years. He works at Service Photo, which develops all my pictures. He waits
on me every time I go into the store!”

“He thought I just worked at this store and that was all I
did,” muses Shacochis. “I used to live in the area where the movie
was shot and do exactly what Pecker did–roam the streets on my day off and take
pictures of people in their backyards.”

This helped inform Shacochis’s photographs, which perfectly
reflect the movie’s raunchy playfulness. Dynamic and off-kilter compositionally,
these gritty shots of a male stripper “teabagging” a customer, for
instance, or an art patron adjusting her cleavage are rooted in the tradition of street
photographers like Weegee and Diane Arbus. “I told Chuck the pictures should
have mistakes that Pecker wouldn’t notice but would somehow make them even greater to
New York. But Baltimore would think, ‘Well, why didn’t he fix
that?’ “

Shacochis freely embraced making purposeful mistakes. “In
the darkroom, I was printing through tracing paper, toilet paper. I would throw sugar and
flour on top of the glass to give the picture a really dirty look,” laughs
Shacochis. “Working in a photography store, I see a lot of photographs by
people who have no idea what they’re doing, but some of them are amazing. That gave
me ideas, too.”

Parallels exist between on-and offscreen photographers, but only to a
point. For one thing, Pecker eschews the lure of New York celebrity in the end and stays
true to Baltimore, while Shacochis seems poised to leave Baltimore behind. More
importantly, Waters points out, “Chuck is sophisticated. Pecker was not. He
would never, ever try to make a mistake. But Chuck understood what I was doing. It’s
like I always say, you can’t have good bad taste if you don’t know good taste.
You have to know what rules to break.”