Leslie Fratkin photographing Zaha Hadid at the Guggenheim Museum

Guggenheim Museum, June 2006

I was a freelance photographer for thirty years. I traveled the world, met incredible people, heard amazing, unforgettable stories. Assignments often led to personal projects – and I pursued them all. I was having the time of my life. Until a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis put an end to my commercial career.

I’d had many mysterious, painful episodes over the years. But I was tough. Strong. Unstoppable. I never turned down an assignment. I just kept pushing on…

My very last job took place in the midst of a terrible bout of vertigo. I could barely stand up, move forward, even see. My long-time editor Victoria called – she told me the shoot’s subject was Zaha Hadid, the famous prizewinning designer (and infamous crank). The location was the very top of New York City’s legendary spiraling Guggenheim Museum!

All I could think was, you really can’t make this stuff up.

Of course I should have declined. But the challenge was like catnip to me – I simply had to take this on. My worried husband offered to help. Like a Sherpa he carried my things and led me up that winding mountain. I wobbled behind, terrified I would either fall over the edge or throw up. He valiantly helped me set up, light, compose and focus (everything was manual), while I tried, and failed miserably, to make lighthearted banter with Ms. Hadid.

Naturally it was all a disaster. Only two or three frames were even sharp. This planned cover story became nothing more than two postage stamp-sized images buried deep inside the magazine. My check arrived, conspicuously without Victoria’s usual note of thanks. I never heard from her again.

I spent the next couple years on the sidelines, searching for affordable health care, getting various tests and treatments, feeling tremendously sorry for myself and, especially, dodging all editors’ calls.

Finally I picked up a camera again. I can’t move as fast or walk as far as I used to. Sometimes I can’t even get out of bed. but I also feel such a freedom – I no longer have deadlines, I can slow down and pursue any story that finds me. I can use any camera, film and format, follow any methodology I choose.

Now I wander my neighborhood, looking closely at all the things I never saw. I take frequent breaks, and then I get back up again. I photograph people, street life, all the fascinating details emerging in front of my eyes. And I am having the time of my life.

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