I’ve been going to some parties recently, in case you haven’t noticed, and I have learned a few things about them, and a few things from them.
First is that you probably do not need a professional photographer or reporter to provide the fodder the one of those “U.S. 1 Crashes a Party” pages or similar photo layouts you see in the New York Times or some of the fashion magazines. In this day of webcams, cell phone cameras, etc., you could just ask everyone to photograph their dinner mates across the table and send the photos to the editor.
Or, for better results, you could set up a little photo area, with a festive backdrop, put a camera on a tripod with a shutter cable, and ask groups as they arrive to click off a few photos of themselves. Presto. An instant party page. And more people would do it than not, especially when I point out another thing I have learned about parties, especially ones like the McCarter Theater gala I was at last Saturday night. At black tie functions the women look good, as you would expect. Their men, decked out for once in formal attire rather than ratty sweaters, stained T-shirts, or whatever else they normally wear on a Saturday night, look unexpectedly good. When this fact is pointed out, the women will make sure these photos are taken.
But this approach would deprive me of everything I have learned at the parties. Taking the photos is one part of the job; getting the IDs and the professional or company affiliations of the photo subjects is another. That’s when people begin to talk, and someone who keeps his ears as open as his camera lens can learn a few things. For example:
At the recent gala for the Mercer County College Foundation we took a photo of a guy who is now into real estate, a Franklin & Marshall alumnus. As I jotted down the name, something clicked in my memory bank. Yes, he was one of the fraternity brothers who had invested money with Ed Kleefeld. I wish I had made this acquaintance when we were reporting on the demise of the restaurant J.L. Ivy.
A few weeks later I am at Communiversity. Everyone likes a picture of a dog, so I commandeer a couple with a Bernese mountain dog. The husband turns out to be Steve Pacala, director of the Princeton Environmental Institute. We get chatting about global warming and he tells me about the role of Climate Central, based on Palmer Square, in getting the word out to the sometimes skeptical public. There’s a story, I tell myself.
I meet a guy in a Westminster Choir College sweatshirt. His daughter went to Westminster; he is a “patient advocate” at a hospital in south Jersey and does just what the title implies. I wonder if Princeton’s gleaming new hospital has a patient advocate. He doubts it. I make a note to ask later.
This past week it’s the McCarter Gala. David Knights tells me about the remarkable effort to save the majestic Ewing Presbyterian Church — he and architect Michael Mills both worked on it, just as they had 10 or 15 years ago when they saved the old train station in Hopewell. Another story to pursue.
A minute later I pull another group together for a quick photo. To sell the idea I explain that just a week ago at Communiversity I asked James Steward, director of the Princeton University Art Museum to pose for a shot, and he didn’t mind. Steward, someone exclaims, did you hear: The museum just got a $5 million donation to endow his position.
Later I run into another enclave, snap the photo, and then grab the IDs. One of the revelers works for a biotech start-up, about to expand into a more visible location in Princeton. There’s a story for U.S. 1, I announce. Yes, he replies, but please not now.
If I weren’t at a party I might argue the point. But for now I’m learning a lot, and even having a little fun.