Eye of the Party

Article excerpt

A NIGHT OUT WITH ICONIC NEW YORK PHOTOGRAPHER PATRICK MCMULLAN

On abalmynight in July, there was apartyaboard the decommissioned WWII aircraft carrier, Intrepid, in New York City's Hudson River. The occasion was a birthday blowout for DJ Cassidy, the preferred turntablist of Obama, Oprah, and Beyoncé. Outside the ship, security men shepherded hordes oftall women in tiny dresses and stilettos in the current gladiator style.

There was, though, one notable absence. Where was the man who has shot - or dispatched one of his fleet of handsome young photographers to shoot - nearly every party of even minor consequence in New York City (and the Hamptons) the past 30 years? Patrick McMullan, who just turned 56, was delayed a few blocks uptown at the Time Warner Center, where he was attending the premiere party for the eighth season of Curb Your Enthusiasm. Around 11:30 p.m., after a shockingly svelte Kirstie Alley had swanned onto the ship on the arm of her escort, McMullan arrived in a cab, his bulky Nikon D3 in tow. His prominent Irish forehead and shaggy locks were damp from the humidity, his black suit rumpled and heavy-looking for the hot night, but McMullan bounded out of the cab and immediately began greeting people left and right in his raspy Long Island accent- "Hey buddy, how ya been?! Good to see ya. Hey, you gotta meet..." Soon he was grouping duos and trios oftall beauties together for photos.

"That's it, dolls. Now give me big smiles, you look gorgeous, I can't get enough of you!" McMullan gushed like an old-time shutterbug. The towering lovelies - knees bent in coyly toward the middle girl, heads cocked - put on their best Paris Hilton hollow-cheek pout. Ninety-eight percent of the crowd at the bash that night weren't even almost famous, but under McMuIlan's lens, they shone brightly, if briefly.

Once on the Intrepid, McMullan worked with a furious, robot-like intensity, his hale-and-hearty greetings never flagging, his stream of "You look gorgeous!" and "I gotta shoot you, dollface" come-ons ringing with the offhand sincerity of someone who's been saying the same exact thing hundreds of times a night, several nights a week, for three decades. "There's a lot of smoke at this party" - he meant the atmospheric smoke billowing over the dance floor - "and that's not good for pictures," he told me. "So I'm trying to find the best places to shoot, the most beautiful and interesting and stylish people. And I'm also worrying about you losing me, because I work fast." Indeed, when I turned around to grab a canapé off a tray, McMullan disappeared. I found him 20 minutes later, in his signature camera-crouch, shooting in the middle of the packed dance floor.

How many parties has he shot? "Well, let's say 500 parties a year, to be safe," he calculates. "I'm 55, started this when I was 20, so 500 times 34." That would be more than 15,000 parties. At roughly 500 snaps per party, that's about 7.5 million snaps.

In a world where celebs tolerate photographers at best and physically attack them at worst, McMullan has become loved and trusted by the city's boldface firmament - and his online trove of baked-fresh-daily photos has become indispensable to magazines like Vanity Fair and New York. "I'm not out with the intent to take an embarrassing photo; I'm not that kind of person," he says. "Celebrities pose for me because they know I protect them from themselves."

Has he ever had a bad experience with his camera? "I hope it's not tonight is all I can say. There have been disastrous moments - one day I did the fashion shows all day long and my camera was broke. There was a black line through every picture. I wanted to die." McMullan grew up on Long Island in a middle-class Irish family. In his early twenties, working as a landscaper in the city's then-diamond district, he became a good-looking party boy about town, hanging at Studio 54 amid the Warhol universe. In 1982, around the same time, he suffered testicular cancer. …