Picture Desk: “Ed Ruscha,” by Jerry McMillan

Ed Ruscha with six of his books on his head, 1970.

I first saw Jerry McMillan’s portrait of Ed Ruscha two years ago, when it appeared as the press image for the group exhibition “Stand Still Like the Hummingbird,” at the David Zwirner gallery. The portrait was taken, in 1970, during an impromptu photo session at McMillan’s studio, on North Western Avenue, in Los Angeles, in the same compound as Ruscha’s own studio.

McMillan and Ruscha had grown up together in Oklahoma City, and, with three other friends, came to Los Angeles in the late sixties. “We shared a house and called it ‘Students Five,’ ” McMillan told me. “We all rented studios in the same compound, and we’d all get there around 8 A.M., 9 A.M. at the latest, and just get straight to work.”

McMillan said that his initial intention had been to take pictures of Ruscha’s wife, Danna. “Ed wanted me to photograph her, and I said certainly,” McMillan said. “So Danna and her friend came by, and, after a little while, the two of them decided to go for lunch. Ed and I stayed behind, and we kept on shooting. He said, ‘Can I get some of my books?’ We tried a few different things with them, assembling them around him on the floor, and so on. We were having terrific fun. Then Ed put them in a pile on his head and looked at me with that deadpan expression. Ed’s always fun to photograph. As soon as the roll was exposed, I developed the film right there in my studio. The image works because it’s so simple, and it’s so Ed.”

Photograph by Jerry McMillan. Courtesy the artist and the Craig Krull Gallery.