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My first swimsuit assignment was in 1972. After spending my formative years shooting baseball, football and basketball, I was sent for three weeks to the Bahamas and Acapulco. I learned quickly that models and photographers are the same. You can't put too many of them in the same room. Too many egos.
The worst thing about swimsuit shoots? There is none. I'm not being facetious. If you don't like long flights, that's a problem. Petra Nemcova is as beautiful a model as has ever lived. She once told me that she spent more time in the air than on the ground. It made me think: all the time I've spent in the air, that worthless time up there. But once you get to your destination it's like a paid vacation.
I wake up every day with a chance to take a great picture with a topflight beauty and great locations. I have the middle of the day to play golf and surf and swim, and then around 3 p.m. we reconvene. We go out. We shoot until dark. Then we have cocktails, eat and go to bed. I love the regimen, because I have to be in bed by 10, 10:30, and I'm up at five.
With the girls, most of the time what you see is what you get. Beauty isn't enough, though. In 1982 we were on the north shore of Jamaica, and I'd seen this flat limestone area with the blue horizon behind it and this one windblown tree. I knew I wanted to shoot there. I wanted to take Paulina Porizkova, because she was a talent, the best we had. But swimsuit editor Jule Campbell said, "If you're going to shoot it, you have to shoot all the girls."
So we had three models in our bus: Paulina and two others. I explained that I wanted this futuristic shot with an alien landscape. The other two went first, and their poses and expressions weren't right. Then I took Paulina out and she was perfect.
A star was born. I remember one of the other girls cried on the bus after the shoot.
I was at Cheryl Tiegs's house in Bel Air, Calif., shortly after the issue with the photo of her in a white fishnet swimsuit came out in 1978. This was before the age of supermodels, understand, but she was just blowing up. I was shooting her for the cover of TIME magazine, and the phone kept ringing. I'd never been with someone whose life was changing as I sat there. I remember thinking it was like watching a coin teetering on its edge. Once it fell, she would never be the same person again.
There are certain girls to whom the first thing you say is, "Don't move." Paulina, Petra, Veronica Varekova. Models who can pose make the photographer's life infinitely easier. You just stick them anywhere, and whatever they're doing—just sitting in a chair—you want to take their picture.
The best was Christie Brinkley. I called her Smokin' Christie Brinkley. We'd bring her in last, after all the other girls, when we were feeling burned out, two or three weeks into a shoot. Then in came Christie, with this great big personality, and everyone was energized again. She was the closer.
I was sort of obsessed with John McEnroe. In 1980 I was hired by a Japanese company to photograph only McEnroe for the entire fortnight at Wimbledon, and I had SI too, so I went to every one of McEnroe's singles matches and every doubles match and, of course, attacked it just as I did with Tiger.