The Crazy Story Behind Mo Gelber’s Infamous “Last Kiss” Photo
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Source: Mo Gelber
Mo Gelber had an instant classic on his hands, that of a couple going in for a last kiss before being arrested. Finding himself in the right place at the right time – Central Booking on August 16 – the aspiring photographer grabbed his camera just as the two were separated and hauled in for graffiti-related charges. The result is an image worthy of the highest honors.
Gelber took the image and entered “Project Imagination,” a joint-venture contest between Ron Howard and Canon that would choose a winning shot and turn it into a movie. However, he soon realized that consent was needed from all parties in the picture to even be considered. This led to a frenzied Facebook wild-goose-chase to find proper identities in a given amount of time. Response was overwhelming and ubiquitous, eventually leading to success…and sudden failure.
Gelber spoke candidly with GOOD yesterday, relaying the seemingly improbable tale of finding each of the four people in the photo, and being disqualified from the contest at the eleventh hour due to some terrible contractual language. Below is the crux of the story taken from the full interview.
I had about two seconds from when I saw what was about to happen to get my camera in line and properly exposed. When they walked past me I asked the guy what he was arrested for. He said he was accused of writing on other people’s stuff.
They [Project Imagination] called me a few days ago and said that a group of judges picked my photo along with nine or ten others as potential finalists. Then they gave me until this past Saturday at 5 pm to submit release forms signed by all four people in the photo.
I had no idea who the two people were and I didn’t know the cops. That’s when I went into a panic. I turned to my Facebook friends, posted on my wall and said, ‘If anyone knows who these people are, please have them get in contact with me.’ Brandon Stanton of the popular photo blog Humans of New York saw it. He has a quarter of a million viewers on his page and he posted the photo. Four hours later the girl in the photo, Alexis Creque  contacted me. She said that her and her boyfriend Russell Murphy  saw the photo. They wanted to do whatever they could to help me get in the contest, which meant signing the release.
It was a whole other story trying to find the two cops. I was able to zoom into their badges and read their names, but facing the NYPD’s bureaucracy and finding out where they work…but the police department was actually very cooperative. They tracked down the two officers. One of them was in Virginia on vacation, but she faxed back a copy of the form from her hotel. It was totally awesome.
[The couple] have an attorney since they are being tried in a criminal case. She contacted me and was very nice. Even though the photo was damaging because it publicized that they were accused of a crime, they wanted to help. The problem was the language in the release form was a little vague. It said that if one of the subjects in the photo signed the release, for the rest of their lives Canon, or any representatives of the contest or the film that would be made could only photograph them. So their lawyers said they could give permission for this photo to be shown, but you can’t hold somebody hostage for the rest of their lives and say you can’t ever get a modeling job anywhere or we’ll sue you.
We had a conference call seven minutes before the deadline. We tried to work it out but the lawyers at Canon wouldn’t budge. Ultimately we couldn’t come to an agreement on time and the photo was disqualified from being a finalist.
Be sure to read the whole shebang at GOOD. It’s worth it.