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How This "Last Kiss" Photo Sparked a Facebook Manhunt

Mo Gelber tells the story of photographing two kissing jailbirds—and then trying to track them down.

When Mo Gelber, an aspiring photojournalist, found himself in the right place at the right timeNew York Central Bookinghe captured the last moments between two lovers before being separated and charged with graffiti-related violations. With his shot Gelber entered a contest, which would turn a winning image into a film. But when Gelber realized he needed consent from the unknown couple, he spent a frenzied attempt via Facebook to find them. The story caught the media’s attention, yet no one seemed to get the facts right. Saturday was the deadline to get the couple’s sign off, and yesterday, as the winners of the contest were be made public, Gelber let us in on what really happened with the "last kiss."

GOOD: How did you end up capturing this now infamous shot?\n
MO GELBER: Since I started getting serious about photography four years ago, I have a camera with me wherever I go. That day, on August 16, I was working at my day job as an audio engineer. I was walking past the courthouse and I saw a group of reporters: every local station had a camera there. I didn’t even know why they were there. I just joined in with them. They were waiting to get a shot of Anna Christina, a woman accused of running a prostitution ring out of her house. While this was going on I saw these two cops leading a couple toward the entrance to Central Booking. I thought that was more interesting than this defendant. So I turned my camera toward them because I saw them leaning in, about to have a last kiss before being separated and thrown into jail.
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.
GOOD: Then you entered a photo contest with the image?\n
MO GELBER: Yes, I entered a contest called “Project Imaginat10n,” a collaboration between director Ron Howard and Canon Camera Company. They 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.
GOOD: Did you have any idea who the couple was?\n
MO GELBER: No, 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 [28] contacted me. She said that her and her boyfriend Russell Murphy [26] 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 zoom into their badges and read their names, but facing the NYPD’s beurocracy 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.
GOOD: It seems like you received more press for the whole story than if you won the contest?\n
MO GELBER: Yes, I got so much publicity over this. I’m hoping that an editor of a newspaper will see it and will come to my Facebook page and look at some of my work and give me a shot.
GOOD: Some earlier reports said that you couldn’t find the guy in jail, some said he wouldn’t sign the release, some said the girlfriend wouldn’t give you his name. How did you feel about reading so many different versions of the “facts”?\n
MO GELBER: I learned two things from this experience. First is that you have to be very careful what you tell the media, even when you say, "Please keep this off the record." You should know not to believe everything you read in the newspapers and they’re going to write whatever they want to write. They’re going for sensationalism; they want to sell papers; and the only way to do that is with drama.
The next thing that I learned is that I should carry some blank release forms in my camera bag so that the next time I get a great shot like that I don’t have to go on a wild goose chase.
GOOD: Is the couple still together?\n
MO GELBER: As far as I know the couple is together. I’ve never met them but I would like to. I’ve already printed two copies of the photo that I want to give them as gifts. They have a lot on their plate right now, but when they’re ready I would love to sit down and have dinner\n
I’ll pay for it.
Photo courtesy of Mo Gelber \n

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