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PORTRAIT COLLECTIVE Vol. I


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Thanks from Photo If you’ve read our previous Collectives, you know the deal. So why waste time? We’ve asked the questions you know you’ve wanted to see answered. We’ve pulled the best advice from the greatest photographers you know you’ve wanted to read. And just like before we’re confident you’ll enjoy this amazing talented and innovative work just like we do. Following this history, we’re calling this one the Portrait Collective. We’ve interviewed our favorite portrait photographers from around the world and collected all their insights, thoughts, and tips in one free ebook for you. We’re sure you’ll love their work as much as we do. All we ask is for you to continue spreading the word by liking us on Facebook and following us on Twitter. Please continue being so great. And tell your friends that they can get it at http://www.photowhoa.com/portrait. Because here at PhotoWhoa we want to help you become a better photographer. That’s our purpose. We find the coolest photography products at exclusive prices that will help you improve your skills, so you don’t have to. But if you have no idea who we are, check us at http:// www.photowhoa.com. We’re sure you’ll find something you’ll like. This background photo was taken by Erik Madigan Heck.


oWhoa!


CONTENTS the P o r t r a i t

Collective

Brian Higbee, 8 Anna Wolf, 16 Erik Madigan Heck, 24 Kristina Loggia, 36 Jamie Diamond, 42 George Elder, 48 Ben Zucker, 52 Mark Peckmezian, 62 Jeremy & Claire Weiss, 70 Catie Laffoon, 78

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See yourself walking alone through whichCAPTURING THE TRUE FORCE OF BEAUTY BRIAN HIGBEE

ever city you live in, near its 9


core, through its streets. It’s night. You’ve already experienced your first love, felt the sinister contradictions that one brought, and have since known the twin nature of beauty — already deciphered the many symbols it wears. But despite your experience, on this walk, you then see the face of a person so beautiful you’re at the point of fainting, at pains for staying still — never has something captured your attention as intensely until now. You wish you were closer, so you go. When you’re finally close enough to reach out, you see that it’s only another advertisement for another summer blockbuster. Celebrity photographers like Brian Higbee know exactly how to stop the eye and pull you in. They understand that the celebrity portrait is mythmaking in the highest order, and that this mythmaking puts you in a moment beyond yourself. Having worked with Interview, considered the first magazine published for the cult of celebrity, Higbee goes for the weakest part of you. He tantalizes your eyes. He makes work that confidently understands that the everyday experience we live for is not always what we want to see. His portraits trade in the pull and repel of a beauty seemingly close but always out of reach. In this interview, Higbee talks about his work with Interview magazine, explains why he loves woodwork and snowboarding, and reveals his approach to natural lighting. 10

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ou left your eleven year career in graphic design to shoot photography. What was more appealing about photography? How did you get your start? Photography has always been a part of my life. My grandfather was the photographer of the family, other than being a radio host. That inspired me to want to shoot. I grew up skateboarding, snowboarding, bike racing and anything other actions sports I could do. I was heavily influenced by music and arts too. Early on, I was taking photos of friends skateboarding and playing in bands. I soon realized that photographing people was my passion. I love connecting with people, learning their history and where they came from. Everyone has a unique story. When do you realize that you had potential in photography? Were you ever unsure of your talents? I realized I had potential when I started shooting my own portraits for my commissioned graphic design jobs. From the beginning, I’ve always been comfortable with a camera in my hand. Holding myself accountable of any mistakes I’ve made in the process has strengthened me and my work ethic.


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“Understanding how to work with strobe and natural light is crucial, so that you can achieve even more with the location.�

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PORTRAIT COLLECTIVE You’ve shot for Interview. I love that this one of Maddie Hasson (top left). were a mix of natural light and strobe. magazine. How did you secure work Could you explain how this image There wasn’t enough light in a lot of with them? Who was your first ce- was made from start to finish? How the rooms. If I can use only natulebrity client? did you approach directing her? ral light, I will. Nothing beats natural light. BUT, you don’t always have the I did a shoot with Claire Holt, actress As soon as I brought the idea to Mad- choice to do that. Understanding how in the Originals and previously Pretty die at the beginning of the shoot, she to work with strobe and natural light is Little Liars. Interview was looking for loved it. It wasn’t hard to get her into crucial, so that you can achieve even a portrait of her for a feature, and this aesthetic roll of angst. We actu- more with the location. that’s how we connected. The first ally shot the story at my house. The For all of you natural light phocouple shoots I did with them went rooms that I shot the story are east- tographers, here’s a fun game I play really well and I’ve been a consistent ern facing with no sunlight coming in, with my assistants, I call it “exposure contributor with them ever since. so I had to use all strobe. It wanted it guessing”. Before we meter anything,

There are a few great stories I’m excited about that are coming out soon. Keep an eye out! As for my first celebrity, it was Jeff Goldblum. He was funny as hell and extremely nice. We hung out for about an hour and half after the shoot.

to look naturally lit as if it was the end we’ll all guess what we think the exof the day light. We just put on a great posure is of the natural light. We’ll set playlist and knocked it out! the ISO depending on direct sun or open shade. So between 100 ISO Your portraits of Krysten Ritter are 400 ISO, normally. It’s a fun comgreat. Did you use natural light for petition. The side-effect is that you’re that set? If so, what advice could you learning to really know your light. It’ll give other photographers about us- make you more confident in any situAll your work with Interview seems ing natural light for their portraits? ation and just that much stronger of to fit their general aesthetic – that a photographer. The next “exposure unfazed rawness. For example, I love Thank you. All these shots of Krysten guessing” step to that is doing it in 13


studio with strobes. Hearing the pop Listening. Then, understanding where of the pack and the intensity of the the clients ideas are coming from and light hitting the subject. Try it! what they’re looking for in the end result. From there, you can guide You also shoot really clean advertis- them and give honest creative input ing images. How do you start plan- to make it your aesthetic. The clients ning an advertising shoot? For in- hire you for your aesthetic after all. stance, with Adidas, did you wait for specific direction from them? Or did You also told me that keeping hobyou have some creative freedom? bies, like wood-working and skateboarding, helps you stay creative and Planning starts during the first call well-balanced. Why do you think

with the agency. Ad agencies normally have a basic concept in mind before they start the process of hiring a photographer. They look to me to bring their concept to light, while offering more ideas and being involved in the final creative process.

this is? What advice would you give to other photographers about staying creative?

I feel that having hobbies and other interests, other than your full-time career, is essential. It keeps you out of the house and being able to see What’s your approach to navigating friends, etc. For me, it helps with through client demands and creative problem solving and just overall wellexpression? ness. It broadens my knowledge and experience. You don’t have to learn 14

how to fly a plane. You can go take cooking classes, welding classes, drawing, you get the picture. I cook almost every night. I love the process of prepping, cooking, and then sitting down to enjoy what you just created. Same with woodworking. It’s “my garden” if you know what that term means. If not, do a bit of research. Be sure to check out Brian’s website!


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A N N A

W O L F

M O D E R N X W O L F S

ince graduating from Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design, fashion photographer Anna Wolf has shot with more than seventy of the biggest names in fashion, advertising, and print. They include industry giants like Cosmopolitan, New York Magazine, Levi’s, Microsoft, L’Oreal, and Yves Saint Laurent — to name only a few. She also has shot in some of the most beautiful places in world, including Italy, Thailand, and Argentina, and even spent a year living in Mexico City to learn Spanish. Currently, Wolf spends her time between New York and Los Angeles. When I asked her what have been the greatest lessons photography has taught her, she insightfully compared photography to life therapy. “It is such a challenging path,” she says, “It really makes you look at yourself and your place in the world. Each shoot is so different and you get kind of thrown into the mix with all of these 16

incredible and sometimes crazy people and situations.” And although she knows photography has taken much out of her, she continues because she believes it’s something she was always meant to do. In this interview, Wolf talks about what photography means to her, explains her approach to portraits, and reveals what it takes to make clean and consistent work.

work as being this great intersection between fashion and lifestyle – a mix between fashion that is approachable and low-key and lifestyle with really good taste! Were you ever unsure of your talents? When did you find your visual voice?

I’ve always been unsure of my talents to a degree! Isn’t that the nature love how seamless and clean all of being a creative person? But the your work is. How did you get your longer I make work the more confistart? How would you describe your dent and content I feel – I care less work? about what other people think of my work and more and more I want to do Thank you Freddy! I started taking things that I love and that make me pictures in high school – photos of happy. It’s a good place to be, but my life and friends hanging out. It’s it took me a while. As for my visual really interesting to look back at those voice – I think I’ve always had it. But photos to see that what I’m doing now it took a while to get better at edithas a direct link to how I started out. ing my work and to start focusing From the beginning, I wasn’t as inter- the work toward a specific direction. ested in taking the picture, as I was When you’re new, you think you want in making the picture. I look at my to do everything. But the deeper in

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I care less about what other people think of my work and more and more I want to do things that I love and that make me happy.

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I think there is a story in every person’s face and I’m always trying to capture something that is real and authentic.

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you get, the more you realize it’s important to hone in on your style and the direction your work is taking. I’ve learned to separate the work out in the world I love from the work I think I should be doing.

Reanna Evoy, the creative director and art director I worked with were so incredible and talented. Such an amazing shoot.

You’ve worked with L’Oreal. I’ve always wondered how they get images Storytelling has an important place that look and feel consistent. When in your work, especially in your life- hired, do they give you a strict guidestyle and portrait sections. This one, lines you must follow? for example, harks back to teenage romance and all the thrills that come Well, I think they hire photographers from young love (above). Do you go that already fit their brand. So there into every image thinking there’s al- isn’t much of a stretch with strict ways a story to tell? If so, how do you guidelines. But the L’Oreal team was find these stories? super clear with their vision and really on point with what they wanted I think there is a story in every per- and didn’t want when we were shootson’s face and I’m always trying to ing. As a photographer, having a sucapture something that is real and au- per clear objective from the client thentic. So in that way, yes. This shot is so important. I was really involved in particular was for a brand called with the casting, choosing my team Call it Spring – and the concept for and studio and the dialogue about dithe shoot was indoor/outdoor spaces. rection was really open and easy. We We were shooting for the Spring and had a reasonable amount of shots to Summer campaigns – everything for do that day, so it gave us the room Spring was shot inside with a bit of an to come away with these really soft, outdoor presence – just on the cusp beautiful shots. They have a company of being warm. Everything for Sum- they run all of their post through – so mer was outside with a call-back to retouching went to them which really being inside. It was a super fun con- helps keep the consistent look for the cept and, Douglas Bensadoun and brand. 20

Your portraits section features many great home environment shots. I love them. They uncover the root of a person. What do you look for when entering a person’s home? What details do you think every photographer should think about when making an environmental portrait? There’s something so incredible about


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being a photographer because you get access to people’s lives. I really love getting into the space and really having a look around. Taking my time and looking at what story there is to tell. When I’m doing an environmental portrait story for a magazine (this shoot was for Dumbo Feather Magazine) I like to give them a wide range of options. Tight details and pulled back

shots of the space, and the same for the subject that I’m shooting. Scale is so important when putting together a story like this. Although it’s an ad for Microsoft, this close up seems impromptu. Her expression seems so warm and considerate (next page). How did you find this moment? Was it impromp-

tu? If so, what made you – at that exact moment – want to take her photograph? Nothing is impromptu! There are exceptions to this – but it’s rare when doing an ad job that there is room for spontaneity. These jobs have so many moving parts, so many people involved. Hair/makeup/talent/pro21


ducers/locations/lighting etc. – that everything has to be super buttonedup and planned. For me the challenge is always to have constraints but to get in there and find that moment in all of the chaos. To really block everything else out and to make it about me and the subject that is in front of the camera. When I can do that it’s a successful picture. What have been the greatest lessons photography has taught you about life? Any epiphanies while interacting with so many people? Ha! What a great question. I’ve often thought that being a photographer is like being in life therapy. It is such a challenging path that it really makes you look at yourself and your place in the world. Each shoot is so different and you get kind of thrown into the mix with all of these incredible and sometimes crazy people and situations. You show up to set and have to get the job done regardless of what is going on. I’m a really intuitive person, and because of it I’m hyper-sensitive to the vibe on set. I’ve learned over the years that this is my strength but it can also be my weakness. I do my best to keep my sets fun and dramafree – and focus all of my energy on my clients and talent. I like to keep things super positive and really try to let go of things I can’t change. Be sure to check out Anna’s website!

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WHY A L L PHOTOGRAPHERS N E E D TO L E A R N ART HISTORY

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Erik Madigan Heck

t the start, when I first discovered Erik Madigan Heck’s work, I knew I’d found photography I had never experienced before. Like reading Dostoevsky for the first time, or first hearing Thelonious Monk, or seeing any of Bergman’s films, I knew at the very beginning that I had come upon a genis. So, while still babbling in wonder, I decided immediately that I wouldn’t allow my words to muddle up your first experience with it. I wanted you to feel what I felt. In keeping with this, I’ll just state the facts as they are. New York fashion photographer Erik Madigan Heck has been awarded one of the highest honors in the photography world, the ICP Infinity Award, was the youngest photographer ever to shoot the Art of Fashion, which also has been bestowed on legends like Annie Leibovitz and Helmut Newton, and has self-published six photo books. He’s been called a maker of holistic universes and a true creative visionary. And I’d add that his work compares only to the rarest of moments — those of pure ecstasy. In this short interview, Heck talks about how he got his start in photography, ex24

plains how photographers can use colors better, and shows why every photographer should seriously study the arts.

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think you’re a genius. It’s unbelievable how powerful your sense of color and design is. How did you get your start? How would you describe your work? Thank you very much! My mother is a painter — as a kid I learned color from spending hours doing watercolor paintings with her, and from age four we were in the museums every week absorbing paintings. When I was a teenager, she gave me a camera and that began my love with photography — I haven’t stopped since then. My work is always changing, so it’s hard to describe — but I think of myself as a painter who uses photography. I know you don’t like giving details about how you finish your images, but could you give our readers a general approximation about how’s it done? You forgo digital effects correct? No, I have many different processes,

“I think of myself as a painter who uses photography.”


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“you first learn to copy until you find your own voice” some analog and some digital. I have come to embrace digital post production, but I think I use it in a way that is more akin to painting, where I create new parts and add so many layers of color and different elements that it’s no longer even recognizable as photography. But that’s the beauty of digital post production — it has become our generations new way of painting. Could you explain why you prefer the film format? What advantages does film give you? Film has a specific look that you can’t truly replicate with digital — you can come close but it’s not the same. I’m still attached to the physical nature of the negative. But like I said, I have begun embracing digital photography too. Central to your work is a genuine interest and appreciation for art. You reference many great works with your photography. For instance, Mary Katrantzou #3.2 brings to mind Frida Kahlo and Johannes Vermeer (left). Could you explain how art influences your work? Any compositional lessons you want to share?

learning and the journey of being an artist — you first learn to copy until you find your own voice. I find bringing in heavy art historical references adds a dimension to the work that makes it timeless, because it’s not nostalgia that I’m after, it’s more of an homage or striking a dialogue with the history of painting, which has a tumultuous past with photography as a medium. It also humbles you when you are constantly comparing your own works to those of masters. It elevates the work I think on many levels. You communicate so well with color. You’re able to affect meaning in many subtle ways. A loud example is Out of Order #3 (next page left). What fundamental ideas about color should every photographer know? Any specific theories you think are being ignored or unrealized?

Color for me is really about color — what I mean to say is when I create color works they are primarily color studies. When I shoot in black and white it becomes all about composition and light. They’re two totally different things. I think photographers shouldn’t see them as arbitrary I’m heavily referential to art that I’m drawn choices but should really make a conto, I always have been. That’s part of scious effort to use one or the other when

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art historical references adds a

dimension to the work that makes it 30


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timeless, because it’s not nostalgia i’m after,

it’s more of an homage or striking a dialogue with 31


the subject matter lends itself to it.

a casting.

Do you ever write short stories to flesh out ideas? How about important is story to your pre-production process? Surrealist Ideal #11 seems like a perfect fit for any Alejandro Jodorowsky film (next page).

Any last thoughts on how photographers may learn from painters? Any influences you feel would help other photographers expand their visual curiosity?

No, I don’t write for my images, but I always start with one idea and then try and figure out the best way to illustrate the idea as opposed to trying to just go out and take a picture. Sometimes it takes months of thinking about the subject before I can approach it and oftentimes ideas that are discarded always come back later on to work in future projects. Etro Winter 2013 #9 is unsettlingly beautiful (right). His expression means so much to the image. What was your approach to direction for this one? Was it different than your general approach? The picture of Dorian Gray was my inspiration for this project. I first found the boy and then molded the sets around him and the clothing. I had this image of the perfect boy in my head and found him at

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Keep making mistakes — only through those will doors continue to open. Alienate everything you know all the time, you’ll be better off in the end. Be sure to check out Erik’s website!


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Alienate everything y

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you know all the time

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K r i s t i n a

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L o g g i a

eeing a master at work, you learn the powers at play: An image may alter your life, a photobook set its course. For New York photographer Kristina Loggia making photography was never a conscious choice. Harry Callahan, Diane Arbus, Dorothea Lange, and Margaret Bourke-Smith were all fixtures in her childhood. Before she found her photography, she found theirs. And now that the years have cycled through, she still carries them. “No space is just a ‘space’, no object just an ‘object’. Everything has a history and holds meaning,” Loggia says about her approach to portraiture. Like the greats she grew up revering, Loggia knows that the details that explain a person are never hidden. They just need to be pulled. Some come quietly, whereas others impress so heavily they’re impossible 36

CAPTURE THE DETAILS to ignore. But no matter how small or messy, Loggia is always looking for those little details that sing. In this interview, Loggia explains how her parents influenced her photography, talks about her influences, and reveals why details always matter in a portrait.

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ou’re a well-known celebrity photographer and photojournalist. I really like the immediacy your work. How did you get your start? How would you describe your work? I don’t consider myself a well-known photographer, but I appreciate that perception. I was living in Los Angeles when I first started to work as a photographer. My roommate at the time was shooting actors headshots and beginning to work consistently. It was a three bedroom house, so we decided to turn one of the rooms

into a studio. I had been studying acting for a long time. I knew many actors. I began to take pictures of my friends (mostly actors) and built a portfolio from those pictures. After about a year, my roommate ended up getting married and moving to Santa Monica and rented a studio there. She still has great business. I had shot many actors head shots by this time, and I really did not care for it at all. I found it to be incredibly frustrating, and therefore felt like a dead end. I needed to move in a different direction. I wanted to expand my skill set and I needed a bigger space. I met a photographer who was looking to share a space. We found a space in Hollywood and my world changed. It was during this time that I began working with a larger format camera (4×5) and moving in the direction of portraiture. I learned about the technical aspect


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of photography from people who had gone to art school. They were all incredible generous and willing to teach me the things I did not know. I learned a great deal from shooting 4×5. Eventually, I had a strong enough portfolio to meet with some publicists. This provided me with the opportunity to do test shots for their clients. The deal was: if they liked the shots it would be “available art” for their clients. If they did not like the art, I would be able to use a shot for my portfolio, but I would not be able to resell the images. There were plenty of makeup and hair people who wanted to do test shots as well, so pulling a shoot together was not impossible. Film and processing was not nearly as much money at the time. It was all very doable. I built a stronger portfolio and was soon able to start knocking on the doors of photo editors at magazines. I don’t know how I to describe my work. I think what I want most of all is for it to be honest. I hope to achieve that in the images I take. I read that you once wanted to be a war reporter but reconsidered because of marriage and children. What was the attraction of war reporting to you? Was it a matter of advocacy? Adrenaline? My father and mother were both political when I was growing up. They were involved in the civil rights movement and in the anti-war movement. As a child, I went to rallies with them, stuffed envelopes with them, recognized how much they cared and learned to believe that there is great value in giving a damn (the GIVE A DAMN button was my favorite from that time). To answer your question, ultimately, I think what drove me toward war reporting was the idea of being a wit-

ness toward peace. The home environment has an important place in your work. You have a great skill in communicating through objects and colors, the details, that surround a person. For instance, in Families, each image has a painting, or pet, or object that says something about each family. Why do you think you’re drawn to these details? I think I am drawn to these details just as an actor who is working on a character has to know what that character would have in their home, or what kind of tablecloth the character would buy. I hope that I never take anything for granted. I have said this before, but I think it is a good example. If you are working on, let’s say, A Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams and you come to your acting class to do a scene from the play, let’s say the scene between Laura and the Gentleman Caller, hopefully, you are going to chose to wear very particular clothes, clothing that the Gentleman Caller would wear and you and your scene partner would make very specific choices in dressing the set. Everything on the set has meaning and a history. I think it’s the same when you take someone’s portrait in their home or in a space of their choosing. The space the subject chooses holds meaning to them. I like to include the “stuff”. When I was working on the Apron project, I always asked the subjects where they would like their picture to be taken. Sometimes they would start to tidy up or feel like they should clear the space, but I would put them at ease and tell them not to worry. Everything is perfect as it is and there is no need to clean up. When I was studying acting it was hammered into me to never take

PORTRAIT COLLECTIVE anything for granted. That idea has spilled into my photography. So everything takes on a life. No space is just a “space”, no object just an “object”. Everything has a history and holds meaning. I never felt the need to “clean up”. That never made sense to me because it would remove what’s important to the subject. Your Polaroids are very interesting. It seems like you take a different approach with them. Do you? Who are the people you photographed? Family? I like shooting Polaroids. I loved shooting 4×5 Polaroid, but now it’s gone, which is so sad. The film at the The Impossible Project is really getting better and more dependable. I have two SX70’s and some other instant film cameras as well and I love them. I think the format demands a different approach. I don’t think it is much different than when a painter is using watercolors instead of oil paint. I have mostly shot people but I have an ongoing flower series, too. Apron Chronicles received a lot of praise. The Frankie Jones portrait is my favorite. You spoke about this image with NPR. You said that because you didn’t interfere, that’s how the magic of it happened. Could you explain what you mean by interfere? Did you try many setups? I did two setups with Frankie. However, for most of the subjects I did only one. That was difficult because the room was small. She was over 100 years old and the room was BOILING! It’s funny you like that one. It’s the only image in the entire series that I shot with a 35mm camera. I shot it with a Leica. I also shot her with a 4×5, but because of space 39


I couldn’t shoot her in the direction that I liked, so I had to use a different camera and time was limited. I knew I could capture both her and the details of her life if I sat on her bed and shot her with a 35mm camera and with a 35mm lens. That’s her son in the doorway. I like the 4×5 images of her as well, but after much deliberation this image served the project in a greater way.

want to include and what I want to remove. I lived full time in Wyoming for six years and still spend huge amounts of time there, so I drive back and forth. I love the open road. Many of my friends think I am nuts to do that drive but I enjoy it. It is a kind of meditation. I really need to go through the South, but, as of yet, I have not done that, at least not to the degree that I would like.

camera. My mother loved Margaret Bourke-White and Dorothea Lange. I remember as a kid my mom taking me to the Museum of Modern Art in NYC, seeing photographs and being fascinated by them. There was a famous photograph of a bullet being fired that captivated me and then there were all of Diane Arbus pictures which were so amazing, and I remember being fascinated with

Cross Country is your great American portfolio. I think every American photographer should make a project like this. Did you have any artistic epiphanies while making this project? What did you learn about the American landscape through it?

What would you say to yourself back when you first started making a career in photography? Any great realizations?

Harry Callhan’s work. My mom had a book of his pictures that I would stare at. I always loved looking at pictures, so making them was probably an unconscious choice. It just happened.

This Cross Country work is hardly done. I have so many images that I must go over and decide what I 40

It was not like that for me. I don’t think I thought of it in terms of a career. I just always loved taking pictures. When I was in high school, I always had a camera, and now that the years have went on, I still have a

Be sure to check out Kristina’s website!


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“ I always loved looking at pictures, so making them was probably an unconscious choice. It just happened.”

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making GENUINE as FAKE as R E A L life 42

Jamie Diamond


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hen you look at a family portrait, do you ever imagine how the family felt seconds before they were told to smile for the flash? Imagine the parents upset about some secret they keep between themselves. Imagine the kids unbelievably bored or picture each of them casually hateful of each other then told to smile. A portrait isn’t all what it seems. For instance, could a family portrait be taken with a bunch of strangers found on Craigslist and still be called a family portrait? What’s wrong with that? As soon as a photograph’s set and made, isn’t up to the viewer to decide what’s really happening? These are questions that Jamie Diamond explores with

her work. Her portraits force you to inspect, question, and analyze what we are really doing when we smile in front of the camera. Because when you stop and think about it, sitting there with our eyes in a blank fish-gaze, you start to appreciate that a lot of what is spoken in a portrait is actually made up, just invented. This is work that is beautiful, intellectual, and — at least to me — wildly funny. In this brief interview, Diamond talks about how she got her start in photography, explains why her work explores the inherent fictions within photography, and reveals why photography helped cope with loneliness.

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our work is amazingly intelligent. How did you get your start? How would you describe your work? I first began exploring photography in graduate school as a way of recording the performances and sculptures I was creating at the time. I was investigating the loneliness I was feeling and my longing for childhood and family. So, I began manufacturing my own fictitious families by putting advertisements on Craigslist. You write on your website that your work explores “the inherent fictions and complex perspectives of photography”. Could you explain what these fictions and perspectives are? 43


As a child my mother used to take us a few times a year to the studio to get our family portrait taken. Over time it became a ritual, she would dress us in our best outfits and have us pose for the camera in order to present this ideal vision of solidarity and permanence. These portraits ended up plastered in my home. I’ve always been fascinated by this public image of unity, one of closeness and affection. The image is always a simplification and often a falsification of the actual relations and the reality is so often masked behind the smiling faces. We believe photography to be a document of reality but most often it is not what it seems. The process of taking a family portrait is so unnatural, you’re stepping out of the everyday and conducting this performance for the camera.

am drawn to vernacular photography and the language of portraiture, the personal imagery we are for better or worse surrounded by.

In Constructed Family Portraits (insert), you have strangers pose together as families. Do you think there’s a natural – inherent – pose every real family will assume if asked to pose by themselves? What might a portrait photographer learn from this project?

be?

Absolutely. Family portraits are invariably posed the same way and we are innately fluent in the codes and gestures associated with the pose. I

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I Promise to Be a Good Mother is incredible. One of my favorites is #22 (top right). The subject’s expression and the room’s imposing colors sum up this project for me. Could you explain what your intention was this specific image? If you had to give a word to the subject’s expression, what word would that

The whole series began in response to a diary I kept as a child titled, I Promise to be a Good Mother. This diary documented the relationship with my own mother, written as a kind of rule sheet for later life. In this work, I assume the role of subject and photographer and put on the mask of motherhood, dressing up in my mother’s clothes and interacting with Annabelle, a reborn doll. I’m

interested in the fantasy of motherhood, the social structure of the relationship between mother and child, and the performance of inherited social and gender roles. I play out these scenarios with Annabelle for the camera, isolating specific idyllic and contradictory moments. I Promise to be a Good Mother #27 is my favorite of the entire set (bottom right). The design of this image is precise. It’s intense and a bit uncomfortable. Why did you decide on highlighting symmetry/balance in this image? This series is an exploration of the complexities surrounding the paradox of the mother/ child relationship, investigating both vernacular and art historical depictions. In this particular image I was very influenced by the artist Hiroshi Sugimoto and his series Seascapes. Be sure to check out Jamie’s website!


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I’ve always been fascinated by this public image of unity, one of closeness and affection. The image is always a simplification and often a falsification of the actual relations and the reality is so often masked behind the smiling faces. We believe photography to be a document of reality but most often it is not what it seems. 47


STREET STYLE in

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In this brief interview, Elder talks about how he got his start in photography, explains his approach to photographing strangers, and reveals his ideas on fashion.


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Not sure how I would describe my work, I guess when I’m photographing my subject, I try to capture them in their element and telling a story

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o the left is a Roberto Cavalli two-piece suit. I’ve never worn one. In fact, I’ve never held one between my fingers. Even better, this Cavalli’s probably worth more than my crap car. And although this photograph of it could fit in any high-end fashion editorial, it isn’t a fashion photograph, nor is it a celebrity portrait. It’s a street photograph, one stranger being photographed by another, made for the sake of fashion. It’s a genre of photography about those who actually have the time and confidence to wear a two-piece mustard yellow Cavalli suit. And it’s street fashion photographer George Elder’s job to find these people. Getting his start with Four Pins then Complex, Elder walks block-

by-block, neighborhoodby-neighborhood, looking for New York City’s most fashionable. It’s easy to see the appeal. You still get the thrills of meeting new people and the inspiration of seeing what the most stylish are wearing. And it can also get you noticed. Besides Complex, Elder has also shot with other top fashion magazines like Vogue and GQ.

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ou shoot street-style fashion photography. How did you get your start? How would you describe your work? I always loved photography and one day I ordered my first camera and just went out and starting taking pictures. I learned a lot from my good friend Greg Lewis who is also a photogra-

pher. Not sure how I would describe my work, I guess when I’m photographing my subject, I try to capture them in their element and telling a story through the picture. I found your work through Four Pins and Complex magazine. How did you secure that feature with them? How did you did you get your name in their radar? Well, I actually reached out to the editor-in-chief of Four Pins, Lawrence Schlossman, in hopes of sending him some photos he may be interested in. He actually liked my photos and gave me the opportunity to be featured on the site, and it’s been great since. 49


Street style photography’s really interesting. It’s about finding the most fashionable people walking around, at any point, anywhere. What’s your approach to initiating a photo shoot with a stranger? What do you say? Brandon Stanton, of HONY, has said that having a high-pitched voice always helps in smoothing over any awkwardness. Most of the time I love the photo people in a candid moment. I feel like it’s more natural. When I do approach someone, I keep a calm tone in my voice and I introduce myself, ask them how their day is going. I always compliment them on their style. I just make sure that I am very 50

polite, welcoming, and respectful. When it comes to posing and expressions, how do you approach direction? Do you say anything, or is it runand-gun? When it isn’t run and gun, I just tell them to relax, take a breath and just be themselves. That works normally. What’s the attraction of fashion to you? Any fashion ideas you’ve picked up while doing this? What draws you to photographing fashionable people?


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I was always someone who loved fashion as a child and as time passed I became interested in how other people would put together their outfits. I most definitely get tons of fashion ideas while shooting. I also like to give other people ideas of how they could dress or put together an outfits in their own way, through my photos.

work hard to achieve your goals. Continue to have faith and believe in yourself. Always work on your craft and continue to get better and grow as a photographer. Be sure to check out George’s website!

What are some lessons you took away from living in New York and looking for work as a photographer? Any great pitfalls you want to help other photographers avoid? There are always challenges in life. Don’t be afraid to 51


DETAILS FOUND in the ENVIRONMENT BEN ZUCKER

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.B. White, one of the most studious writers that has ever lived (he co-wrote “Elements of Style” but is best know for “Charlotte’s Web”), once remarked that, “Commas in The New Yorker fall with the precision of knives in a circus act, outlining the victim.” Of course, Mr. White was only slightly exaggerating. The New Yorker has never been known for taking things casually. Their copy desk, like the content and the artists they’ve asked to contribute, has always sought exactitude. They know good work rarely comes easily.

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So when they call, it’s probably best if you pick up and listen. New York photographer Ben Zucker did just that. Having met one of their photo editors while assisting years before, Zucker was asked to contribute for their recent Journeys issue. Zucker seemed to fit the part exactly. They were looking for a strange way to see NYC, and he was known for being adventurous, and as an avid sailor, he could photograph the city from its seldom-seen-from waterways. Never intimidated, Zucker accepted and, at 24, is well on his way to proving that The New Yorker always discovers the greatest talent. In this interview, Zucker talks about his feature in The New Yorker, explains how he crafts environmental portraits, and reveals some secrets about finding work in New York City.

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nrelated to photography, but crucial for our readers, I must start by saying that you have a great narrating voice – NPR? – if, indeed, that was actually you speaking in your recent New Yorker feature. Anyway, how did you get your start in photography? How would you describe your work? Thanks. The New Yorker story on sailing was my audio debut, and it was fun to work on. I like to think it takes the viewer one step closer to having been out on the boat that day. Whenever I tell a story I really try to think about what happened, remember it and tell the story from there. I hate hearing stories when

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someone is just “pressing play” on a script they have in their head. I’ll give you the nutshell version of how I got interested in photography. In high school, I was really more interested in making silver prints in the darkroom than in the shooting any aspect of photography. I had a couple of after school jobs that were photo-related as well. I worked at a photo lab and at an art gallery, which allowed me to save up some cash for film. One of the first things I focused on shooting was skiing. In high school I started shooting with some good athletes. I was able to graduate from high school a semester early moved out to Utah to focus on shooting skiing for a winter. After that, I moved to NYC to study photography. I soon realized that I really enjoyed shooting portraits more than skiing. I would say that in the last year of school I began to approach photography with a similar sensibility to as I do now. After I was done with school I began assisting. I mostly assisted two photographers. One shot editorial portraits and the other was a celebrity portrait guy. All this time I was also shooting personal work for myself. Eventually, I started getting my own shoots and tapered off the assisting. That’s the quick version of it…. About that feature, how did it come about? Did you pull any strings? How did you get your name in their radar? The New Yorker shoot on Sailing

was a fantastic assignment! I really enjoyed working on it. I didn’t “pull any strings.” The New Yorker photo editor contacted me with the idea for this story. The way I got on her radar may have been a little out of the ordinary. I knew her from assisting in years past. We hadn’t been in touch, but followed each other on Instagram. I sent her a promo a few months ago and she had me come in to show my portfolio to her and another photo editor. From Instagram, my portfolio and conversation, they learned that I was into sailing and had a sailboat in City Island. They wanted to do a story about sailing in New York City in conjunction with their “Journeys” issue. I was the right guy for the job given my interests and experience with sailing. Looking through your portfolio and blog, it’s easy to see your attraction to environmental portraits. What’s the attraction to this kind of portrait to you? Is it a matter of helping the viewer understand the person better? I think a well executed environmental portrait can really help to tell a story, in a way that just shooting the person in the studio or just shooting the environment cannot. And I don’t necessarily mean “story” in a linear sense. I think when its done right you get a gut feeling of the experience, the person, and the place. So, yes, sometimes environmental portraits help to give a better glimpse of the person, but sometimes of the place,


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“I think a well executed environmental portrait can really help to tell a story, in a way that just shooting the person in the studio or just shooting the environment cannot.”

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and the experience too. For instance, this one from Sudbury includes a dummy that communicates to the viewer a sense of absurd loneliness – not altogether joyless, nor altogether bearable. Was that a conscious decision you made to include the dummy? It was definitely an intentional decision to include the dummy. I didn’t move anything in the frame other than having the fireman sit there. I think it comes back to trusting your gut feelings. I can definitely see the way you described it; how the the feeling of absurd loneliness could come across. There is also a humorous element at the same time. What each viewer feels is different, even if we are all reacting to the same visual cues. In regards to technique, how do you go about making an environmental portrait, versus a studio one? I assume you have to spend more time with the person, right? What’s your first step in pre-production, exactly? It’s funny you should bring up time, sometimes I will have hours with a person and sometimes just a couple of minutes. But here is my step by step (and a lot of this definitely applies to how I work in the studio as well). First, I figure out who I want to shoot. Sometimes if I am on assignment, it’s not my choice. Trust your gut. So many times I have seen

someone and thought to myself, “I have to take their portrait.” You just know. You can picture the shot you want in your mind’s eye. When I shoot an environmental portrait, the location has to relate to the subject as well. Sometimes this can be as simple as shooting where I came across them. Other times it’s in their home or where they work. If the subject has passions or eccentricities, sometimes the location will relate to that. Next, I’ll usually frame up the shot and figure out the angle and composition; what should and should not be in the frame. Usually, I light things with strobe, and this is when I start shooting test shots or Polaroids (if I’m shooting film) to judge the lighting and composition. At this point I’m usually shooting my assistant as a stand in. Once all of that is ironed out, the subject will get in front of the camera. The interaction with the subject while shooting them is super important; it really changes the way someone carries themselves in an image. So many things can influence the way they come across: what and how much you say to them, your energy, how fast or slow you’re shooting, and if you are alone with them or they are surrounded by people and equipment. When shooting a portrait so many considerations are bouncing around in the back of my mind. Usually I know when “I’ve got it” and stop shooting. Sometimes this happens quickly, sometimes it takes longer. After some time has

passed I will go through the images and figure out my selects. This really lets you decide how you are going to show the person that you shot, because inevitably you have a range of different expressions and feelings expressed in the various images. I then work with a retoucher. We do the color and any retouching that is needed. Usually the retouching is very, very light. And that’s how I go about it. Back to Sudbury, I really like it. How did you meet all these people? Walking around? Through friends? So this is how Sudbury came about. I was in New York, feeling a little restless and wanting to go somewhere I had never been. Eventually, I decided I would just open up Google maps and zoom the screen to show a drivable radius from NYC. I closed my eyes and just put my finger on the Screen. It ended up on Sudbury. I made a conscious decision not to research the town and just to try and learn about it when I was there from what I saw and whom I spoke with. So I ended driving up there. I didn’t have plans to make a body of work out of it, initially. But I did bring my gear and shot some portraits. I ended up going to Sudbury a number of times after shooting on that first trip, probably a month’s worth of shooting days. I really enjoyed it. A lot of the people who I shot were people that looked interesting and I stopped and talked to. Sometimes they would

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mention other people, or places to check out, and that would lead to other things. But I definitely spent a lot of time in the car exploring that area. I really liked how it came together. Your portraits also tend to fall into two categories: the cowboy shot or the close up. When taking someone’s portrait, when do you feel the close up will work best? If you had to explain it as formally as possible, what kind of person looks best in a close up? I’ve never heard it described as “the cowboy shot,” but I like that. It comes down to what is going to give a better sense of the subject. Some people have a face that tells it all. Other times showing more of the person and their surroundings tells more. Some people’s facial features are really expressive or unique. Sometimes you can look at them and make up a story based on their face alone. Those people lend themselves well to a closer shot. And often times you know right away, and it’s very easy to visualize the shot you want. Other times you need to work at it more. Sometimes I shoot both and figure

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out what works best when I’m editing.

more networking when I was in school.

What are some lessons you took away from moving to New York and looking for work as a photographer? Any great pitfalls you want to help other photographers avoid?

Be sure to check out Ben’s website!

I think that networking is really important, and it’s something that you can never do too much of. Sometimes you will make connections with people who are not at that time in the position to hire you for shoots but may some day be photo editors or art buyers, or will recommend you to someone who is. It can ever hurt you to be seen as a friendly, dependable person. I am also friends with other photographers, and it’s good to have that community to bounce ideas around with. Sometimes things will not go your way, and it’s so important to keep your cool and not burn bridges, and take the moral upper ground. It’s just good business. When I moved to NYC, it was to study photography, some of my peers were studying advertising and design. I became friends with some of these people, but in hindsight I really should done


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MARK PECKMEZIAN

YOUNG LOOKS

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here’s an unquestionable energy that leaps from portrait/lifestyle photographer Mark Peckmezian’s work. Maybe it comes from the loose connection of themes and faces. Maybe it comes from the people themselves, with their young eyes and deadpan vitality. They have looks that could jump from any snapshot or portrait. Faces unique and seemingly restless. They sneer and jolt; tempt and repel; and are accurate views into our generation. But more concretely, Peckmezian’s images are documents of city life and artistic endeavors — of friends and their friends — unique to Peckmezian. But it’s not easy to make photographs look like stills from the best indie film never seen. This energy could’ve only come from a photographer skilled at finding the moment, a photographer fully involved in finding life’s few impressive frames. It is no wonder why he’s worked with high-profile clients like the New Yorker and Bloomberg and had his work exhibited in galleries around the world. In this interview, Peckmezian talks about his favorite camera formats, explains how he’s able to shoot incred65


ibly intimate moments, and reveals how he approaches directing his subjects.

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dering than the Hasselblads, especially great for black and white photography. The 4×5 has a clarity and precision that’s right for certain concepts.

ou have a tight focus on contemporary lifestyle, and your portraits are very personal. How would It seems like your subjects have unique personalities you describe your work? How did you get your start? and diverse looks. Are they friends? What is your approach to taking photos of what seem like candid moNot sure how I’d describe it. I’m interested in whatever ments? I’m interested in — it’s been portraiture and documentary photography for a while, but if I were sud- The people in my photos are mostly friends and friendsdenly more interested in, say, sculpture, I’d drop it all. of-friends. I think of them as either “models” or “subOriginally I wanted to make films. I still have a strong jects,” depending on the idea and how they’re used. I interest in this, and it’s the direction I see myself going consider the choice in who you photograph to be very, to in the coming years. very important. I’ll often just take snapshots totally candidly. Sometimes I’ll tell someone to do something What equipment do you use for your portraits? Why again or the like. And sometimes I construct photos do you preferring using that equipment? that are to be read as candid. I think a lot of people are uncomfortable being photographed, but that generally I mostly use a Hasselblad, Rolleiflex, and, lately espe- just means you haven’t photographed them enough cially, a 4×5. Each has it’s own characteristics, and the yet. My good friends, for example, are so familiar with choice of which to use depends on the concept. The me shoving a camera in their face that they don’t even Hasselblad is solid all around camera and I have a va- really notice it anymore. riety of lenses for it; I use this mostly for commercial work. The Rollei has an older lens that has a softer ren- You have a large collection of photographs. Are you 66


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constantly shooting? How do you very thoughtful and caring person. sense when a particular moment What is your approach to directing should be photographed? What do your subjects? Do you say anything? you look for? Well that photo, for instance, was a I shoot a lot, yeah. I carry a camera moment during a photo shoot with around with me all the time and al- her. I had some ideas for her in a parways have something cooking in the ticular location, and suggested we studio. Sometimes the urge to pho- meet. That photo was not the origitograph something just comes out of nal idea I had, but it shared the same the blue, unconsciously. Sometimes basic parameters that I established I’m consciously hunting for an image. with the other ideas, and it appealed Usually it’s a mix of the two, where I to me. I take a different approach for sense that there is a photo at hand, different subjects. For studio porand then navigate cerebrally through traits, often I’ll invite the subject over some choices. I’m not sure how to and we’ll just sit around and chat for describe what it is about something half an hour before starting to shoot. that strikes me. That’s for my intu- And during the shoot I may say nothition to decide, ultimately. ing. Sometimes we might have a conversation about things unrelated to One of my favorite portraits is a photography while I’m shooting. And woman outside with her hair cover- sometimes I’ll give very specific diing her face. This photograph is a rection, depending on the idea. I try good example of how you allow your to keep photoshoots very casual in subject’s personality to communi- general, though; in my mind, myself cate to the viewer. She seems like a and the subject are toying around to-

gether and seeing what sticks. Finally, what was the greatest advice you ever received? Photography related or not. Oh boy… I really couldn’t say, I don’t know. If someone asked me to give them advice the only sincere advice I could give them is to not look to others for advice. We need to think for ourselves. Is that advice? Be sure to check out Mark’s website!

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C apture a dventure D a y x i x Photography

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hichever genre you choose to shoot reflects the majority of who you are. It’s hard to imagine a street photographer suddenly turning coat for a glamour portfolio mid-career — or vice versa. It’s an obvious point, I know, but I’d say it’s what probably divides all the genres into their respective photographers. If you’re cerebral and free-associative, your photographs might lean toward being moody and dramatic. If you’re analytical and fastidious, you might be attracted to geometric design and abstract form. If you’re easy-going and energetic, your photographs might look like these captured by Day19. Day19 makes photographs that look like advertisements for the most thrilling life ever lived. In some of their very best, I’ve actually shook my head and wondered if I’m missing out on some cinematic adventure. The thrills are that contagious. Jeremy and Claire Weiss, the artistic and romantic partners behind Day19, must have a serious grip on fast-living. And although they were both late bloomers to photography, having started studying in their early 71


twenties, they’ve now collected a impressive resume, having worked with, among many others, Nike, Rockstar Games, Vibe, and Rolling Stone. In this interview, Jeremy Weiss explains how Day19 started, talks about their adventures with photography, and reveals how they’re able to create such energetic photographs.

Anti-Matter wanted to run a photo I had took at a Split Lip show but requested it printed with a sloppy border, I had no idea what that meant, so I enrolled in a printing class to try to get some answers. From there, I fell in love with taking pictures, as did Claire, so we packed up and moved to Boston where we found a little trade school we could afford. We were in our early 20s when we moved to Bosreally love the energy captured in your ton, and even though we were both studying work. How did you get your start? photography in school, we never really saw photography as something that anyone could Thanks. We were both late bloomers to pho- make a living doing. We were just having fun tography. I took a photo class at the local taking photos of our friends and turning them community college because a fan zine called in as assignments. I got my first paying gigs

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PORTRAIT COLLECTIVE are flies on the wall and are capturing As I was looking through your portwhat’s really happening around us. It’s folio, I started wondering out loud if our job to make sure what is happen- I was missing out on some great ading on set is interesting and fun. We venture that’s happening all around direct the talent in a way that is real me. This image is just one example and authentic which allows us to cap- (left). How are you able to capture ture the action in a documentary and such energy? How was this specific approachable style. image made from start to finish? Day XIX is an artistic as well as a romantic partnership. I read that you and Claire are each other’s greatest influences. How did you two meet? How do each of you inspire and help the other photographically?

That’s a fun one. Titled “Bower”, which means bath/shower. And most baths have showers, so wouldn’t most baths technically be bowers? Anyways, that was a trip in Mexico with a bunch of friends years ago. After a day of drinking, we all decided to take This is true! We met in New Jersey a shower together and chant “bower, when I used to manage a skateboard/ bower, bower” repeatedly. Good ol’ snowboard shop. I moved west to drunk times in Mexico is pretty much pursue a career in snowboarding, but how that photo was made start to finwhen that thankfully went nowhere I ish. moved back to New Jersey, and we rekindled our fondness of each other. I imagine you two are able to connect That was 18 years ago. We do really almost instantly with nearly anyone. well with playing off of each other. If What’s your usual about approach to she takes a photo I dig, I try to top her direction? How do you constantly and vice-versa. find these relaxed, fun-loving moments? How does that artistic competition work out? Do you know each other’s We are pretty relaxed, easy-going strengths and weaknesses? people. We go into all shoots treating it like we are just hanging out with It’s a friendly competition. Years ago, friends documenting the adventure. one of us would shoot and the other Our job is literally to document peowould have more of an art director ple hanging out. We try not to overly shooting bands when we first moved role. Then we realized we both just direct the talent on shoots, we really to Los Angeles after realizing I would wanted to shoot constantly, so one just try to set up situations and move never make it as an assistant. Claire would shoot film and one would shoot around capturing little moments of was waiting tables while I would go on digital and then it just became we are those situations. We are constantly the road with bands, selling merchan- both just constantly shooting what- moving around, going off with one or dise for an hour. That left 23 hours of ever camera we grab. Artistic com- two models or shooting side-by-side. great photo opportunities, so that’s petition is healthy. A lot of times on what we did until advertising fell on big campaign shoots you can burn out The David Lynch portrait is really our lap in the late 2000s. We both a bit, and having someone else there great. I read it was done for free. thought we’d be working for a small shooting with you and seeing what’s Could you talk about that process? going through their head gives you an What was it shot with? newspaper somewhere. idea, and you take it from there and at How would you describe your work? the end you realize we are just playing Thanks! It was shot for Shepard Fairey off of each the whole day. and Roger Gastman’s old magazine Swindle. Shepard would trade shoots I guess the best answer is honest. We 73


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PORTRAIT COLLECTIVE for prints since the magazine was barely scraping by and we’d pay rent by selling them on eBay (shhh, don’t tell him). We decided to shoot only 4×5 film for it. We shot 3 or 4 shots and asked if he wanted to smoke and he said of course. We shot 4 more of him smoking. The shoot was only about 20 minutes and most of the time was spent talking about cigarettes and coffee. After we shot him, he shook our hands and said that it was a great pleasure watching us work and walked off into his backyard. It was pretty nerve-racking only shooting 8 frames of an icon, but this is one of my all time favorite shots one of us has taken. This was actually the first negative of the shoot we looked at when we got it back from the lab, and we were so stoked on it we didn’t look at the others. Day XIX also shoots advertising. These photographs look just as energetic as your other work. I especially like your ones of 2NE1. How were you able to get these great images in such a busy location? How did that shoot go? The 2NE1 shoot was great. It was shot in Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo, one of the busiest intersections in the world. You don’t need permits to shoot there but you just can’t be in the crosswalk when the no walking sign comes on. So we basically hurried back and forth across the street every couple of minutes until word got out that they were there and the mobs of fans showed up. That was our first time in Japan and we completely fell in love with the place. We were there for a week and a half and I don’t feel like we even dented one neighborhood of one city. It’s insane. There are many personal images in Claire’s sketchbooks. I especially like 75


the color head shots like this one. Your Polaroid project is really great. Is Are these photographs of friends this an extension of Claire’s sketchand family? What’s her approach? books? Could you explain your aims with it? The photos you are referencing are from a series she did years ago with Thanks you again! I’ll give you the long a Holga and a flash. We were living in version of it. About 7 or 8 years ago, Boston and lived in a house that was our good buddy Dan Monick gave me the hub of a lot of rad shit. People a couple boxes of 4X5 Polaroid he were constantly stopping by or meet- wasn’t going to use. We still owned a ing there to go on to the next thing, 4×5 camera we had to buy in school. so Claire would just shoot everyone We dusted it off and brought it to who would come through. a friend’s pool party. There was no plan to do a series yet, just messing 76

around with some free film. I asked to shoot our friend Dallas’ son Audio up against the wall. I told him he needed to be very still because once I put the film in I wouldn’t be able to see through the camera anymore to adjust the focus. Audio sat there completely still for a good 30 seconds and just as I was about to click the shutter he stuck his tongue out. After that day, we had the idea to start shooting these portraits whenever we had a day off. Claire shoots one and I shoot one and that’s it, then we decide who’s we like better. It was a great excuse to get in touch with people you think are doing cool shit and spend a little time with them. It’s basically a series of portraits of people that we think are contributing something cool to the world. In the first couple years of it, we were shooting people almost every day and then Polaroid stopped making film. There’s a book in the works but I’ve been saying that for too long now. It was an extension of projects we had both done in the past. Claire’s one you referenced and one I had going on for awhile. We have a ton of sketchbooks we put work into. Most people haven’t seen them but there are tons. Sometimes one sketchbook would be a single cohesive project or sometimes its just taped down photos with writing and drawings and stuff. What’s the greatest photography/ life advice you’ve received thus far in your career? When I was in county college in New Jersey and learning to print pictures, I would carry a box around of all these 5×7 photos I had shot that I was super proud of at the time. I grew up skating in New York most nights and someone pointed out Larry Clark (I had no idea who he was at the time) and said he was a famous photographer. I


PORTRAIT COLLECTIVE introduced myself and asked if he’d look at my box of photos. There were about 35-40 photos in there and after looking all he said was “get closer”. I still don’t know if he meant get physically closer or mentally but it’s stuck with me. Be sure to check out Day19’s website!

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Catie Laffoon

PORTRAITS HITTING LIKE music

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In this interview, Laffoon talks about how she got her start in photography, explains how music fuels her work, and reveals how she achieves honesty in her portraits.


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os Angeles photographer Catie Laffoon loves music. You could even say that she loves it more than photography. Though, like a perfect couple, they never fail to support each other. Her playlists set the tone of her shoots, musicians dominate her portfolio, and her approach to portraiture is based on how music affects her. As she told me, “I want to see your eyes and know every feeling that’s passing through your body. And that’s how I approach shooting a live show, the same way I approach a portrait.” It’s no surprise she’s been featured by all the music loving magazines, like Vanity Fair, Interview, and Billboard, as well as record companies like Interscope, Warner Bros., and Columbia Records. In shooting her friends like the biggest bands, shooting large festivals like the most intimate of moments, and capturing a person’s most personal song, Laffoon makes portraits that flawlessly combine two ways of seeing the world, getting closer to

There’s always that line between inappropriate and sensual — I don’t know why I always seem to find that line, but I do. I’m fascinated by it. that more immediate image, that genuine expression, music always seems to uncover best. In this interview, Laffoon talks about how she got her start in photography, explains how music fuels her work, and reveals how she achieves honesty in her portraits.

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’d describe your work as natural and expressive. How would you describe your work? How did you get your start? If I look back, I think photography has always been there, I just never gave myself permission to explore it, until one day I did, and it changed my life. When I moved to LA, all the friends I made were in bands. Photography was always something I was interested in, it seemed fun, and when my friends needed photos for their websites, but they didn’t have money to hire a photographer, I just always offered to shoot for them. I realized after a while that I wasn’t happy in the film industry, I thought I want-

ed to be a director, so I took a step back. I needed a way to make rent while I figured out my life, so I told my music friends I was available for hire if anyone needed a photographer. People started passing my name along. One day I was shooting and it just all clicked in my brain that this was my passion, and it had been all along. Everything changed after that. As far as how I would describe my work, I’d agree with you. I’d say it’s also beautiful and honest, sensual and a little dark, yet playful. There’s always that line between inappropriate and sensual — I don’t know why I always seem to find that line, but I do. I’m fascinated by it. I love seeing people let down their guard and just be whatever they are in a moment, seeing their real selves, or whichever part of themselves they are willing to let me witness. I found your work through Vanity Fair’s behind the scenes gallery for Coachella 2014. Any favorites from that set? What was that ex79


perience like?

this year, and I think it made it more relaxed for the artists. I tried to make the shoots I’ve shot Coachella several times, so that as non-eventful as possible, if that makes wasn’t a new experience. I was shooting this sense? I wanted them to feel like they were year for Vanity Fair – who for me are the be getting a slight reprieve from the media cirall end all — so I think I attached a little more cus that tends to take place at Coachella and pressure on myself than usual. But honestly, that they had a few moments to relax. I think everything goes out the window once I have my favorites from this gallery are the shots the camera in my hands and whomever I’m of Ellie Goulding, Warpaint, The Naked and shooting is in front of me. Since I’ve cut my Famous, and Tom Odell. teeth in music, and a lot of that shooting festivals, I think I’ve learned how to create You’ve worked with many well-known cliintimacy in a very short amounts of time. ents. Who was your first client? How did Sometimes you only have one minute with you secure that job? an artist or band – it can get really run and gun. I spent a little more time with the bands My first client? That’s sort of a hard question. 80


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into the rotation. She’s been one of my biggest cheerleaders ever since. She made me believe in myself and continues to do so today. And everything else has been word of mouth honestly. It’s been really amazing.

My first professional job, so I guess real client, was for ChinaShop Magazine, a blog owned by Red Bull (which later lead me to working directly for Red Bull) – I shot a Peter Bjorn and John show. It was hilarious. My friend, Nicole, was writing for them and I had told her I’d love to work with her at some point. She texted me a couple months later and said she booked a last minute gig and could I be there in 2 hours? I was throwing a birthday BBQ for my brother – I told them they could stay but I had to go. The editor Barbie Brady loved my photos from the show and she worked me

and they don’t care. And I love that. They get let off the hook of having to perform because I don’t want them to. I just want to know them, to see them. We get to have a conversation and I get to expose another side of them most people rarely ever get to Music seems to have a great influ- see – if I’m lucky. ence in your work. What draws you to photographing musicians and live I really like your Culture section. music? But, personally, being around so many people seems chaotic and exI LOVE music. It’s a part of me. It’s a hausting. How do you maintain the part of my shoots. I customize playl- energy? What’s your approach to ists for every shoot. Music helps me photographing strangers? get lost in images and feelings, because that’s part of what it does, it Haha, well, it is chaotic and exhausthelps us express. When I‘m at a show ing. When I’m shooting, everything listening to an artist or a band and if is tunnel vision and I think adrenalin you can draw me in, I’m automatically takes over, no matter what I’m shootintrigued by you, and I want to know ing. I’m a waste of space after a shoot. what you’re thinking, feeling, whether I really love being an observer. I love you’re connecting to the song or to to people watch. I tend to think of my the crowd. I want to see your eyes portraiture as observing moments, and know every feeling that’s passing and with this section, it really is an through your body. And that’s how honest depiction of moments around I approach shooting a live show, the me – being the open observer. My same way I approach a portrait. I’m life can be fascinating at times. If I’m looking for that connection, not just photographing strangers, there are a an image that looks cool. And I love couple different approaches I take. working with musicians because a lot Honestly, if I can, I’d rather just be of times they don’t know how to do a fly on the wall observing moments photo shoots — they don’t like them as they happen naturally and never 81


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be seen. The best moments are the ones nobody knows you are witnessing. There are times (not depicted in my culture section) where you can suss out if someone might be up for being photographed for a certain end game. But I think a lot of that is being in tune with people, their energy and where they are heading (a show, dinner, work, etc). Just be aware and be inviting. I find that if I’m open and I smile and tell them exactly what I’m doing, people are generally game, and if they aren’t, it probably has nothing to do with me. When first assigned a celebrity client, what are your first steps to starting the job? Do you research their work?

PORTRAIT COLLECTIVE look at it again. I’m surrounded by a beautiful world that’s in focus, and I’m out of focus and hiding behind my hair. I really have a hard time being seen, or with the idea of being seen. I can always empathize with people who are camera shy, yet we all want to be seen — nobody wants to be invisible. And I think that’s where photography comes into my life. I’m able to show everyone how I see the world around me, how I see you — I will see you as nobody else does – which is what makes photography fascinating to me, the point of view. And by sharing my point of view, I feel like a part of me is being seen.

play space, but really I’m creating an environment that’s safe to express, feel, reject, whatever. Being photographed is a very intimate thing, so controlling the energy you allow on set is vital. I’m very particular about who I allow on my sets – my shoots are intimate, my walls come down, their walls will come down, it has to be safe. So that means, glam, wardrobe, “the entourage,” anyone who steps foot on your set is taking part in the experience you are trying to create. If you don’t have the correct energy, you will not be allowed on my set. And you shouldn’t let it on yours. The most important aspect of this, however, is being open yourself. I think it’s easy to get lost in technical Be sure to check out Catie’s website! details, lights, camera, action – and controlling how the subject looks. I figure out all my lighting and technical stuff before someone steps onto my set, and that way I’m open to them, interacting and conversing, being ridiculous or telling personal stories. And I’ll almost never correct someone in how they look. If you want honesty, be very aware of how you correct a subject – especially women. There’s a very subtle way you can lead someone to where you want them to be, but if you overcorrect, they are over thinking, and I don’t want an image of someone thinking about the picture they are taking – I want an image of someone lost in an experience. Create that experience for them.

I feel like I should say yes, but honestly, no. If I don’t know who they are, I might look them up and see what sort of imagery they have done, and most of the time I feel like the image of them I see isn’t being represented. I generally get a sense, a feeling, a vibe of a person – or of the person that isn’t being seen, and I think and plan around that. But there isn’t a ton of planning past location and a playlist. I get those locked in and everything else just happens naturally. I don’t like to plan my shots, that’s not fun for me and it doesn’t feel authentic. I like to create a play space for people – a safe space to feel, create, express and play – everything happens naturally once we are shooting in that space. The self-portrait in your bio is great. It looks like you’re walking on waYou say in your bio that you look for ter. What does this photograph say honesty and connection in your por- about you? Any last words on how traits. If you had to teach a class on photography has affected your life? achieving this, how would you structure your first lesson? I would say that image is a perfect representation of me or, at least, how Wow, that’s a question. Create a safe I see me – although I hadn’t really space for your subjects, I call it my thought about it until you made me

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Portrait collective  

We interviewed our favorite portrait photographers from around the world and collected all their insights, thoughts, and tips in one free eb...

Portrait collective  

We interviewed our favorite portrait photographers from around the world and collected all their insights, thoughts, and tips in one free eb...

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