When NERO asked me to shoot the musician Diane Birch I have to admit I had never heard of her. Later that day when I was walking back from the Duane Reade I looked down on the sidewalk and sitting on the edge of the iron fence was a copy of a Diane Birch CD, just resting there all by itself like some kind of sign. I knew then that it was meant to be. When she arrived for the shoot I was taken aback by her beauty and positive vibe. Even better, she was totally game when I suggested the idea of building a narrative around a romantic interlude with a mysterious lover.
I photographed the godmother of the New York Art scene, experimental musician Laurie Anderson at her Canal Street studio for the Japanese magazine NERO last fall. I couldn’t find an assistant that would work for $100 dollars so I did the job by myself. (Which is a pretty risky idea, verging on stupid) Fortunately I was able to get all my stuff loaded in and set up just in time. Laurie had asked the designer Claire Fleury to bring by some of her custom suits so it was just the three of us. When Laurie started doing Ti Chi moves, I decided to mix my light sources to enhance her movement. Considering her history with improvisation I wanted to let things fall apart a bit, I was looking for a happy accident. What’s great about shooting for NERO is that they let me do whatever I want and they always choose the weirdest, most fucked up photos I give them. The shoot was short and sweet, and Laurie was incredibly warm and charming. The best part is that our Tai Chi image was selected to be included in American Photography 31. I haven’t had an image in AP for 14 years. Maybe I should not use assistants more often.
I spent some time shooting behind the scenes at Saturday Night Live for People magazine and photo editor Jessica Bryan last month. The NBC show was gearing up for its 40th anniversary and they were kind enough to let us hang around “fly on the wall style” so we could see how its done. The hallways are lined with photos of past celebrity guests and repertory players and the place is dripping with history. I personally have been watching the show practically my whole life so it was pretty fascinating to watch the process unfold. On Monday, they all gather in Lorne’s office and pitch ideas to the weekly guest host. (The week I was shooting it was Kevin Hart) Then they stay up all night long writing skits that they then read at the “Table Read” on Weds. Lorne posts the chosen skits on a bulletin board and they race into production. (I hear that tears are shed if your skit isn’t chosen) That gives them 3 days to rehearse, refine the jokes, and build the sets, the costumes and wigs. Somewhere in there they shoot all the digital shorts and fake commercials. On Saturday they run the whole show in front of a live audience at 8:00 pm. Then they cut several of the skits, refine the ones they plan on going with even more and then they do it all over again for real. LIVE FROM NEW YORK ITS SATURDAY NIGHT! You can see the People story on line here.
I was fascinated with SOKO’s mysterious sultry voice and the beautiful rawness of her image long before BUST asked me to photograph her, so when the call came through I was psyched. We set up a simple intimate shoot with the goal of making emotionally charged imagery and rolled the dice. I always get a little nervous before a shoot, I never know what someone is going to be like when I meet them for the first time. When SOKO arrived, it was like a breath of fresh air. She was so charming and friendly and real, I felt like we had known each other for years. My daughter Penny came by for a visit with her pet rat Hazy and the three of them hit it off like best friends. It was a real treat getting to hang with SOKO The Cat!
We almost didn’t make it to the shoot. Our plane was next in line for take off when the captain announced there was a fire at O’hare and that we would be delayed. After many frantic attempts to get on another flight, we finally took off 14 hours later. A guy named Brian Howard had deliberately set fire to a Chicago airport control center then was caught trying to slice his own throat with a knife. What a jerk. Lucky we had built in some travel time! Anyway, we finally made it to Chicago and got the job done.
Compared to Planet Hollywood, the NY indie film community is a tiny island filled with a tight knit group of talented filmmakers and actors, all working together on each other’s no budget films. (It very much reminds me of how the indie rock scene was before Nevermind was released). Kate Lyn Sheil is one of the main players on the scene and rightfully so. She is beautiful and talented, with an uncanny ability to express the subtlest emotions with the quietest of intensity. If you don’t believe me go see her latest project The Heart Machine. I had met Kate at a few parties and I was really hoping to have the opportunity to work with her at some point, so when Scott from Filmmaker called I jumped at the chance. And it happened quickly. I got the call on Tues and we shot on Weds: no lights, no assistant, no production at all really. Classic NY Indie style! Kate arrived straight from an audition and was operating on one-hour sleep, having taken the redeye from LA the night before. We were blessed with perfect weather and our walk together on the Highline was the highlight of my day.
My latest project is called Interior Lives. I’d been thinking about starting something new for a while but I couldn’t put my finger on what to do. My life has been filled with so many surprises lately and much has changed in the last few years, I didn’t want to fall back on the same old tropes of my past. So I asked myself a few seemingly easy questions: What do I care about now? What do I want to learn more about? Where do my interests lie? The answer presented itself through a series of simple revelations; I am interested in how relationships work and how people choose to live, the architecture of life. Eventually it dawned on me, why not photograph my friends in their homes and interview them about their lives? It’s such an obvious next step, as if the idea was right in front of me the whole time, and I just wasn’t looking. You can visit the site here www.interiorlives.com.
I found myself crawling around on the ground in a dirty alley in Chinatown one early Saturday morning shooting plates for our Gotham gallery shoot with FOX. After dusting ourselves off, we spent the rest of the day at Pier 59 setting up our lights and getting ready to shoot the wonderfully talented cast on Sunday. No rest for the wicked! The shoot was a blast and lots of great images were made. It was an extra bonus to have the opportunity to work side by side with the super talented photographer Justin Stevens. (He gets credit for the amazing poster headshots) It’s so cool to see how the master retouchers at FOX put together this powerful image!
If you don’t know who Gabby Hoffman is, you should look her up right away because she is one very cool woman. For starters her mom was a Warhol superstar and she grew up in the Chelsea hotel. As a child actress she had roles in such classics as Field of Dreams and Sleepless in Seattle. Lately she has been killing it on the indie circuit with cameos on Girls and Louie, and her performance in the Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus (with Michael Cera) was stellar. If you can, definitely catch her in the new Amazon show Transparent, it’s great! Oh and you can watch her in the horror film LYLE here. Anyway, I got to shoot Gabby for Bust Magazine, and I when we met at her apartment in Brooklyn I don’t think she could have been any sweeter. We walked around the park, talked about everything under the sun, I snapped some photos and sadly, we said good-by. If I ever get to make a movie, she’s gonna be in it.
The video from my photo shoot with Lexi Rasmussen for Filmmaker Magazine didn’t happen the way I had originally intended. We did an interview but it felt too conventional. I shot some other footage where the audio was lost. After looking at the images and watching the footage I did have, the monologue really stood out. Lexi was charming, relaxed and fresh. The piano piece was also nice so I thought it would be cool to mix these two images together and see what would happen. The original version was completely crazy and way too dizzying for anyone in my household to watch, but after some fancy editing, I was able to pull the visual story into view.
There is a belief within the advertising community that celebrity photographers don’t know how to photograph real people. I think it stems from the notion that celebrities are used to being in front of the camera and after hours of hair and makeup and styling, they are more prepared to deal with the harsh stare of the lens. With regards to capturing the essence of character, this completely unfounded myth misses the point about what portrait photographers actually do, which is make people feel comfortable and relaxed, disarming their insecurities so they can be “themselves” in front of the camera. Actors can be difficult to photograph unless a clear role for them to connect with is defined. I have always enjoyed photographing musicians the most; generally, I find their demeanor so chill and easygoing. For this photo booth that I set up at BUST Magazine’s PRIMPED craft fair I photographed over 200 actual “real” people in just a few hours. Due to the nature of the event, 99% of my subjects were women! I liken the experience to the 5-second drill in Life drawing class. It’s a quick sketch, the goal being to capture the soul in just a few frames. Here are some of my favs but you can see the whole set here.
The siren call of beautiful Los Angeles, with its wonderful weather and the allure of Hollywood is so incredibly seductive, I have to admit I hear her call almost very day. So when my buddy Alison Roberto, the creative director at Oxygen, recently decided to take a new job at BLT and make the big move to LA, I was thrilled for her and secretly jealous that she was able to pull it off. My recent move to Brooklyn (which I love so much!) has curbed my appetite for ever moving again, but hey you never know. This shoot of Bad Girls Club Chicago was our last shoot working together at Oxygen. Of course I do hope to work with her down the line, hopefully on a sunny day in LA!
Recently I had the excellent opportunity to work with a lovely trio of women who go by the name of Au Revoir Simone. With all three girls on keyboards, their musical sound is a fresh, dreamy pop served up with a cool scoop of Brooklyn edge. I was shooting for NERO, an independent Japanese music magazine, which meant that I could really let loose and go crazy. The girls were inspiring to work with; the weirder I made the photos the more they were digging it! Our shoot reminded me of how much fun I used to have shooting for the old record labels back in the day. It seems so rare to have that opportunity now. Anyway, we had a blast on our shoot, which we did at Colony Studios, a funky new studio in Greenpoint. This is the actual layout from the magazine. Thanks YUKIKO!
I shot this poster 3 years ago and it is just now coming out. Thats what they call Lost in Development Hell! Anyway, here is my original blog post from October 2010. It was titled TURN THE ROOM AROUND I’ve learned quite a bit since those early days.
In August I spent 2 weeks in Memphis on the set of the independent feature “Losers Take All”, an 80’s Rock and Roll comedy about a DIY punk band looking to make some noise. How I ended up there is kind of a long story but in a nutshell, I was invited by the producer Mike Ryan to come hang out and “learn how its done”. I arrived on day 3 of a 20 day schedule and was welcomed with open arms by the producers Andrew Pope and Winn Coslick, the director Alex Steyermark, the cast, crew, and of course Mike Ryan. He is a veteran indie film producer with endless knowledge of the process and a heart of gold, never tiring from giving in-depth explanations to any questions I could come up with. My head was like a giant sponge, absorbing as much info as I possibly could take in. The Filmmaking process is similar to still photography in many ways, most notably in the composition of the frame, but the differences are vast, the storytelling techniques so much more intricate, the language of acting so foreign, in the end its hard to compare the two, like apples and oranges. Photography is like checkers and filmmaking is like chess, exponentially more complicated. Anyway, my time in Memphis was priceless, I was involved in all aspects of the production, bouncing from the camera dept and the grip and electric, to the art department and to the wardrobe, to hanging with the actors, to sitting in on producer meetings, and most importantly watching the director Alex make a thousand decisions a minute. Even though it was 100 degrees in the shade and we were all melting, Everyone was so awesome. Being on the set made me realize what a lonely job photography is. You get an assignment, you work with someone for an hour, maybe if you are lucky you get to spend a day getting to know them then you never see them again. On the LOSERS set, the work was grueling (I ended up shooting a lot of the on set unit coverage), the hours were long and you really had time to get to know people. It was heartbreaking to leave. I cant wait for the premiere!
Photography can be a lonely game. You meet your subject, spend an hour or a day together developing an intimate bond, then you never see them again. Fortunately thats not always the case. I first met Lee on the Daydream Nation photo shoot for Sonic Youth in August of 1988, and we’ve worked together countless times since then. Our latest collaboration was for the album cover for his new solo project Lee Ranaldo and the Dust. Lee had been fooling around with an fisheye adaptor for his iPhone and asked me to shoot the cover with a real fish eye. I used to shoot with the fish all the time so it was loads of fun to bust out the circle frame again. Along with the original cover, these are some of the outtakes from the shoot. I put some crazy effect on top just for kicks. (The artist Ted Lee did the painting overlay on the final cover image)