What a beautiful woman Mary Elizabeth Winstead is, such a great actor, and such a nice person. I saw the movie Smashed last year and I was so impressed by her realistic rendition of an alcoholic hitting bottom and pulling herself back from the brink, that when I was offered the opportunity to work with her, I jumped at the chance. Sorry no dirt here, no reenactments of getting wasted with Aaron Paul, just a perfectly lovely day in LA with everyone having a wonderful time. I will point out that our crew was exceptional, with Penny Lovell doing an amazing job with the styling, Spencer Barnes on make up and Tony Chavez working the hair. How’s that for a fluff piece.
I love imagining what the future will be like, but at this point I’m pretty disappointed that genetically engineered replicants will probably not be running around LA like in Blade Runner, the dystopian Syfi set in 2019. Here we are in 2013, still fretting over the concept of shooting video with a high enough resolution to pull any of the 24 frames per second for a full-page image in a magazine. Sure it can be done, we do live in the future, but it hasn’t quite caught on as a routine yet. What has changed though is the demand for video content to go along with still imagery, and this is where it gets tricky. The good news is that I am prepared for the video revolution and when People Magazine called to hire me to shoot stills and video I was able to say “of course”. The assignment was to shoot portraits of 5 “Teachers of the Year” in 5 different cities, each with a video component including an interview to be shown on the Ipad, the website and a special Sizzler edit of all 5 for the awards ceremony. Below is the sizzler, and you can see the individual videos on my website here. Shooting stills AND video is the way things are going so you better figure it out, I do think its better than getting chased around by robots.
One month after Kurt Cobain killed himself, Courtney Love and the rest of her band Hole came to my studio for a photo shoot. She said she wanted to capture her grief on film. It was done as spec session with the idea that Spin could use an image of Courtney for their cover. The events of that photo shoot contain some serious classic rock and roll debauchery that only someone of Courtney’s caliber could deliver. I unfortunately will not be able to go into detail here. Years later while at the end of my tenure pretending to be an Art photographer and selling images thru Team Gallery in Chelsea, (They dropped me and signed Ryan McGinley, cant really blame them) we sold one of these Courtney images to an unknown collector. And now ten years after that sale, I get a mysterious email from my friend congratulating me. I said “that’s cool, what I do?” and he sent me this link to a PHILLIPS de PURY & COMPANY auction in London. My image is on page 12, right next to Steven Shore. Doesn’t get much better than that!
It’s hard to imagine now but the business of music used to be booming, and for a while many of us did very well. Back in those days I was considered a “Rock and Roll Photographer” shooting 4 or 5 album covers a month. The roaring 90’s was a glorious time to be working in the music business but eventually I turned my sights in other directions, focusing on a much broader range of subjects. And when I looked back, the industry that I used to know was no longer there. These days I rarely shoot bands but when Jon Spencer (of the infamous Jon Spencer Blues Explosion) called I was raring to go. The first time I worked with Jon was in 1986 on the packaging for his band Pussy Galore’s album Right Now.
I printed the montage myself in a pitch black color darkroom. Since then we have worked on many projects over the years. The name of the new album is Meat and Bones but when Jon asked me to shoot a meat cleaver for the cover, I showed him the image from my archives of a side of beef hanging from a hook he was, well, hooked.
The Log Line for my short Weekend Away reads like this: “A distressed young woman leaves the city for the weekend with the hopes of clearing her head, but meets a mysterious hitchhiker who only confuses things more. The farther she goes to escape the more she finds herself trapped.” On the surface the film is about a girl who goes away for the weekend, but its also about the notion of escapism and about one woman’s struggle with the idea of commitment and how that’s reflected in the choices that she makes. My challenge was to be able to breathe life into this abstract idea through the use of images, words and sound.
We shot the whole film in 4 days at the beginning of August. I have to admit, it was very exciting! As a director there is nothing that can focus your mind more than being on set, with layers of decisions to make, each one influencing the next cascading into the rest like dominos. Our production lurched forward and with all the fires that needed to be put out, it’s a miracle we didn’t burn down. When we found the hotel room that we booked was occupied, I didn’t panic. When the parks department came bearing down with threats of a shutdown and outright extortion, I didn’t panic. Through all the chaos and noise my main responsibility as the director was to stay in tune with the emotionally nuanced aspects of the story and continually draw out specific intentions from the actors. My actress Sophia Takal was wonderfully intuitive and it was a pleasure to work with her. We finished shooting on schedule with no major calamities, and my awesome producer Alexandra Byer, my DP Mark Schwartzbard and the rest of the crew deserve a big shout out for keeping the production moving along smoothly.
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Frail and fragile yet with an inner strength that you could feel warming the room, Zoe Kazan sat in my studio chatting with me about a few of our mutual friends. I knew a lot of the crew from the film “Meeks Cutoff” and it was nice to connect with Zoe on a personal level. You never know what effect these kinds of conversations have on a person before they have their photograph taken but the hope is that everyone is more comfortable and in turn the session goes well. I will say that Zoe was marvelously refreshing to photograph, with a natural casualness in front of the camera that I rarely witness. I’m guessing that growing up as the granddaughter of the legendary film director Elia Kazan has instilled a certain level of inherent professionalism in her soul. It was an honor to work with her. On a historic note, my shoot with Zoe was the last shoot to take place in my 284 Lafayette street studio. I lived there for 10 years and many great images were made in that space. If you are looking for me, I am now in Brooklyn, where all the cool people live.
Many years ago when I was a young photography student at Parsons, one of my classmates was Melora Creagor. While everyone in our class was hovering around the safety of home base, Melora was all by herself way out in left field. Melora is one of those rare beings who is a true original. Anyway, instead of diving into the photography business like the rest of us, she started an all girl cello band called Rasputina. For the last 20 years they have toured the world and put out more than a few great records so if you don’t know them you should definitely check them out. For you Nirvana fans one piece of trivia for you: After seeing the MTV Nirvana Unplugged live performance I thought that their cello player was terrible. Soon after I was speaking to Kurt (we used to talk on the phone a lot) and I suggested that he meet Melora. He immediately called her and booked her on the next European Tour! Melora and I have stayed in touch over the years and after seeing some of my videos she asked me to help her realize this new project. We shot the video at Melissa Auf de Mar’s absolutely beautiful performance space Basillica Hudson in Hudson NY. If you are ever up that way you should be sure to stop by, you might even bump into Melora carrying around her aluminum plated cello.
The creative process is mysterious and ethereal, and sometimes you just have to go with your gut and change it up and bit. Over the last few years I’ve become more and more obsessed with the filmmaking process, working on lots of little video profiles and short films. Sometimes I think that I might be neglecting my photography but on the other hand I feel strongly about challenging myself and taking creative risks. The two mediums have many similarities but the differences are much greater than most photographers realize. Making narrative fiction is a whole different ballgame. Storytelling language, film grammar and especially the emotional aspects of dealing with actors have nothing to do with photography. To use a different analogy, if photography is like checkers then filmmaking is like chess. It’s exponentially more complicated. I’ve been studying hard, soaking it all up like a sponge and enjoying myself immensely, and in the process I feel like I’ve grown as a photographer.
Right now I am deep in the throes of production on a short film called Weekend Away. I adapted a short story of the same name that was written by Justin Taylor, a promising young writer from Brooklyn. Adapting fiction to a screenplay has it’s own set of pitfalls and believe me, it was no walk in the park. I ended up locking myself in a hotel room for a whole weekend just to get a rough draft. It’s a dramatic piece about a woman who is coping with a breakup and decides to go away for the weekend. Along the way she picks up a stranger and ends up having a one-night stand along with a series of other adventures. It’s a story about escapism and questions the idea of commitment vs. freedom. I have 3 producers helping me, a cast of 5 and a crew of 15. My lead actress is indie darling Sophia Takal who I am very excited to be able to work with. I’ve been scouting for days (notice the scouting stills) and having meeting after meeting after meeting. This week we have rehearsals and hopefully all the final production will fall into place. I feel like Neo from the Matrix, dodging bullets left and right. We are locked to shoot on the 31st thru the 3rd of Aug. Wish me luck.
My daughter has a wall full of taped up autographs that she has collected over the years from shoots that either Laurie or I have done with teen celebrities. Some old Miley’s and Demi’s are mixed in with some newer more grown up ones like Amy Poehler and Flight of the Concords. On that wall hangs a picture of the cast of “THAT 70’s SHOW” that I shot for the first season back in 1998. So it was pretty fun when Topher Grace came over and signed the print right on the wall. Penny was thrilled! I hadn’t seen Topher in 14 years and it was quite a reunion. I had done a fair amount of work with the cast and that photo was from Topher’s first shoot ever, so he had pretty strong memories of that day. It was cool to see him and get a chance to work together again, plus I think the images came out pretty nice!
It may just look like 6 headshots on grey but our shoot with the cast of NYC 22 for CBS was one of the most complex and intricate photo sessions I’ve ever done. Working with the amazing people at CBS photo, Lesli Lawrence, Francis Cavanaugh, Rudi Simpson and Kathleen Prutting, we navigated through a stack of ad comps and publicity comps, creating a grid with an ensemble cast of 8 that rivaled my daughters calculus homework. The shoot was really fun and tons of great images were made!
I’ve long ago come to the conclusion that you must tread very lightly into the waters of the blog-o-sphere when it comes to talking about the details of any photo shoot. This is not to say that anything of a controversial nature happened on our Maya BUST Magazine shoot, she was absolutely lovely and charming and beautiful, plus I found out that for a short time, she was a photo major in college. The crew did an amazing job and the studio (SIREN STUDIOS) we shot in was really nice. But of course not everything is as perfect as it seems. I would like to complain to the scheduling gods for double booking me on the shoot day and forcing me to give up a fairly big job with another publication. I’m pleading with you to give me break! I would like to thank Chris Buck for letting me stay at his apartment, but have to say that the unbelievably fierce Santa Ana windstorm that ripped off part of his roof, knocked out the power for miles and kept me up all night was not that much fun. All in all it was a wonderful experience and I am happy to have had the opportunity to work with Maya and proud of the images that we made. Here are a few outtakes that you won’t see in the issue.
Waking up in a tropical paradise after being locked in a dreary and cold winteriness for months is one of the quickest ways to rejuvenate the spirits. This year we did something a little different and traveled to Florida, land of the whiteheads, and took some time on the beach as a family. The weather was balmy and the water was crystal clear and the food was not terrible, and with the exception of one minor meltdown from my oldest daughter, everything went swimmingly. With my younger daughter acting as my muse this series of images materialized.
Every year we pack up the car and drive to Cape Cod. One time we stopped at a strip mall to pick up some supplies and there happened to be a “Car Show” taking place in the parking lot. I absolutely LOVE old cars so I had to take a walk through. When I was in high school in the 70’s the 56 chevy belair and the 68 GTO were the hottest cars in the world. The 65 Mustang and the 67 Camero were also pretty badass. Anyway I found this one roll of film mixed in with a pile of other contacts from that trip. I could have sworn I shot more film and maybe someday I will find another roll of these amazing beasts, but this is what I have for now. What’s crazy is how time consuming it is to make scans and adjustments from one roll of film. It takes all day to make 6 photographs! The old Rolli just can’t compete with modern technology. I do feel that no matter how “good” digital cameras get, there is just something unique and spectral about the look of film. I certainly would rather drive a vintage Chevy than any of the numerous un-distinguishable modern plastic toy cars that they make today. One of these days I’m gonna get one for myself!
I made this video for Mike Edison to help him promote his new book DIRTY! DIRTY! DIRTY!.OF PLAYBOYS, PIGS, AND PENTHOUSE PAUPERS, AN AMERICAN TALE OF SEX AND WONDER. Mike is a great writer and spoken word performer who tours with a back up band called “The Interstellar Rendevous Band” This particular line up includes Jon Spencer from The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Mickey Finn from Boss Hogg and Dee Pop from the legendary Bush Tetra’s. We did it in one take and lets face it, they aren’t the most attractive bunch, so I thought that it would be cool to spice it up a little and “enhance” the look with a few editing tricks. Even though the video is chaotic and crazy, the devised formula was fairly systematic in its structure. But who really cares about that? Its just fun to watch! You can also watch mike perform a segment from our shoot called Hugh Hefner Hates Girls here.
10 years ago I beat Jeffrey Wright at a game of chess. Granted, I got really lucky, plus I don’t think he would ever admit it, but its true. I was hired by HBO to photograph the image campaign for Boycott, a mini series about the Martin Luther King Jr. that Mr Wright was staring in. We were on set in Atlanta and Terrence Howard and Jeffrey had been playing a lot. During one of our breaks I sat down at the table and somehow was able to pull off a stunning checkmate. It was awesome! When I got the assignment to shoot Mr Wright again I was excited, not so I could remind him of our match but because I personally believe that Jeffrey Wright is one of the greatest underrated actors in Hollywood and I was looking forward to having the opportunity to work with him again. I can’t say he remembered me but he did tell me that he met his wife Carmen Ejogo on that production which I thought was pretty romantic. And except when we had to beat back the paparazzi during the outdoor setup, the shoot went pretty smoothly. In the end I didn’t have the nerve to mention our game that day in Atlanta, but working the chess board into the shoot looked great!