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)
When Shailene sauntered up the hill in her baggy jeans and ripped white tee shirt I could tell that I was dealing with a different kind of Hollywood star. She was carrying jars of homemade teas in a half torn box and she could not have been any friendlier. Not a lot of drama to report here about our shoot except that the whole crew was really nice, the location was beautiful and lunch was tasty, we simply had a lovely time shooting around the yard and by the pool. I videotaped the interview but never got around to editing it so you will have to read it in the new issue of BUST Magazine. On a side note, I was at Sundance last week and was able to catch Shailene’s new film White Bird in a Blizzard. Based on the book by Laura Kasischke, the story follows a young woman who is dealing with the sudden disappearance of her mother. I was really impressed with her highly charged performance and I am very much looking forward to seeing what she does with her next big role in the upcoming blockbuster Divergent!
The first time I fell in love with Heather Graham was when I saw her in DRUGSTORE COWBOY in 1989. Then of course there was that time I saw her in BOOGIE NIGHTS. And then again in AUSTIN POWERS, and THE HANGOVER, and a bunch of other times too. (I recently just discovered that she was also in my favorite TV show of all time TWIN PEAKS) I worry about meeting celebrities that I admire because of the chance that they might be a jerk and my good impression will be forever tainted. The good news is that Heather was wonderful to work with, a real down to earth nice person with an infectious laugh and a heartwarming smile. The bad news is that I may never get to hang out with her again. Oh well, at least there’s Netflix.
My friend Mott Hupfel is a very talented Director of Photography. He has shot several wonderful films including The Savages and Betty Page. Last fall he was asked to helm the camera by another old friend of ours, Phil Morrison. Phil is mainly known for directing the beautiful film Junebug and for discovering Amy Adams. But he is also a successful commercial director, responsible for most if not all of the “Mac Guy” commercials among many others. Anyway Mott asked me if I would like to shoot stills for Phil’s new movie Almost Christmas starring Paul Giamatti and Paul Rudd. I asked Phil. Phil said “Great! I would love for you to take photos for my film! By the way, are you Union?” Knowing that this might be a big problem, I said, “we’ll figure something out!” I spent the next several weeks going back and forth with the producers and the Local 600 ICG trying to do just that. It turns out that you cannot do ANYTHING on a Union set unless you are in the Union. And to be in the Union you have to pay $8000 in dues just to join and then you have to work 400 hours a year to qualify for the fabled Union Health Plan. The producers wanted me to work for 8 days, which wouldn’t even come close to covering the cost of joining. It became clear that I would not be able to do the job so I turned it over to an old friend of a friend who is IN the union, Niko Tavernise. Nico is known for his on-set photography of most of Darren Aronofsky’s films, including the Movie poster for Black Swan. Nico did a great job of covering for me and I was thankful that it all worked out. So what it all boils down to is that I ended up going by the set for one day to shoot some portraits, the whole time dodging the Union eyeballs so that nobody would get hurt.
When we decided to move to Brooklyn I knew it was going to be challenging but I am here to tell you that it’s been way more difficult than I could have ever imagined. And nothing very bad even happened. Everything is pretty much proceeding as planned, we are of course several months behind, but going through it is a lot different that thinking about it. I can’t stray very far from the construction site that is my future apartment. So one day my friends and me decided to take advantage of the situation and make something. I had just spent a year making my short WEEKEND AWAY and I wanted to try a more casual approach to filmmaking. Mott and I spent one day concocting a storyline for a thriller, one-day prepping gear and one day of shooting. Then I edited and this is where we are so far. I have to admit it was really fun to make and I am hoping to shoot more of the GENE and LONNIE storyline in the near future. Fortunately for me, we will not be able to reshoot any of the existing scenes because the renovation is almost done!!!
Shooting for the Television networks is the extreme sporting event of photography, the X games of the photo assignment. Admittedly its not quite as challenging as scaling a cliff with your fingertips or sliding down a 70ft monster wave, but shooting a TV gallery is as difficult as it gets in the photo business and working on The Following shoot for FOX was the granddaddy of them all. This was a massive endeavor: I had 7 set ups running, each with variations, and a whole video set for the Living One Sheet. Not only that, FOX had hired another photographer, my dear old friend Frank Ockenfels and he had seven sets of his own in the next room! I’ve known Frank for over 20 years and it was a real treat to be able to work together on this project with him. Kevin Bacon and James Purefoy are the stars of the show and most of our photography was concentrated on them, but the whole cast consisted of 9 people so individuals of everyone plus multiple group configurations had to be shot. I think there were 3 different video crews running around shooting BTS, it was crazy! Working on elaborate projects, where the energy level is so high and the concentration required so critical, is truly an invigorating experience and while not quite as dangerous as crashing down a black double diamond, its what I love to do the most!
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!