Thursday, June 24, 2010

Oprah's Psychological Thread

This post was written several weeks ago but I was asked by the magazine to hold off on it until publication.  I just got the issue and the story in which the images appear and still thought the post pertinent.

Last week I was on the road for O The Oprah Magazine

The shoot in California, a portrait of vegan chef Kyle Evans, was part of what will be a 12 page feature on ways people eat, done in signature O style.  As Director of Photography Katie Schad told me, "while the food is important, a clear psychological thread in the images is critical."

Seven hours of shooting at the Stanford Inn, a sampling of Kyle's food including his sublime Sliders, and then home on the red-eye--32 hours of travel, 6 hours of sleep, one hour-long run through fog-shrouded Mendecino Headlands, and 3 exceptional meals.  And that was two of the 12 pages in this story.

Thursday I was in Fort Greene, Brooklyn to shoot a couple of hardcore carnivores.  This portrait featured a couple who eat only what they hunt (in Montana and Alaska, not Brooklyn!).  Friday was at Goodlight Studios for a series of still lifes to round out and complete the story.

I've photographed food for Martha Stewart, Food and Wine, The New York Times and the beloved Gourmet.  Many of the stories I did for those publications involved personalities and travel but this story was unique.  The editors at O are always focused on visually conveying a literal message in the images they use.  A 'concept' or as Katie defined it in this case, 'the psychological thread' is sometimes difficult to visually convey--most magazines just want beautiful images.  

On my first commercial shoot for Conran's-Habitat over 20 years ago, I bristled when asked to do something out of my artistic character.   I was an artist and this was a commission wasn't it?  The Art Director gently pulled me aside.  She understood my dilemma but explained that it was my job to deliver the image they needed to sell the product.  I learned then and there that while I was hired for my eye, I was also hired to solve their problems while maintaining image integrity.  It is a lesson I refer to over and over--making an image that the Art and Photography Directors, client, stylists and I can all be proud of.  It's hard work and always surprisingly stressful.  There are a lot of eyes and input on a shoot but the eyes I keep on myself are the most critical.

The red-eye flights are no fun.  Flying and being away from home and family is awful, but there is a flip side.  Kyle Evan's delicious Sliders, runs on the Mendocino Headlands, working with very talented people, and walking away from the shoot with all parties, including myself, pleased.  Whenever I question myself after a shooting, I recall that even Horst, the revered master, with whom I worked as an assistant, used to leave a shooting doubting or bemoaning some of the things he did or did not do. That's good company to be in.

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