Archive for the ‘Editorial’ Category

When Prevention magazine’s Helen Cannavale called me up with an assignment to illustrate a story about the effects of sleep deprivation on the workforce, I immediately knew we were going to have a bit of fun on the shoot.

Based on the journalist’s findings, Helen and I bounced ideas around about what it means to be half asleep at work.  We figured the model should be wearing a night gown and slippers to make it obvious that she should still be in bed.  Then we came up with three work situations that can be caused by being overly tired.  The first being a good nap on your desk, the second being a portrait of a cold, which tired people are more prone to, and the third showing clumsiness and irritability.  Yeah, good times.

We scouted the workspaces at Prevention’s midtown office and found a corner with a few (mostly) empty rooms that worked out very nicely.  We could set up there and be out off everybody’s way for the duration of the shoot.  Then Helen worked her magic.  First she booked the beautiful red haired Jana Schoep (Ford Models), who totally fit the color palette, did some nice acting and was a great sport on top of it.  Then she got Jane Choi to do hair & make-up.  Jane is a true artist and has worked with some great photographers and film makers.  She did makeup on Bill Clinton and Christopher Walken for Martin Schoeller, for instance.  Great Stuff.  She can do nice and subtle and she can do nice and over the top.  Here she  turned our healthy, happy, well-rested model into a cold-suffering insomniac on the verge.  After Jane was done with the makeup I kept wanting to apologize to our model for still needing her around for a few hours.

Maria-Stefania (Halley Resources)  was the stylist and she put together a good outfit that worked well within that red, purple and blue color combo of a cold sufferer’s face.

We shot with a Mamiya RZ and a tethered Phase One back.  We used Profoto Acutes to light the backgrounds and as fill lights and a ringflash as the main light because I wanted to get that “deer-in-the-headlights”-feel. The ringflash produced also some red eyes in the model, an effect that we didn’t expect (this was only my second shoot with it) but that we happily accepted.  No, wait, wait:  That we didn’t lose any sleep over.  HA!


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Riding a bike was part of my growing up, but not exactly my favorite part. The only times I was very, if briefly, excited about biking was when I was given a banana seat bike, and again after I got a snazzy 10 speed racer. For the most part though I only biked when I was too late to walk someplace. My biking career ended abruptly and not surprisingly on the day I got my driver’s license.

To my amazement though, biking has made a strong comeback in my personal life as well as becoming an important part of my photography. I thought it might make for a nice intermittent series of blog posts to write about the bike shoots I have done.

It all started with me still being a committed pedestrian, when my good friend Silvia (a journalist) and I teamed up as a writer-photographer combo. We were mulling over possible projects to propose to German publications, when we came across ” The Ride of my Life” the autobiography of Mat Hoffmann, the daredevil BMX champion and later Jackass semi-regular. The book was highly entertaining as it described the growing-up and daily brushes with death of a child/man with no fear. Anybody reading the book would seriously question his/ her desire to become a parent, since one would suffer at least 47 heart attacks if fate would bless one with a little Mat Hoffman. To read about it though, was great.

©Unknown Photographer

Silvia and I wrote up a proposal to portray Hofman and send it to a high-brow weekly newspaper in Germany, that has a section somewhat comparable to the NY Times Magazine. They liked the idea and hired us, but then our arrangement kind of backfired on me.

On a previous job I did for the paper the expenses ran (not terribly) high. Not completely because of my fault either, but my invoice was definitely higher than usual. Then the editor for the paper called me up to suggest that I pay for part of the unexpected expenses by lowering my fee. After a bit of arguing back and forth I agreed to do it, if and only if he payed the same amount as I towards the bill. I thought it would be only fair if we both help the paper financially since we were both involved in the production. For some weird reason though, spending his own money was less attractive to the editor than spending my own money, and he agreed to pay my invoice in full. Of course little victories like that often come back to bite me in the ass.

And now was ass-biting time. When Silvia and I got the assignments to produce the Hofman story, the editor presented me with a budget that was so tiny that I had to work for free instead of very cheap, which was normal. I would have never done that, but here he clearly had me by my huevos. If I just turned down my assignment, they would have sent (and paid) another photographer to shoot my story. If we had turned it down as a team, I would have cost Silvia her job as well, and they might have sent another team to do our story. Silvia graciously offered to share her fee with me, which I didn’t take because of course it was more the principle then the dough. In the end we did the story and I was glad we did, but I never worked for that paper again. To paraphrase Paul Simon: There must be 50 ways ways to lose a client.

The shoot was taking place at the Universal Studios Theme Park in Orlando, FL. We flew down and up in one day, and sans assistant of course. To transport my equipment ( 1 Pro Acute 1200 with 2 heads) in the park, Universal gave me a hard plastic double toddler stroller. It’s always important to travel in style when on a job.

Mat Hoffman and a bunch of fellow BMX’ers were doing a regular show there that summer in a bike park in an amphitheatre. I looked for a quiet location that didn’t scream theme park and provided us with some privacy and a clean graphic background. I found it behind the theatre. After an hour of corporate interference we were finally allowed to shoot there.
In the first portrait I tried to come up with a classical pose in which he can be clearly seen and can make eye contact with the camera, yet in which he also shows his athleticism. We talked about this, and Mat came up with different suggestions. Finally he busted out the one seen on top. I love how he looks like he’s just loitering on his bike with a half-bored sarcastic ta-daa pose. I used a little slower shutter speed to get a little bit of movement in. This way you realize that he’s not just leaning against the wall, but rolling down the lane.

For the second picture I asked him to take off his shirt. I’ve been around athletes a lot and have seen some banged up people, but no one ever came close to Mat Hoffman. We talked about his knee, which was his injury-du-jour and he showed me how he could move his kneecap around in ways that made you question every assumption you ever had. His torso doesn’t look so terrible until you start zooming in on all the scars and bruises hidden in plain sight.

His amazing pain tolerance and complete lack of fear still astounds me. A while after the shoot Mat was in a vicious car accident in which he nearly lost his right arm. For years after that he couldn’t ride a bike, but thanks to a special brace and some major physical rehabilitation he now is back on the bike again.

There is a recent ESPN movie out about Mat, that was produced by Spike Jonze and Johnny Knoxville. Looks like it could be a lot of fun.

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The science of baby babble was the focus of this shoot for Discover Magazine. My assistant and I drove up to Dartmouth College in New Hampshire to illustrate the research work of Laura-Ann Petitto, a cognitive neuroscientist using a technique commonly known (ok, not commonly known) as near-infrared spectroscopy to learn about the speech development of infants.

We had to photograph a baby with the near-infrared spectroscopy apparatus on his or her head. Not only did the contraption look like it hurt (which it didn’t),but it also kind of looked like Hollywood’s idea of a science experiment, which of course is a good thing for a photographer.

We hung up a yellow backdrop in a cramped little room and started playing with the light. I had never used a ringflash before this shoot but I had a hunch it might be the right light for the job. We tried a few different things, but the ringlight by itself looked best. We had a few babies there in case one (or two) went cranky on us.

I’m not sure anymore if I shot with an 80 mm or an 150 mm lens on a Rolleiflex 6003 but in any case, I (and the ringflash) were very close to the baby’s face. To make sure the conditions were sufficiently child safe, I looked straight into the ringlight and gave it a pop. After going blind for a few seconds I kept seeing green and magenta circles for pretty much the rest of the day. After that I decided to shoot only profiles and semi profiles of the babe.

Of course toward the end of the shoot the kid, with the lightning quick movements of a ninja, turned his head and looked straight into the light just as I pressed the shutter. A look of surprise, followed by 7 or 8 rapid blinks. Oh boy, I thought here come the waterworks and the scolding look from mother. But to my surprise, a nice, big, fat grin came over the little face, which in turn led me to believe that, during my time at Dartmouth I developed a near scientific test to predict which infants will grow up to become teenage potheads.

To read the article by Mary Duenwald.

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A few months after 9/11 I received a phone call from Michele Fleury , the photo editor at The Advocate, a gay interests magazine based in L.A.. They wanted to publish a tribute to honor New York’s gay and lesbian police officers and firefighters and Michele wanted me to shoot a group portrait of some of these brave individuals. I was thrilled about the assignment to say the least.

I’ve known about this rooftop location with full view of The New Yorker Hotel for a while since an acquaintance had his studio in this building. I’ve always wanted to shoot there but held back until I needed the “ultimate” NY backdrop. Obviously now was the time. I called my buddy and asked if he could get me up on the roof. He hemmed and hawed a bit but finally agreed for a reasonable fee. Rooftop access wasn’t really in his studio lease, but I figured once I was up there with a bunch of cops I could talk my way into or out of anything.

The group shot went pretty smooth even though we had only one fireman. The FDNY was still so decimated from all their losses during the attacks that only one of the openly gay firefighters could make it to the shoot.

Some of the stories we heard that day were truly heartbreaking. One of the police officers, who was securing the area downtown during the attacks ran into his boyfriend, a firefighter on that September morning. They talked briefly and then went on to do their jobs. The cop survived, the fireman did not.

Everybody in this picture lost friends and colleagues that day.
It’s still hard to think back to all the grief that came to New York that day.

Beside the group shot there was another picture I wanted to do that day. Part of the inspiration came from a 1993 New Yorker Valentine’s Day cover by Art Spiegelman.


In the summer of 1991 a car that was part of a motorcade for a hasidic Rabbi, spun out of control in Crown Heights, Brooklyn and killed 7 year old Gavin Cato, the son of Guyanese immigrants.
The Jewish driver of the car was beaten by bystanders and taken from the scene by a Jewish ambulance while police and other EMT were still trying to free the child from underneath the car. Black locals perceived this as favoritism and became outraged. Rumors and allegations started flying, mixed with long held grievances, stewed in the August heat, and finally exploded in what became known as the Crown Heights Riots. A few hours after the deadly traffic accident a young hasidic scholar named Yankel Rosenbaum was stabbed to death. The riots went on for a few days, partially because Mayor Dinkins couldn’t bring himself to act decisively against the violence. These events probably cost Dinkins his job and poisoned race relations in New York for years.

A while later the Valentine’s Cover appeared on newsstands and started a big controversy. People were outraged, outraged I tells ya. But when asked what was so outrageous about kissing a Jew or a black person, well, a few brave, confused souls contorted themselves in pseudo theological arguments but most just knew better and shut up at that point.

I had never read the New Yorker before, my English wasn’t up to snuff back then, but I had been a fan of Spiegelman ever since I’d read Maus, and I was totally amazed that a magazine would do a cover like that. To throw a nice little peace bomb into a hateful situation, to help a city return to civility, was just a fantastic piece of publishing. It also drove home the point that you can express certain things with a picture that cannot be expressed with words.

That cover drawing popped back into my mind when Michele called me with this assignment.
The rights of gays and lesbians represent probably the last major frontier in the long struggle for equality in the US and I thought photographing a kiss between a gay cop and a gay firefighter could be my modest contribution to the cause.

But when the shoot came I was extremely nervous about asking for the kiss. Obviously there was only one firefighter (so I knew who to pick from that camp) and I thought I should probably ask the friendliest cop, but they were not boyfriend and boyfriend and I was afraid that I would piss them off with my request. Plus, I didn’t want them to think that I’m turning the 9/11 tribute into a joke. So, first I made sure we got the group shot in case they would walk out on me, all the while I was thinking about the proper way for a man to ask a man to kiss another man. Then I took several deep breaths, counted to 10 and just as I was about to pop the big question the friendliest cop started telling me a story about how he and the fireman met a few days earlier in a subway station, both wearing uniforms and how they greeted each other with a big hug and a kiss, and how that was a total freaker-outer for a bunch of subway riders. At that point I just asked if they would recreate that scene in front of my camera and both were immediately into it. Easy as pie.

There was one kind of funny observation I had during the shoot concerning the gay men. By no means would I call my “gaydar” above average but on all the other Advocate shoots I’ve done, I would have known that the guys were gay even if I hadn’t known it already. Yet with these guys in uniform it was different. If I had met them while they issued me a traffic ticket (that’s how I normally hang out with cops), I wouldn’t have thought in a million years that they were gay.

I met some of them again a few months later to give them prints from the shoot and now in civilian clothes they were pretty clearly gay. When they were in uniform it was like they switched something on (or off for that matter).

Years later this is still one of my favorite pictures and as an added bonus it made it into American Photography 19.

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This is the first interview on The Heavy Light, and I’m happy that I got my good friend Juergen Frank to be the first photographer answering a bunch of questions here.

Juergen was the photo editor for German Elle before he moved to New York “with a strong German accent” to start his photography career 15 years ago. He’s very versatile and works equally well in portraiture, architecture and travel. He really knows how to make people look good, and has become the go-to guy for quite a few German magazines when they need a celebrity portrait. He works for a wide spectrum of publications from very glamorous to bread and butter.

When we started talking about doing this interview, he was scheduled to photograph John Irving (one of my favorite writers) at his house in Vermont for the news weekly “Der Spiegel” and we decided to discuss this shoot for the blog.

DA: When did you first hear about this shoot?

JF: The photo editor Susan Wirth first contacted me 2 days before the shoot and it got confirmed 1 day before.

DA: Did you do any research on John Irving and if yes how?

JF: My first step is usually to check on Wikipedia and Google. I also try to find video footage of the subject so I can see what gestures and expressions they use. How physical they are.

DA: Have you read anything by John Irving before?

JF: I read the Cider House Rules after I’d seen the movie. I liked the story a lot, more than his style of writing. His language is very factual, not my personal preference.

DA: What equipment did you bring?

JF: We brought 2 Profoto Acutes, 3 heads, 2 big and 2 small light stands, 2 6 ft. umbrellas, 1 medium softbox and a Scrim Jim with different fabrics. The camera was a Phase One 645 with a P45 +. The lenses we used were the 35mm, 55mm and 80mm (with a +1 close-up filter). We also shot some pics with the Canon G11.

DA: Did you rent anything, or was this all your own equipment?

JF: (Laughs) Budgets are tight, the client doesn’t pay for rentals.

DA: What briefing did you get from the magazine?

JF: They needed an environmental portrait in his office (both vertical and horizontal), a close-up, a picture of his writing desk, a photo of John Irving during the interview and a shot of him with the writer for “Der Spiegel”. (It is quite common with German publications to send the writer and the photographer out at the same time. )

DA: So, tell me how the day unfolded.

JF: My assistant Patty Willis met me at my apartment at 6:30 am. We picked up the car at 7:00 am. I don’t like to do the driving before the shoot, so Patty drove on the way up. We arrived in Vermont at 12:30 pm. Had lunch and met John Irving at 3:00 pm. The writer for the magazine was there as well.

DA: How much time did you have with John Irving?

JF: All together we had about 1 hour and 25 minutes, but that included the interview. After we met John Irving we had about 1 hour and 10 minutes to location scout, set up, take a picture of his desk and do the pics during the interview (for that we used the G11). It’s very important to ask in the beginning if they have another appointment after the shoot, or if they are a little flexible with their time. Irving had a tennis lesson afterwards, so we knew he wouldn’t be able to give us a lot of extra time.

We went to his office and I decided to photograph him with a giant, well-used encyclopedia that is positioned next to his desk. We started the prelight with a 6 ft. umbrella, but realized pretty fast that that spilled way too much light onto the background and so we switched to the softbox. I aimed for a darker background to reflect the mood of his latest book.

We tested the light on Patty, who’s skin is darker than John’s and on me, who’s skin is lighter and kind of split the difference. We positioned the light close to his face and made sure there would be a nice fill light bouncing back from the side wall, but no reflections from the glass frames in the background.

Once we had everything set up, I went to take the interview shots, but even if that wasn’t necessary I always try to catch a few minutes of the interview to see how the subject moves, and if he reacts quickly or slowly to the questions. That usually gives me an idea about the pace of my shoot later and how many pictures I might be able to get.

When John finally came to the set I was considering asking him to put on another shirt, but decided not to because it showed him still as an athlete, the bright red kind of worked, and it would have cost us another few valuable minutes. We needed about 3 or 4 minutes to adjust the light for him and then we started shooting. He laughed a lot and it wasn’t easy to get him to look serious.

After 10 minutes on set he had to leave for his tennis lesson, but he offered that we could come along and take more pictures of him there. From the location scout I knew that there was a small wooden shack and a green wooden wall for practicing his tennis shots. We had maybe another another 5 minutes with him at these locations. We shot natural light and untethered.

At this point the problem is that they’re already (mentally) gone from the shoot and I have to see how much talking I can do to keep them there a little longer without pissing them off. How many times can you say: ” Five more frames.” ?

DA: Was there anything about him that stood out for you during the shoot?

JF: The nicest thing he said was that I can take any picture I want. In a sense he’s not vain. Having said that , the house is full of pictures of him, many taken by his friend Mary Ellen Mark. He definitely likes to have his picture taken, but he doesn’t care what he looks like in it. And he was ready to laugh.

DA: When did you guys get back to the city?

JF: Around midnight.

DA: Thanks a lot for this interview.

Juergen’s website

Juergen’s rep

All images in this post © Juergen Frank

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One of the bigger photographic challenges that I’ve had to deal with on a regular basis is the corporate office.

I’ve had my fair share of portrait jobs involving people from the worlds of finance, academia or management and a solid majority of them work in a place that can only be described as “visual hell”. The standard issue place of employment is a combination of cubicles, private offices and conference rooms. There is usually grey carpet on floor, walls and sometimes ceiling, and everybody looks good and healthy in strange-colored office lighting.

The young up-and-comers live in cubicle land, with plastic desks and quite often a half-hearted collection of action figures or novelty footballs. The more established ones reside in private offices furnished with the finest Staples oaks. There is usually a picture of your subject shaking hands with Ronald Reagan or Tiger Woods or a right-wing astronaut. There might be a few inspirational posters about leadership illustrated with pictures of lone eagles. Like, who the heck was ever led by an eagle? The bird is called “lone” for a reason.

The conference rooms are usually a tragedy as well. Scuffed walls, banged up tables and piles of video conferencing equipment. Well, you get the picture.

Once you stopped crying about the location, you check out what your subject is wearing. Sometimes it’s cool, more often it’s an ill-fitting suit, a terrible tie (golfers, Santa Clauses, etc) and one of those tent-like shirts that gives the gent a lot of room.

Now, sometimes it’s ok to go ironic and just work with what you’ve got, sometimes you find that little corner or window that somehow saves the day, sometimes you can get your subject to leave the office and hit the streets with you, but sometimes it’s just a full blown mess.

And this is my full blown mess insurance set up.

It’s a Super 8 movie light from God knows when. It creates a nice over-the-bathroom-sink kind of lighting. It works on a regular outlet, it is set up in under a minute, it makes people look good, and it lets me get close so I can cut out the background clutter.

These images were taken with a Rollei 6003 and an 80mm lens with a Tiffen +2 close-up filter. I shot Kodak NC 160. The usual exposure with this light is 1/60th at f 4 at 100 Asa, so the depth of field is very shallow.

The gentleman on top is Lee Remmel the longest-serving employee of the Green Bay Packers. I photographed him as part of a story for Brand Eins, a fairly elegant German business magazine. The budget was tight and I had to work without an assistant, so the easy-to-carry aspect came in handy as well.

The gentleman below is Alain Belda, CEO of Alcoa. We photographed him for Money Magazine. He was very stylish and didn’t need the emergency treatment, but looked good in it anyway.

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This is a story about how inspiration can emerge out of the darkest circumstances.

I was standing in line to pick up a package from the post office on 14th Street and Avenue A, feeling real sorry for myself. Why was I feeling that way? Well, you’re probably not from New York. Here, everybody knows, that the post office on 14th Street and Avenue A is the worst post office ever, definitely in New York but most likely in the entire universe. And any day I have to go to there is a sad day for me.
Anyways, I was standing in line, minding my own business, when I saw a weapons catalogue abandoned on a table. A weapons catalogue!!!! in a post office!!!!!!

I mean, come on, do you really have to give them ideas?

So, I took it to make sure that it wouldn’t fall into the wrong hands, and since I was standing there for a very, very long time I gave it a pretty thorough look. One of the funnier things I came across was a camouflage suit made entirely out of artificial leaves.

Now, the American obsession with camo is kind of fascinating to me. Especially since a lot of people I’ve seen wearing this stuff are xxxx large, which always makes me wonder: if you’re trying so hard to be invisible shouldn’t there be a little less of you?

In any case, I eventually got out of there, disposed of the catalogue and went on my merry way.

A few weeks later Betsy Keating from Money Magazine called me up, and with beautiful serendipity asked me to shoot a photo for a leaf blower test they conducted. There would be a model and we’d go somewhere in the country side to blow some leaves. Of course I immediately remembered that glorious suit, and after a quick Google search, sent Betsy a picture of it.

Betsy liked the idea and lobbied everybody at Money to go full camo on the shoot.

She asked me if there was a model I could recommend for the job and I thought of Juan, a guy I worked with once before on a Photonica shoot. He was a good sport and a pleasure to work with and looked like a suburban homeowner. I sent over some pics and Betsy liked him too. Juan was ready, willing and able and we had our model.

Jane Clark, the main PE at Money had a nice little house with a big garden / back yard upstate and we had our location.

Probably the hardest part was finding dried leaves to blow around since this shoot was in the summer and all the trees were still going strong. Betsy somehow worked her magic and organized a few giant garbage bags of fall foliage from some store in midtown. You just gotta love NYC.

There were two assistants on set.

There was also a guy from Stihl, the company that made the test winner. He supplied us with the actual blower, the goggles, the ear muffs and the gloves. Always remember, kids: safety first!

I shot with the usual RZ and Phase One P25 back and a 4 head, 2 pack 7B set up. We used a mix of regular reflectors and gridspots.

We shot a few different versions of the image. Here’s one with Juan in regular suburban sweat shirt and slacks. Betsy did the styling.

For lunch Jane supplied us with fruits and veggies from her garden. It couldn’t have been better a better outing.

In the end, to everyones delight, the most iconic image of the day was used (see top of post).

I tried my best finagling to get the suit after the shoot, but someone at the magazine had the same idea. I don’t know who ended up with it, but if you don’t see them, you know why.

Here’s a little epilogue:

Betsy and Jane were amongst the first people to ever hire me in NY. Year after year I got some very nice jobs from them and always enjoyed the cool, calm and collected professionalism they brought to the table. In a sign of these shitty times, neither Jane nor Betsy are with Money Magazine anymore. Both are gifted PE’s, great to work with, and even better to hang out with.

Best of luck to both of them.

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