Elinor Carucci on Photographing a Bad (but Fascinating) Kiss
The December 11 issue of The New Yorker features Elinor Carucci’s arresting close-up photograph of a kiss, shot on assignment to accompany a short story by Kristen Roupenian. The story, about the self-deceptions and self-abnegation of a young woman who goes on a couple of dates with an older man, has drawn a lot of attention, at least in part, one could argue, because Carucci’s photo is such an inducement to read it. The photograph, which is deceptively simple, manages to capture a “grisly imbalance of desire,” as New Yorker staff writer Amanda Petrusich explains in an interview with Carucci about how the image was created—with a real-life couple as her models.
Here’s a short excerpt of that interview. The full interview, available on The New Yorker’s Photo Booth blog, is well worth reading.
Amanda Petrusich: Did you know you wanted his mouth to be open and hers to be closed?
Elinor Carucci: In the story, [the protagonist-narrator] talks about how aggressive and overwhelming his kiss is. He’s doing too much. His tongue is in her throat. I wanted to try and get something that would feel like she’s gentle and he’s just doing too much. With every photo shoot, I have an idea of what I want to get, but then when you’re there, with people, they’re who they are—and there’s a dynamism to their feel, their physicality, their smell, what they’re doing, and I have to follow that.
AP: The blackness between his lips feels really purposeful.
EC: The kisses were so alive. They were happening right in front of me. But we did play with almost-kissing, kissing, slow-motion kissing. I tried to work with who they were, but also to direct them in a way that would allow me to take pictures. Some of it was also about—I don’t want to sound too poetic—but it was about the conceptual space between a couple, any couple. Even if you’ve been married for 20 years, there’s something that’s always there, between two people. With the composition, I wanted to create that space.
European Press Agencies to Google, Facebook: Pay Up
Nine European press agencies on Wednesday published an op-ed in Le Monde arguing that Google and Facebook should be required to pay copyright royalties on the third-party news and information they distribute and profit from. The article was published as the European Parliament is debating new legislation that would, according to Agence France-Presse, “make Facebook, Google, Twitter and other major players pay for the millions of news articles they use or link to.” The arguments laid out in the statement should have photojournalists, editorial photographers and anyone who cares about the fate of media organizations in the digital age, nodding in unison.
Despite earning the majority of dollars spent on digital advertising, Google and Facebook, the agencies wrote, “do not have journalists in Syria risking their lives, nor a bureau in Zimbabwe investigating Mugabe’s departure, nor editors to check and verify information sent in by reporters on the ground.” Reporting costs someone money, in other words, and if news and information are so essential to the user experience on Google, Facebook and other digital platforms, those companies should pay for that content.
“Access to free information is supposedly one of the great victories of the internet. But it is a myth,” the agencies wrote.
They also argued that the tech giants’ hoarding of ad dollars was a threat to democracy. “Free and reliable newsgathering is now threatened because the media will simply no longer be able to pay for it,” they said.
The coalition that authored the op-ed includes French agency AFP; Dutch agency ANP; Italian agency Ansa; Austria’s APA; Belgium’s Belga; German agency DPA; Spanish agency EFE; Britain’s Press Association; and Swedish agency TT.
Over the summer, Facebook announced they were working on a way to drive subscriptions for publishers who use their Instant Articles feature, which allows Facebook users to read news stories without leaving the Facebook platform. A group of publishers also announced in July that they were seeking collective bargaining rights so they could better negotiate with Facebook, Google and other online platforms that distribute news and information.
Celebrity Photographer Jesse Dittmar’s Advice to Assistants
There are assistants who get a lot of work, and assistants who don’t. Celebrity photographer Jesse Dittmar sheds light on the difference, explaining how assistants can please the photographers who hire them, and get called back for more work:
Livelihoods and a lot of money are at stake on photo shoots, he says. “It’s not play time, it’s not, hey, I get to meet all these cool celebrities. It’s real work.
“Your job is to do everything in your power to make the shoot easier, and help the photographer you’re working for make the pictures better.” He goes on to explain that you can’t do those things if you’re on set taking pictures behind the scenes, posting to Instagram, texting your friends, flirting with models, looking over the client’s shoulder, or engaging in any other tempting distractions. He says, “A lot of [young assistants] are looking more than doing, and that gets old quick.”
For young assistants, it is especially tempting to look over the digital tech’s shoulder. “A lot of people want to see Polaroids and I was one of those guys. You see the lights around you, and you’re like, ‘Oh my god, what does that look like [in the picture]? It’s a natural desire to have, especially if you’re trying to learn,” Dittmar says. “Looking over the digital tech’s and the photographer’s shoulders to make a decision about how to change the lighting–that’s not your job. You’re not working if you’re looking at the images.”
PDN recently interviewed WIRED magazine senior photo editor Maria Lokke about what’s she’s looking for in the photographers she hires, and how she finds them. In this video, she talks about assignments she gave recently to photographers Brea Souders and Cole Barash, and what made them the right photographers for those jobs.
Lokke also offered some insight and advice for photographers who are interested in shooting for WIRED. Here’s what she told us:
PDN: What’s the best way for photographers to reach you and get their work in front of you?
Maria Lokke: I pay a lot of attention to social media. I do appreciate when people reach out. Instead of sending a mass email to lots of different editors, I like when people are really thoughtful and pay attention to whatever publication they’re trying to work for, the types of photography that magazine publishes, and cater an email or newsletter update to that publication. And more specifically, [I like] if someone knows me and the type of work that I usually go for and reaches out because they know they would be a good fit. I respond well to that personalized approach.
PDN: What do you like? What do you look for in photographers?
ML: For me, knowing [a photographer] has a really strong personal practice or interest that they’re cultivating outside the work they’re commissioned for is really important, because it shows you’re an independent thinker and you’re self-motivated and you have interests that are special to you. Photographers I’m really drawn to or respond well to are people that have well developed personal styles and tastes that feel special and are well-cultivated.
PDN: Aside from photographers not researching the magazine and sending the wrong kind of pitch, are there other mistakes that photographers commonly make? Or things about your job that you wish photographers understood better?
ML: That’s probably the main thing: not doing your homework and sending work that doesn’t make any sense for the publication. That and maybe sending too many promos or too many emails.
PDN: What constitutes too many?
ML: I think more than once a month, or more than once every couple months. I feel like [you shouldn’t] send an update unless you’ve actually done a significant amount of new work or new projects. If you haven’t refreshed anything in your collection or if you aren’t working on anything new, there’s no need to repeat yourself.
PDN: What keeps you from rehiring photographers?
ML: If photographers are disorganized or don’t listen to direction, and we have specific needs that aren’t addressed or aren’t done, we probably wouldn’t hire [them] again. Or if they’ve been difficult with the subjects. A lot of the people we photograph are not celebrities. They’re new to being photographed, so having a photographer that’s going to be able to make someone feel comfortable being photographed is a huge plus for us. If someone has a bad experience being photographed, then usully the photo is not going to look great, and we probably wouldn’t rehire that photographer.
PDN: And what makes you want to rehire someone you’ve worked with?
ML: I think when people we’ve hired get excited about the topic and contribute a lot of ideas in terms of what they’d be excited to produce for the story, I love that. That’s exciting to me, and that makes me want to work with them again.
For better or worse, hashtags are the organizational backbone of Instagram, putting the world of #BreakfastPics and other delights at your fingertips.
While you could always search Instagram by hashtags, or click through on one to see other images with the same tag, the social network is now letting you follow hashtags as you would a regular Instagram account. #Hooray.
To get started, search for a hashtag or tap on one from any post, which will bring you to the hashtag page. From there, just hit the follow button. Images with that hashtag will then be populated into your feed in the same algorithmically massaged manner as the rest of Instagram’s posts.
If you have a public Instagram account, the hashtags you follow will be publicly visible. #ChooseWisely.
Wrangling the Cast of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” for a Portrait
This Friday marks another major event in the intergalactic battle between good and evil with the release of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.” It is the eighth episode of the 40-year Star Wars saga. To stoke anticipation and ticket sales, the cast has been speed dating with the media. The New York Times got 30 minutes last week.
“We thought that meant 30 minutes for my picture,” says celebrity photographer Jesse Dittmar, who was hired by Times photo editor Jolie Ruben to shoot a group portrait of the cast. “But it meant 30 minutes to interview 11 people and take a picture.
“I ended up with two minutes to shoot the group of 11 egos, six of whom were palpably unhelpful, while a peanut gallery of 40 PR reps, individual hair, make-up, and stylists were trying to get their say,” says Dittmar (in the blue shirt, talking to actor Domhnall Gleeson in the BTS photo below).
Planning was key. “I knew there would be elements out of my control,” he says, reeling off the list of unknowns: what the actors would be wearing, what moods they would be in, who else would in the room causing distractions.
Dittmar focused on the things he could control: the set, the lighting, the positioning of the subjects, and the color palette. He researched the actors to get a sense of their personalities, as well as their heights, which he needed to know to plan their positioning. The shoot was to take place at the the Echo Park room in LA’s Intercontinental Hotel. To see the room in advance, Dittmar had to call the hotel and pretend he was interested in renting a conference room. “They showed me the [Echo Park] room and it was gross,” he says.
He rented a 20-foot foldable backdrop, some wooden flooring, and lights, including two Elinchrom octabanks, which served as the primary lights; and 2 Photek softlighters, for additional light on the actors at the extreme ends of the group. Dittmar notes that he invested a significant amount of his own money in travel, assistants and rentals. “Having this in my portfolio is worth so much more than [The Times] was paying me,” he says. “I have an important picture of an important cultural event forever.”
He spent six hours setting up: three hours building the set the night before, and three hours the following morning working on composition and lighting, using his crew as stand-ins for the actors. When the writer finished interviewing, Dittmar actually had 10 minutes with the cast. But getting them into position took eight of those minutes, he says.
Some of the actors didn’t want to stand or sit where Dittmar wanted them to. “You’re trying to charm them into doing what you want,” he says. But that doesn’t always work. “The number one thing is being assertive and confident in what you want to have happen [and] a decisive back-up plan. When someone says, ‘I don’t want to stand there,’ you go, OK, how about here? You pivot, because you don’t have time to argue.”
When he started shooting, his primary concern was getting everyone to look at the camera. “You have to speak loudly, clearly, and decisively. You’re snapping your fingers, saying ‘Hey guys, look at me,’ because when subjects aren’t entirely comfortable, by default you look at the people you are comfortable with”—their handlers, standing behind Dittmar—“to see their reaction,” the photographer says. (Unlike magazine clients, The Times doesn’t allow compositing, so it is critical to get at least one frame with everyone looking at the camera, and nobody blinking.)
To get everyone’s attention, Dittmar used the same technique as he did when shooting the cast of Downton Abbey (read more about that here). One of his tricks is to call on individual actors by name, and ask them to make small adjustments in the positions of their feet, shoulders, or hands. “Make sure you have everyone’s name memorized. That makes a big difference,” Dittmar says. To be able to call on the least-famous actor on the set by name, he says, signals to the entire cast “that you’ve done your homework, and you have a confidence that people respect.”
He says there were four people standing over him “whose sole job was to get the actors out of the room,” so there was no time for indecision. “You’re acting on your instincts and preparation.” Using a Canon 5D Mark IV with a 24-70 lens, Dittmar shot a total of 42 frames. The Times published the portrait on December 8.
Speculation has ensued on Twitter about the pronounced gap that Dittmar left between the actors in the middle of the portrait. “There was some hypothesizing that I left that space for Carrie Fisher,” Dittmar says. Fisher, who has played Princess Leia in every Star Wars movie, died last December.
Asked if the speculation was correct, Dittmar said: “I’m not saying. I think it’s a great theory, and I’m going to let it sit.”
Street photographer Damon Pablo Escudero ventures out into the streets of New York to shoot for days and weeks on end. And sometimes, he says, “I’m shooting 50 rolls [of film] a week and it’s all terrible.” We asked him the obvious question: When it’s not flowing, what do you do? Here’s his reply:
“I often get a lot of junk and that is just what happens in street photography. So you keep shooting. One or two times I’ve been really scolded, and it just shakes you and you can’t even get back into a flow. Those days I just go home and think, well, those pictures weren’t meant for me today.
“Sometimes, to build confidence, I go to places where lots of other photographers are, which are places I usually completely avoid. The Easter Parade is a great example, because everybody there is OK with you taking their picture. And then as you get your flow, peel away from that, and carry that confidence to more isolated environments and that usually works.
“I also suggest that people shoot film. With digital, you’re constantly looking [at what you’ve shot]. With film, you are constantly hunting because you don’t have a chance to look at anything until you’ve developed the roll. So that was one thing that sort of always kept me going.”
‘Tis the season for waiting impatiently for UPS to deliver your Amazon packages while the clock ticks ever closer to your gift exchange.
Fortunately, you don’t have to put your faith in the vagaries of logistics to create the perfect gift, all you need is your images, some hot glue, pliers and a bit of patience. The Cooperative of Photography has pulled together a series of fun do it yourself photo gifts that let you share your gift for photography with friends and family.
By the way, if you do want to put your faith in Amazon, check out our 2017 Photo Gift Guide, produced in conjunction with DP Review.
Léonard Pongo Wins 00 Visura Grant for Work on Congo
Léonard Pongo has won the 2017 Visura Grant for Outstanding Personal Project, for his long-term project “The Uncanny,” about daily life in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Pongo, a member of Noor who was named a PDN’s 30 photographer in 2016, will receive a $5000 cash prize and a 90-minute consultation with editor and curator Scott Thode.
Juan Arredondo was named the finalist for this year’s grant. His project “Everybody Needs a Good Neighbor” looks at the challenges facing former child soldiers in Colombia.
Visura hosts portfolios, builds websites and “connects professional individuals and organizations worldwide in the photography, film, and media industry.” The jury for this year’s grant was Gina Martin of National Geographic; Myles Little, former photo editor at TIME; Yukiko Yamagata of Open Society Foundations; Michael D. Davis of the Newhouse School of Communications at Syracuse University; and freelance photo editor and curator Monica Allende.
The jurors chose 20 honorable mentions. The list of honorable mentions and their personal projects can be found on the Visura website.
Previous winners of Visura grants include Justin Maxon and Jared Moosy; and Souvid Datta, whose honors (including PDN’s 30) were withdrawn after he admitted to plagiarizing work by other photographers.
Frances F. Denny’s Top Five Rules for Launching Your Career
Brooklyn-based photographer Frances F. Denny launched her multi-track career in fine-art, editorial and commercial work in 2015. Her clients include Chipotle Mexican Grill, online fashion retailer MM.LaFleur, The New Yorker, Cherry Bombe, Elle, Architectural Digest, and others. Last year she formed Dafne, a creative partnership with art director Catherine Duffy that produces campaigns for and brand launches for commercial clients. Here’s her advice for aspiring photographers:
1. Take any job that comes along, within reason. Just say yes to the job, and figure out how to shoot it later.
2. Go to as many shoots as possible, and observe. You’ll learn a lot.
3. Be good at pleasing clients. Write short, polite emails. Have clever ideas, and get ahead of problems, by anticipating them and coming up with solutions.
4. Outsource the things you need help with. You can’t do everything.
5. Never work for free. People will often ask you to work for free. I turn them down politely. [Doing that] is beneficial to you, and the rest of us who trying to make a living as photographers.