Pat Summitt, who won more games than any other Division One college coach, died today at 64. I was fortunate enough to photograph Pat for the cover of her Random House best selling book “Reach for the Summitt” in 1998. After letting our hair and makeup artist do a little touchup in the bleachers, Pat graciously agreed to ascend a huge, precarious stack of apple boxes in her high heels. To this day I know nothing about team sports but I remember well spending that time with a woman determined to give her best to everything she did.
Lucille Tenazas is the latest subject for my graphic designer series. She is an AIGA Medalist, designer, and educator. This portrait was commissioned by the AIGA and was taken at Lucille’s office at Parsons New School of Design in Manhattan.
I scouted her office a few days before and was happy to see that it was filled with a plethora of beautiful artwork and books.
Those objects hinted at Lucille’s creative accomplishments and influences but I wanted to separate her from that busy background in order to bring more attention to her face. With a little help from a sheet of handmade paper carefully placed behind her head, I was able to do just that.
Not wanting to be the last photographer in the world to reminisce about shooting “The Greatest” I’ll recount the time US Magazine assigned me to photograph Ali in 1991. The setting was his parents’ home in Louisville, KY - a tidy, nondescript house decorated with vinyl covered furniture. With the exception of the two Rolls Royces parked in the driveway, the place blended in perfectly with their middle class neighborhood.
Ali’s parents and sister greeted my assistant and me at the door and I still remember that all three were incredibly tall people who towered over the two of us. Ali's Parkinson’s symptoms were obvious that day but his famous spark of intelligence, pride, and humor came through when he introduced himself by saying “Hi, I’m Joe Frazier.”
He was known for the practical jokes that he liked to play on people - and we were no exception. When my assistant asked to use the bathroom Ali escorted him there, waited for him to close the door and then gleefully motioned everyone else to come near while he turned a lock on the door handle which had purposefully been installed backwards, with the lock outside the door. A couple of minutes later we were all trying hard to hold back our laughter while my assistant’s attempts to escape the bathroom grew ever more frantic. Eventually, Ali quietly unlocked the door, releasing my sheepishly grinning, red-faced assistant who couldn’t complain about being Ali’s latest victim.
Massimo Vignelli passed away two years ago today and Anne Quito with Quartz has just published a beautiful tribute to that storied designer with a kind mention of my still popular short documentary “Massimo Vignelli”. This is a portrait from one of my sessions with Massimo. He’s standing in his design studio in front of a Lichtenstein mural and bust of Goethe.
Full disclosure, my photograph has been significantly altered in Photoshop by superimposing the design from the right wall onto the left wall. It may not be journalistically accurate but I do feel its a much stronger image.
Last Fall The School of Visual Arts Chelsea Gallery in New York had an exhibition of Michael Bierut's design work.
A glowing review in The New York Times T Magazine went so far as to title its article: “The Man Who Designed Manhattan” with praise for the show as well as Michael’s new book “How to Use Graphic Design to Sell Things, Explain Things, Make Things Look Better, Make People Laugh, Make People Cry, and (Every Once in a While) Change the World.”
Just a few weeks before Michael’s show opened, my film editor and I were putting the finishing touches on my latest documentary, “DJ Stout: The Man Who Designed Texas”. That title was credited to “The Texas Observer” review of DJ's new book “Variations on a Rectangle”
DJ Stout has had a remarkable life and a 35-year career as the award winning art director of Texas Monthly and partner at the internationally acclaimed design firm Pentagram. DJ's origins in a tiny West Texas town continue to inspire and inform his design work.
When I started work on this film everyone, including DJ, asked me, “Why did you decide to do a film on DJ Stout?” DJ seemed like a natural subject for a documentary. His accomplishments as an art director and designer at Texas Monthly and Pentagram are remarkable but his personal story and his connection to the “Great State of Texas” are what make him unique.
I was drawn to DJ’s story because I have a personal connection to Texas. Having grown up in San Antonio I chose to move to New York City after college to pursue my career in photography. DJ took a distinctly different path and found great success inspired by his origins in the Lone Star State. I was long aware of the quality of DJ’s award winning professional work. Tim Jarvis, a close friend of mine since college, became DJ’s friend and neighbor in Austin. Over the years, Tim often regaled me with highly amusing stories about his neighbor DJ.
In March of 2015 I contacted DJ with a proposal to film this documentary in May before the heat of the Texas summer set in. He was open to the idea and pointed out the lucky coincidence that his new book, “Variations on a Rectangle” would be released that October at about the same time that I planned to premier my film. This was indeed fortunate timing although our busy schedules prevented us from the start of filming till mid-August when temperatures in Texas were a blistering 110 degrees.
There was no shortage of creative and talented friends of DJ who wanted to help tell his story. It was tough to keep the film down to 17 minutes. A 30 minute interview often had to be edited down to a few seconds.
The film was shot over the course of seven days - three days in Austin, three days in West Texas and one day in Pentagram’s New York City offices. It was then up to my ultra-talented film editor, Aaron Wolfe, to artfully distill many hours of footage down to an engaging 17-minute documentary. The film premiered on November 14th Austin at DJ’s book launch event for “Variations on a Rectangle” amidst a weekend of some great parties. Click the image below to see a few scenes from the festivities.
This portrait of Debbie Millman was taken as part of my designer series in SVA’s recording studio where she produces her engaging and entertaining “Design Matters” podcast. Debbie’s interviews with design luminaries such as Michael Bierut, Massimo Vignelli, Chip Kidd, Steven Heller, Stefan Sagmeister, and Jessica Walsh keep the design world buzzing. Who knew she was so stylishly dressed behind that microphone?
This is the 15th portrait in my graphic designers series. My assistants and I met Debbie at the SVA recording studio on 21st Street in Manhattan. I had a couple compositions in mind including photographing her through the studio's window. Next step was to move inside that cramped little space, light it up, and let Debbie show off her favorite Louboutins. This frame ended up being my favorite as it seemed to embody the fun loving and playful style of her podcast.
Here are a couple links where you can learn more about Debbie Millman's work:
iPhone panoramic shot by Hillary of Christian and I before we departed Frankfurt for London with three trolleys of gear. Our ten cases of equipment and three suitcases with steel toe boots and clothing that included conditions from the tropics to Northern Canada (in February) weighed about 600lbs. It was all meticulously planned and packed to allow for a huge variety of location and studio still photography as well as video interviews and industrial B roll.
The sun sets and our shoot ends but not before our trusty helpers and many curious onlookers posed for a group portrait with a very well dressed bull who appeared in the background of the portrait shot.
Beautiful, expressive faces amongst the gathering crowd included some schoolboys on their way home.
I’ve done numerous photo shoots in India over the years and my crew and I never fail to draw curious but congenial crowds that eventually start to make it difficult to continue the shoot.
Lots of driving and location scouting for this portrait took up much of our day. The curving highway and hill in the background outside of Bangalore turned out to be the perfect spot.
A Passage To India: My assistants Hillary,Christian, and I celebrate the arrival of our duplicate passports (a complicated necessity for our Indian visas) and the first step in our two month journey around the world.
Last winter one of the world’s leading engineering firms commissioned me to photograph and film in 24 cities across eight countries under a very tight deadline entailing more than 2 months of continuous travel around the world.
We travelled with a dozen cases of equipment and suitcases with wardrobes to handle Central America to Northern Canada. The carefully packed minimum of gear was required to do complex studio portraits, location video interviews, outdoor location portraits, and project oriented stills and video.
A few scenes from the October 21st opening and book launch for my Tidal Anatomy series. Many thanks to over 200 guests who came to support an ongoing project that’s been a labor of love for the past two years.
I’m pleased to announce that the book launch and exhibition of my Tidal Anatomy portrait series opens at Site 109 in Manhattan on October 21. The images are the result of two years of photographing surfers from an unlikely perspective with my camera placed high above the surfer and beach.
The inspiration for this project came to me while walking along the shore in Montauk, New York on a raw, windy day in the Spring of 2013. An unusually harsh winter had radically altered the beach, leaving behind arresting scenes of strewn rocks, stratified clay, decaying driftwood, driven sand, and man made debris.
As a portrait photographer who has photographed people all over the world for over thirty years, I immediately recognized that these scenes would make the perfect backdrop for portraits of surfers. I had taken up surfing just a few years ago and learned to love the sport while meeting many fascinating people who shared my passion.
Aided by a strong assistant and heavily sandbagged equipment I wrestled the forces of wind, tides, and shifting sands to create the portraits I envisioned that spring day. These photographs reveal something innate within each of my subjects, who are all sculpted by the ocean and illustrate how both life and land are shaped by the forces of nature.
After reading Michael Bierut’s touching and poignant tribute to Massimo Vignelli on Design Observer today it was hard to imagine writing something meaningful about my brief encounters with such an influential and inspiring designer. Since I’m a photographer I thought I’d try a visual tribute based on my three very memorable days filming and photographing Massimo and Lella.
In May of 2009 I began a series of portrait sessions featuring some of the most prominent graphic designers in the United States. Massimo Vignelli was at the top of my list and I was thrilled when he agreed to let me photograph him and his wife, Lella, as my first subjects.
I spent the better part of a day photographing the two of them in various settings in their design studio on East 67th St. During the session Massimo expressed an interest in my camera. He told me he had always had a fascination with camera design and lamented the fact that he had never had the opportunity to design one himself. In a wonderful demonstration of his divergent interests and talent he made a quick sketch depicting the evolution of 35mm cameras, signed it, and handed it to me. I still have that sketch along with a signed poster of his famous and controversial subway map redesign.
The following year I was inspired to shoot a short documentary about Massimo. He very graciously allowed me to film him despite the fact that this was my first attempt at filmmaking. Over the course of two sweltering summer days in his un air-conditioned studio my assistant and I were ready to faint in the heat but Massimo never broke a sweat in his signature black turtleneck. Below is the resulting seven minute video which Massimo told me was the best film done on him to date.
I’ve also included a few photographs from my original still portrait session.