Last month Rebecca Horne at The Wall Street Journal gave me a dream assignment: shoot Magda Sayeg for the WSJ Weekend. Sayeg, also known as “Knitta Please,” is known for yarn bombing, or covering objects in public space with colorful knitted sheaths. She’s covered a municipal bus in Mexico City, a staircase in Sydney, and countless lamp posts and parking meters across the US. It’s like home crafting meets street art. To quote the Rachel Emma Silverman, the WSJ journalist who wrote the article: “Her work has spawned a movement. There are now yarn-bombing artists all over the world. Websites, blogs and coffee table books follow all the latest developments of the knit graffiti aesthetic.”
Why was it a dream assignment? All the components were in place: not only did I get to shoot an artist who’s work I admire, but I got to do it as she installed a new piece, outside, on the street, in my beloved downtown LA. The piece was full of bright color —right up my alley— and Magda’s wardrobe was even more saturated than the art she was installing, which meant plenty of pop to the images.
I loved being around Magda. She’s a savvy businesswoman who travels the globe making her art, but retains a sense of amazement that it’s all worked out for her so well. She takes great pleasure from making the work itself, and as an artist, that’s something I love to see.
The shoot was a constant negotiation of sidewalk traffic, three studio strobes, two ladders, and dozens of balls of yarn. I asked Magda to start off the shoot perched atop a ladder, in front of the finished part of the yarn mural. She looked at ease up there. I was on a ladder too, placed on the very edge of the sidewalk, to get as much of the mural in my frame as possible. Of course this meant my backside was hanging into the gutter and inches from cars barreling off the highway into downtown. My assistant Todd was watching me as much as he was watching the lights.
As you can see from the picks above, I love mixing my strobe with daylight, so as we setup and did our first shots, I kept a careful eye on the wide swaths of shadow cast by the skyscrapers all around our location. When the time was right, I switched my shooting position, composition, and lighting to incorporate the shaft of sunlight that we’d have on Magda for a window of 20 minutes. You can see the results of that below.
Throughout the morning, videographer Michael Kofsky shot video of my shoot which he incorporated into his short film and interview of Ms. Sayeg. Check it out and you can get a sense of the sidewalk setting where the installation and simultaneous photo shoot were happening. [Note the pants-hitch/butt pat that yours truly contributes to end the video!]
A few weeks ago I got to visit the house that movie trailers built: Mark Woollen’s Santa Monica office. Woollen is one of Hollywood’s most sought-after movie trailer editors, and the wall covered in shelves brimming with awards gave me some idea of how successful he’s been.
I mean, his first large-scale feature trailer was “Schindler’s List.” He did it when he was 22. He did “The Social Network” last year and was cutting “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” while I was there. Impressive stuff.
I love shooting people like Mark — the creative individuals who do the highend entertainment work we all as viewers take for granted. It’s romantic in theory but perfectly practical in reality. He essentially works at a desk just like any other professional. But he’s got a honed sense of timing, storytelling, and visual wit.
For the hour that I worked with Mark, we walked around his office as I shot, my assistant Aaron darting around with a hand-held sidelight, and me keeping my eye jammed up to the camera as I learned more about Mark and clicked away. I wanted to keep the loose, snap-shot approach I’ve been aiming for lately. I like working organically, moving through a space, shooting in motion, working with my subject to put them at ease. And what’s great about shooting with handheld flashes is that when I find a composition that I love, I can simply slow the pace of the shoot, narrow in on a perfect shot, and then as soon as I’m done with it keep moving and keeping it loose.
The shot that Diana Suryakusuma at Businesweek chose was made at the end of the shoot, in Mark’s colleague Chad’s office at his edit bay. Mark was supervising Chad’s work on the “Dragon Tattoo” TV spot that day, and so Mark took a seat to see the changes Chad had been working on. They reviewed the edit and I shot, and their close working relationship was clear to see as they joked around, poked fun at each other, and encouraged smiles and slightly exaggerated responses to what they were looking at on their screens.
They’re great guys. I’m glad that I got to make an image of these tastemakers in the midst of doing their work.
Just got word from Nextspace LA that they’d like to keep the show up for a month longer than previously planned. I absolutely had to oblige! It will now be on view through the end of February. Passers-by and Nextspace members have continued to relate positive feedback on the show over the last two months it’s been up — and that’s been incredible for me.
If you’re an LA local, or if you’re passing through town in the next two months, please come in and see the 90 prints scaling the 20’ walls.
A new closing reception date is in the works, likely on February 25th of this new year. Stay tuned.
When I saw “Moneyball” back in September my curiosity was piqued when I recognized the man playing the owner of the beleaguered Oakland A’s opposite Brad Pitt: it was Bobby Kotick, the CEO of Activision, who I’d photographed three years prior for Fortune. I didn’t know he acted —I thought he was busy making games like “Call of Duty”— so of course I was happy to shoot him again for LA Magazine in October so he could tell me about his (businessman playing a businessman) cameo.
When I saw Bobby I was floored: he’d lost around 50 pounds since the last time I saw him. I asked if the weight-loss was in pursuit of stardom on the silver screen. Apparently not. The role came about because Bobby is buddies with director Bennet Miller, and as Bobby put it, “Bennet needed someone to play a businessman who says ‘no.’ It was perfect for the role for me.” Apparently Bobby is now buddies with Brad Pitt. I joked that Brad should watch his back.
Conversation on the shoot quickly turned to Activision’s new game, Skylander. And unlike what you might expect from a CEO, Bobby is an intricate part of the game development process, and was totally excited to play the game with an employee’s son for our shoot. His enthusiasm for Skylander impressed me, and I think the idea of the system is great. The characters you play on screen are actually represented by small plastic figurines embedded with an RFID chip. You choose the character you’ll play by putting the figurine on a little stage that communicates with the game system. And boom — that character appears onscreen. The chip in the figurine saves all of your play settings, the points you earn, and your play history, so if you take your figure to a friend’s house, your character in the game comes with you. I think it’s very cool — and I don’t even play video games.
Here’s a few outtakes from our game session, and the final page layout that’s out in now in LA Magazine.
After the months of posting from the 28 at 28 series, I thought you might want to read about the intention behing the project. My statement follows:
“28 at 28 is an ongoing annual portrait series documenting my peers.
I sensed a turning point in my late 20s. Those around me were making strides in their careers, becoming prolific in their artwork, finding partners, buying homes, and having children. Others were directionless, some scrapping everything to start fresh. With the stakes higher than they’d ever been before, all of us were in the throes of finding our voices as we embraced adulthood. I felt like the next few years would inform the rest of our lives—it seemed a perfect time to begin a document of my peers, and by extension, my generation.
Inspired by Nicholas Nixon’s The Brown Sisters and the BBC 7-Up series, two years ago I shot the first iteration of this project—portraits of 28 other 28-year-olds. They were close friends, and friends-of-friends in varying fields: artists, actors, musicians, scientists, corporate managers and municipal employees. The following year I added one more subject, making a group of 29 at 29. Now that I’m 30, I’ve shot the same subjects, and added one, making it 30 at 30. I’ll continue this same format, and follow this same group, documenting each year of change.
In the first three years of shooting this project I’ve seen lofty hopes in my subjects tempered only by a quiet resolve to take on this difficult historical moment. Not only am I interested in recording the changes wrought by aging, but I want to see how this group realizes—or looses sight of—its potential. In iterations to come I will work to document its defining traits and work to distill its ambitions. My hope is to not only record the passage of time, but to explore how knowledge, perspective, and sense-of-self evolve with age.
Over the years, I aim to create familiarity and intimacy with the subjects and document the way my relationships with them evolve. I assume that the way I see my photography will change as well. So, besides the literal self-portrait I make of myself each year, the entire set of photographs becomes a figurative self-portrait. As I change course in my portraiture, the project will change course too, and it will be a years-long document of my development as a photographer.”