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.