Category Archives: High Profile

Coming Back Around

So much of what I do is predicated on circumstances; a good job is often not a great shot as much as a great solution. It is difficult to sort these things out when, as a professional and an artist, you intuitively are only looking for the great shot. The problem is that “as good as it could be” can never really feel like enough. The result is that occasionally I come away from an assignment less than satisfied with the result.

 

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Jim Stone, Chairman and CEO of Plymouth Rock Assurance, is an easy guy to underestimate. He is humble, friendly, and accessible. He is also really, really, smart. He was looking for a founder’s portrait. These assignments are high pressure for me only because they have to stand the test of time, both his and mine; and the expectations, at times, exceed the possibilities. Given his nature, Mr. Stone was not about to spring for grooming. Nonetheless, everything went according to plan during and after the shoot; but I was left with this nagging feeling that it was a failed opportunity. (I care about this sort of thing probably more than I should,).

So a few months ago, I received an email promoting a widely admired book that Mr. Stone had written, and embedded in the email was a really nice portrait of the author. It was upsetting to think that he might have reshot his photo. I went back into my file and, lo and behold, it was my shot. I felt an oddly intense sense of relief, as if I had been given a reprieve.

In a commercial venue your instincts are often sabotaged by the demands of the client, the situation, or a lack of resources. Sometimes I get in my own way in an attempt to sort out these feelings. As in this case, time is usually the arbiter of my judgement in these matters.

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Photographing Leaders

-Go Directly to Leader Portfolio-

Photographing the people in charge demands both technical and psychological precision. These are people who reached the top by being very, very good at things that matter to them, and they do not suffer fools gladly.

A portrait session puts them in the uncomfortable position of ceding control to someone they don’ t know. They need to be put at ease. The first step is simple. I tell them exactly what will happen to them and how long it will take; keeping in mind that this event, in reality, is the least important part of their day. The trick is to understand that there is, in each of these powerful personae, a place that really cares about the result; that is very invested in how they are portrayed. One must tread very lightly here. First and foremost, the process must be seamless; second, the photographer must, gently and respectfully, take charge; and third, I find humor and a measured precocity to be  very effective devices to both relax and energize the sitter.

One can feel any tension dissipate as this combination of control, calm, and conversation takes effect. In the end, you know it all has come together, because everyone in the room is smiling; sitter, vassals, and clients alike. The irony is how high the stakes can feel over that which is, in effect, a relatively minor event … just a picture after all.

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Russian Celebrities

Russian Celebrities

The Russians were back shooting more TV in February. It is hard to beat a 376 foot three masted Barque (See Tall Ships) for a location, but Gehry’s Disney Center is a pretty good problem to have. I was asked, once again, to do the print for the VTb24 Bank ADs (the second largest bank in Russia). The subjects were a popular Russian journalist, Leonid Parfyonov, and a film director, Valery Todorovsky. It is always fun hanging with the folks at Mechaniks (LA production company) and I go to school on Michael Norman the director. It is a lot of hurry up and wait, and then hurry up. I make a lot of friends on a film set by working fast.

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Terry Goodkind Doesn’t Shoot John Earle


I love photographing authors. I have never met one that wasn’t incredibly intense. A number of my subjects have had a serious preoccupation with firearms. (Clancy, Parker) but they don’t usually wear them. When Terry Goodkind answered his front door, he sported a 45mm Glock on his belt. Now I am not a gun guy, and that lack of familiarity breeds a certain diffidence when they are around, so I asked if I was in peril. His look implied that the jury was out until we got to know each other. Sometimes getting along is not a choice. We talked about it later, and I couldn’t really argue with the idea that, like a cell phone, if you decide to own a gun, it doesn’t do you a lot of good sitting at home under your pillow. Terry is very smart, very focussed, and, yes, strongly opinionated … and man, he’s got some wheels.

Terry, Jeri his wife, Ivan Held (publisher) and Susan Allison(editor)

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God Love LA Film Sets

A Job Well Done (more Restasis)

I want to get beyond the shots here to the set and the casting. Let’s play a game. Find the styling missteps (this is an architect’s office) OK, I give up. It is such a pleasure to work in an environment where everyone does their job well. I was working in sets designed and implemented by Andy Rhodes; a freelance art director in LA. I was shooting very loose and making things up as I went along … my art director had moved on to his weekend. These sets were built in a vacant museum; essentially cool, empty space. When Andy and his minions got done with a location, every detail, every dark corner worked to convey the necessary idea. The models, all appropriately architectonic, disappeared into the concept. It was instant universe. I moved nothing. God love Los Angeles.

Andy and his set … check out the details!

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Big Pharma

America’s Favorite Ophthalmologist

I have always thought that my accountant should drive a mercedes, my dentist should have perfect teeth, and my mechanic should drive a 15 year old buick (if you can keep that running you can fix anything). All was right with the world then photographing Dr. Alison Tendler, ophthalmologist and spokesperson for Restasis Eye Drops. As Jack Kerouac said (OK different context) “You got eyes”. She could drift into simple beauty very quickly. I had to keep pulling her back to “doctor” … highly disciplined professional that I am.

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Keeping it Simple … Getting it Right

I am always happier when the idea quotient is higher than the production quotient. Production, to me. is a way to get back to simple. Simple is being in the  right place,  in the right light, with the right crew. Photographing author Bill Landay for Random House was just such an occasion. There wasn’t any art direction, but I gleaned from conversations with the creative director in NY and the author, that we needed  a spectrum of shots, from gritty crime writer (sexy, worldly) , ex lawyer (subject cred), and granular context (this book, these characters). I scouted some with the author, and scoped out  a couple of places I knew might work on my own. We then set up a schedule around the light. All places would have worked under any conditions, but sunny was best. Two great assistants (driver and grip) kept the guerilla nature of the event going smoothly; and we cruised through the whole adventure in 4 hours. Three wardrobe changes, 4 locations;  finishing just when the sun dropped behind the trees. Happy author …  Happy client (there sure are a lot of shots!) … Happy photographer …  Fun.



William Landay Author

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Making History … Portraits

Every few years I photograph the outgoing President of the Academy of Arts & Sciences. The picture ends up on a wall documenting presidents of the last 230 years, starting with an engraving of John Adams (1779). As most of what I do is published and chucked, it feels significant to me to have created something for the historical record. Some recent contributions to that wall have been Leo Beranek (Sorry Al, he knows who founded the internet) and Dr. Emilio Bizzi ( a distinguished neuroscientist).

I got a call a couple of years ago from a portrait painter and acquaintance of mine to collaborate on some work he had been commissioned to do. We eventually worked together on portraits for Alan Greenspan for the Fed (see bio), Gov. Tom Ridge, and Hon. Michael Chertoff, both for the Dept. of Homeland Security. I am always amazed and humbled by good painters. The plasticity of their process, the extraordinary melding of craft and opinion, and the granularity of decisions, makes taking a photograph seem like a walk in the park. My goal was to take some pictures that not only worked for the painting, but that worked for me as well. These photos, in a roundabout way, acquired a similar historical significance for me as those above. Somewhere in the paintings, hung forever in the corridors of government, will be my photographic DNA.

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In Memory of Robert B. Parker

I first met Robert Parker in 1992. I remember driving up to his house in Cambridge, assigned by his long time publisher Putnam to produce an author portrait and publicity photos. I found him sitting on the front steps. I pulled up, rolled down the window and introduced myself. His response was to inform me that he had two expressions and then showed me a maniacal grin and a terrifying grimace. It was the beginning of long and productive relationship.

About every other year I would come back for a new set of photos (the last time was June 09), and I would like to think he cultivated a grudging respect for the work, implicit in the return engagements (that, or Joan liked me). I have photographed a lot of authors over the years and he was my favorite. He seemed to soften a touch with time, or maybe he was just waiting for me to grow up. Whatever the case, that gruff exterior belied a warm and generous heart. I will miss the grin and the grimace.

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Tall Ships … What Goes Around

Tall Ships … a dream … at last

I got a call from a producer in Los Angeles to shoot print ads concurrent with the TV spots for a bank in Russia (VTb24). The subject, in this case, was the captain of the Kreuzenstern, a 3 masted barque, used for maritime training, and the second largest tall ship in the world. A week later I was on deck off Cape Cod, under a full moon and full sail. A long time ago I blew a chance to get up close and personal with tall ships. Different time, different John. I called my son and his comment was “Dad, you finally got your tall ship”. Yep.

More Shots

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