Several years ago I got talked into a job photographing a number of European telecommunications CEO’s. The pictures were some of the worst I’ve ever taken. Each subject had mastered the stale but stately CEO look. One man walked into the room, shook my hand, and held up two fingers. “Two pictures,” he insisted, “no more.”
I’ve since instituted the ‘No-CEO’ policy. I’m not interested in photographing powerful people whose only interest is to appear powerful. There are plenty of other photographers who can do a better job.
The best of all time was Avedon. He was notorious for being able to crack the façade. But even Avedon would sometimes fail:
Last month I photographed in Paris for the 2007 edition of Magnum’s Fashion Magazine. I broke my No-CEO policy a couple of times, but I’m happy with the pictures. The biggest challenge I faced was photographing models. I tried to make real portraits by photographing the models in their own clothes and apartments. But it seemed impossible to break through their model-ness. No matter how many times I told a model to stop posing, they still had the look. Even their eyes were professional.
This brings up the whole issue of artists doing editorial photography. In the last week I’ve encountered a few examples:
- Chris Verene in last week’s issue of Newsweek
- Stephen Gill in yesterday’s NYTimes Style Magazine
- Justine Kurland photographing Jeff Wall for the NYTimes Magazine.
The Kurland pictures really got me thinking. In the same edition of the NYTimes, her work received a full-page profile. If the tables were turned, would Jeff Wall take editorial pictures of Kurland? Not in a million years.
So why does she bother? Years ago I asked this question to Robert Polidori. He told me that he used to play in a rock band. He said that editorial photography is similar to going on the road with a band. You find yourself playing an empty bar in the midddle of nowhere on a Tuesday night and ask yourself, “Why do I bother.” The answer, he said, is that all of these gigs make you stronger – more ready for the studio or the arena concert.