Creative Director: Brandon Kavulla
Photography Director: Mia J. Diehl
VP/Creative Director, Digital and Print Media: John Korpics
Senior Director of Photography: Karen Frank
Creative Director: Shanti Marlar
Photography+Video Director: Jennifer Laski
Deputy Photo Director: Jennifer Sargent
Creative Director: TJ Tucker
Photography Editor: Leslie Baldwin
Design Director: David Curcurito
Photo Director: Michael Norseng
Art Director: Stravinski Pierre
Photo Editor: Stacy Pittman
Photographer: Joe Pugliese
You’re ruling the July newsstand. The covers seem to highlight your strength, what would you say that is?
It’s really hard to say what my strength is specifically because I’m too close to it to know what other people see in the work. When I hear feedback from editors, they reference things like quiet moments, or use the word iconic, which can seem generic but something I think about on every shoot. Not really in a heroic way but as a way to frame what we do in the context of the life of a photo. For example, I often think about the entire career or life story of a person, and at the end of their lives, what picture would define them? What one photo sums up someone who has done great things, and what are the characteristics of a photo like that? Usually they are not very complicated images, not overly conceptual, and allow the viewer to look straight into the subject’s personality without reference or too much explanation of who that person is.
Your work is very straight forward showing the person rather then the star, is this a conscious effort in your development as a portrait photographer? What niche if any are you trying to fill or what are style of brand are you trying to develop?
I think a photographer’s style can often mimic their personality and background, but it can take years to listen to that voice and actually develop it. I came up in the business through a very workaday ethic and perhaps took on too wide a variety of assignments early on. But because of that, my current approach is more confident since I’m not as obsessed with the technicality involved in making a shoot come together. I have my toolbox to dip into and change up when necessary, but for the most part I want the subjects to be the most notable thing in a picture, not the technique.
For the both the Billboard and the ESPN cover, were you surprised the final edit, they both capture that split second moment.
Both of those titles are very good at taking risks and letting the images speak for themselves so it wasn’t a total surprise but I was definitely thrilled to see those frames make the cut. These days, I think magazines are more daring with design and art direction because readers consume so much more imagery that it takes more to grab their attention than it may have 10 or even 5 years ago. I work with fantastic directors of photography, design directors and photo editors at both titles and their cover choices make them a dream to shoot for.
How do you approach your portrait sessions, how much research do is done and what tools do you use to get the subjects to settle in?
I do a little bit of image research on each subject but almost nothing else. I have gotten to a comfortable place with my approach and I don’t feel it necessary to know everything about a subject. For the most part, unless the client has specific direction, I prefer to react to whomever I’m photographing in a natural way, the same way they have to get to know me. Basically we’re two strangers who need to trust each other and gain some level of comfort almost immediately, and memorizing someone’s dossier is just going to get in the way of normal human interaction. I like to gauge a person’s mood and comfort level, and go from there. If they are really uncomfortable or nervous, that’s when it’s every photographer’s job to take the reigns and guide them through the process. I give very detailed direction in those cases and it takes the pressure off the person to perform for the camera, which almost no one likes to do. Portrait photographers are good conversationalists, and that trait has served me very well. I’ve referred to this job as a never-ending dinner party with new and fascinating guests, and I frame each interaction with a subject on those terms. Casual, comfortable, with everyone on equal footing.
For the Lance Armstrong session, how long did it take for you to connect with him. I’d imagine he’s guarded.
I’m a lifelong cyclist and I knew a lot about Lance going into this shoot. I wasn’t worried about him being guarded because he’s clearly someone who understands his relationship with the media, and is very savvy about the point of each profile he agrees to. I was more worried about the session being too one-sided and not having a chance to present the Lance of today, instead of the legendary Tour winner Lance Armstrong of previous years. Sometimes subjects have such a strong brand that they only give you something that fits within those parameters. On the contrary, Lance was extremely open and gracious and totally present. We were comfortable with each other immediately and I didn’t have to push to get honest moments from him.
In a few words what were you trying to tell with that particular portrait.
The assignment from Esquire was to portray how much Lance has been through, just by showing Lance as he is now, in 2014. It’s been 15 years since his first Tour win, and he’s bound to show some wear and tear. The sport alone in the best scenario can age a man, add to that his recent troubles, and it was all we could do to just make honest portraits of a very recognizable figure going through a tough time. I gave him certain direction in terms of posing and sitting, but didn’t ask for much in terms of expression. I never really like to ask subjects to smile. If they’re in a good mood they’ll smile, if they have a lot on their mind they might not. It’s really nice to see what people offer you before you start telling them to act and look a certain way.
Let’s go down the list. What did you hope to communicate with each session?
Fortune is such a venerable title and I have been a contributor for a long time so I was really excited to be part of this cover. Elizabeth Holmes is a 30 year-old tech entrepreneur and it was nice to see a young woman featured on the cover of Fortune. Mia Diehl is the Director of Photography and she and the photo team are very good at conveying what they want to get from the shoot, while at the same time letting the photographer interpret the subject in a natural way. They chose a strong frame for the cover and I was happy with the clean design of the type as well.
The story of DeSean Jackson was one of redemption, which is such a loaded word for a photographer to try to convey. I knew it couldn’t be too conceptual, and I trusted that if they hired me to do it, I was going to have to rely on making an image that just felt like redemption. I think we all knew what the story was about that day on set, and we were each on the same page so to speak about how to get it. As we tried more and more setups, he just got completely loose and totally offered these looks to me that showed me what he was going through. My job was to react to what felt and looked right, and work with him throughout those moments. It’s almost like editing on the fly, when something is good, you keep working it, and when it’s not, you just move on. We kept his energy up by moving fast and accomplishing a lot of looks in a short amount of time. I felt the trust of the DOP Karen Frank and photo editor Stephanie Weed to let me do what I do best, and that is such a great feeling.
This was a great assignment for me because while the direction of the shoot was definitely to capture the sexiness of a very famous star who has been a household name for a long time, the challenge for me was to find some real moments within those parameters. I always love the “in-between” moments, the frames that are shot after or before the expected pose, even by a split second. Luckily for me, Jen Laski at Billboard is phenomenally talented at recognizing those moments and we worked on the edit together right after the shoot, something I rarely get to do with clients. We have the same taste in those honest moments and I knew I was in good hands with her in getting those frames in print.
Texas Monthly/George Strait
Another situation where the trust of the time really allowed for something special to occur. Design Director TJ Tucker traveled with me to Tulsa to shoot the reclusive country star for a cover commemorating his farewell tour. Strait is from Texas and is an absolute legend in country music. We were told we would have 5 minutes for the cover shoot, and somehow we stretched that to 9 minutes. We moved him through three lighting setups and I chatted with him the whole time. It was a crunch but it was also a very confident and well planned approach. TJ knew exactly what he was looking for, and we were alb to nail it because of that.
Are these all the first cover assignments for the respective titles?
I’ve previously shot one or more covers for each of these titles.
What promos did you send in order to get these assignments?
I don’t send promos outside of some email outreach that my agents at Bernstein & Andriulli handle. I view my editorial tearsheets as my promos, people who hire photographers are magazine readers and always tend to see what’s out there in other titles. I tend to get more work when I have good work on the newsstands.
Also, I just came off a nice round of meetings in NYC and I think that face time really helps me, being based in L.A. I have long standing relationships with a lot of my clients and that familiarity and trust is a crucial element in getting cover shoots.
I know you are an avid cyclist so going into the shoot for Esquire did you show up as a cyclist and a photographer, or just one of those two personalities? Do you think it’s possible to split yourself?
In this case, I definitely had more to talk about with Lance than my usual subjects, but even then, I prefer to get subjects talking by asking broad questions that elicit longer responses. I like the emphasis to be on them, and it’s not really that necessary to share what I know about their lives. I did immediately notice that he had hairy legs, and ribbed him a little about that, haha.
Were you able to show up that day as a photographer only.
Yes, despite my knowledge of the sport and somewhat conflicted admiration of Lance, as soon as I meet anyone for a portrait session, I’m totally a photographer. It’s also part of the process that in my head we are both accomplished individuals, I draw on the fact that I’ve done this all before to calm my nerves and get on with the task at hand.
Has there been any moments of late where you’ve been secretly star stuck?
I wouldn’t say that I ever really get starstruck, but there is a phenomenon sometimes where the amount of respect I have for a subject gets in the way of how I interact with them. I’ve photographed some legendary people in Hollywood, but it’s the subjects that have been well known for decades that I find myself directing less, and just trying to document as they are. People like Robert Evans or Tom Petty or Kirk Douglas. Their legacy is so overwhelming that I don’t want to adjust anything at all, I just want to hold the camera up to them, in a sense.
Why did you choose B&A to represent you, was it a difficult choice?
Bernstein & Andriulli has always been a very influential agency for me, I always looked at their roster and what kinds of projects they were working on to see what kind of potential the industry holds. Carol Alda reached out and along with Ehrin Feeley, initiated a great back and forth conversation that lasted the better part of a year before I signed with them. I was not represented by anyone at the time and I had a very specific workflow and relationship with my clients that I wanted to maintain. Their patience and understanding of what’s important to me in my career were the deciding factors. I love the support and trust I get from them and Howard has given me great insight and advice from the beginning.
Whose on your blog roll/instagram feed?
On IG I’m loving the feeds of design directors, photo directors and editors. It’s so great to see the visual language of the people who are so influential in creating the visual languages of the magazines we shoot for. Ivan Shaw at Vogue has a great feed of NYC street scenes, and Kathy Ryan and Stacey Baker at the NYT mag have created very special feeds that really took off. Patrick Witty, now at Wired, had a phenomenal series on subway riders, and I love the pictorial beauty in the feeds of Nancy Jo Iacoi, Jessie Wender and Yolanda Edwards as well. All these amazing editors are also amazing photographers!
How do you use social media to market yourself?
I try to post things to my personal Facebook feed to share with editors I’m already friends with. I don’t like being too invasive with promotion but it seems to be received well. On instragram, I occasionally post some tearsheets I’m excited about but for the most part I use that feed to share my after-hours life, like cycling and travel.
I know you had assisted Art Streiber, who continues to be a great photo ambassador to anyone on his team, what did Art teach you?
Art is a great friend and we have very similar backgrounds. We both started as photojournalists, I was a photographer for the LA Times after college, and met him through friends in the newspaper business. I had no assisting experience and he totally took me under his wing and showed me how the entire industry operates. I assisted him at a time when the magazine business was extremely robust and shoots were high-budget and high-pressure. He taught me so many great lessons that it would be impossible to list them all, but the takeaway to this day is that to be a portrait photographer you have to truly be interested in people. Art is the most outgoing person I know and it shows in his work. I had to pay attention to my own curiosity towards people for my work to become my own, and I really benefitted from having Art as a mentor and friend.