The New York Times Sunday Magazine
Photo Director: Kathy Ryan
Photo Editor: Stacey Baker
Photographer: Damon Casarez
read about the story here
Heidi: Did you bring this story to the magazine or did you conceptualize the idea and bring to them?
Damon: The photo editor Stacey Baker brought this story to me. I believe I was assigned this project based on the success of my previous assignment work with them on boomerang kids across the country as well as an assignment on LGBTQ canvassers. Boomerang kids was a series of moody, mostly interior portraits and the canvasser story was shot in a South L.A. neighborhood in front of homes the volunteers were canvassing.
How long did the assignment take and what type of direction did you get?
The project was about a week of shooting in Boston and the surrounding cities with 1-2 shoots per day depending on the schedules. The direction was pretty simple from their end; create a strong, natural interior portrait of each family/subject and also create an exterior portrait that’s a bit more formal outside of their homes. After reading the article and taking some notes, Stacey and I talked about having consistency with the exterior portraits and being a bit looser with the interiors. Working with the Times mag is always an amazing experience because they will give some simple directions and trust you to do the rest.
What were the determining factors for interior and exterior images?
The challenge of the interior part was walking into a space I’ve never been in and meeting families I don’t have much info about and creating a dynamic family portrait in a way that is comfortable for them while still being visually interesting and revealing. But, that’s also the challenge of almost every portrait assignment. When meeting each family, I would take some time to talk with them so that we were both comfortable with each other and then we would start to figure out what would be a natural space for them to be photographed. One goal for the exterior shots was to have an option where they would all be executed in the same manner for possible layout options. They were of course open to me doing other options for the exterior but their direction worked out best visually.
How did you handle the dynamic of kids, multi-subject shoots and families? Did you take more frames, direct a bit more?
This was my first assignment with families and multiple kids in a confined portrait setting. My assistant and I would try and make things easy as possible by having lighting tested and ready for the family. The struggle with photographing kids is trying to get their attention to us at the same time and having them be still. One of the kids would be playing and making faces at me while the younger one would be running out of the frame! Sometimes you have no control and let them do what they’re going to do and it works out better and becomes a more natural photo. What helped was taking some breaks to release some energy and showing the kids my camera and having them take a couple of frames. We also had to negotiate with some of the kids. If we were struggling to get the shot, I would tell them that we would only need 5 more frames and they could go play and it would work. Once we had the kids in a good place, we shot a burst of frames to try and nail the shot. It was a super fun learning experience.