Creative Director: David Schlow
Director of Photography: Jennifer Santana
Art Director: Justin Long
Associate Photo Editor: David Carr
Photographer: Jeremy Lange
Heidi: Was this your first assignment with Men’s Journal?
Jeremy: No, in late March of this year I did my first story for Men’s Journal about rock climber Kai Lightner. Just a few weeks later, I got an email from DOP Jennifer Santana saying basically this “…interested in shooting a feature profile this week? It would need to be in a studio. It is a sensitive issue as the subject is in witness protection.”
I was obviously intrigued and pretty open the week so I immediately said yes and set about getting a studio rented in the area we had discussed. Some friends of mine run Shadow Box Studios in Durham, NC and they had couple open spots that week so I sent Jennifer back the possible dates.
What type of direction and information did you get about the assignment considering it was a sensitive issue?
Once we had a shoot date confirmed she sent over some details of what the images would have to be like. Martin, not his real name obviously, must be pretty much unidentifiable in the photos, so shoot in silhouette, or with directional like that obscured most of his features. Jennifer also sent over some examples of what was permissible in this situation so I could get thinking about how to get it done.
Had you done any images like this before?
Yes, I had made some portraits years ago of sexual assault victims that could not be identified so I had a little bit of experience with the general parameters, but those were outside so this situation was a little more difficult.
From there I made a few sketches in my notebook of what I was thinking and tested one or two at my little home studio to be sure it would generally work.
How much time did you have for this portrait and did you practice your light set up to be efficient?
There was no specific time frame for the session, but I generally planned on an hour in the studio. Given the constraints we had on the job, I knew that we would not be able to try too many things and spend hours playing with lighting set ups. I also have found that many “normal” people, i.e. people that are not used to being photographed all the time, are pretty exhausted by the whole thing in an hour or so. That is obviously not a hard and fast rule, but it has been my experience several times, especially in studio situations. And if they want to go home after work.
We, my assistant Ethan and I, got to the studio a couple hours early to set things up and make sure we had at least two working lighting scenarios so when Martin arrived we were ready to go. I like to take my time so it is nice to be able to show up early and play for a bit before settling on a couple things. The extra time paid off here as I was able to add a lighting element I had not considered before after Ethan and I experimented for a little while with what I had planned.
Did the subject request to see the images?
He did ask to see what I was capturing at one point but it seems more out of curiosity than out of concern. Under the circumstances, he was incredibly trusting of us to do what we had agreed upon. He seemed to like what he saw when I showed him and we kept on going after that for a while
Did you direct him?
He had a good natural presence, comfortable in his own skin but I did direct him a bit after a while. I typically do not direct much at the beginning so I can see the gestures and positions people give of themselves and then perhaps have them repeat those, or we refine them to suit a photograph. This feels more natural and seems to give the person being photographed a sense of collaboration that helps us make better photographs. With this somewhat restrictive lighting set up, I did have to make sure his head and body were positioned in certain ways to disguise his identity but still give us a dramatic and powerful portrait. The photograph the magazine chose was one of the last setups we did, with the lights off center and raking across his face from behind. A little less standard, I think Jennifer chose a strong one.
I had produced a project in Mexico with a local celebrity where we spent $25,000 on security (24-hour armed guard and an executive evasion driver). Did this project require special security?
That sounds crazy! Here, surprisingly, no. Martin showed up on time with just his girlfriend with him, who sat in the lobby of the studio as we photographed Martin. He was incredibly low key about the whole thing, sharing some stories and some small facts about himself. Given the circumstances under which we were photographing him, it was very normal, not much different from the usual small talk that occurs during a portrait session. Some personal stories, some basic back and forth between shots.