I've had three celebrity photography encounters in my 14 years as a professional photographer. The first was at a wedding in the late 90's and the celebrity was Anthony Michael Hall. Being a child of the 80's myself, Anthony Michael is a MAJOR celebrity in my book. He starred in such timeless movies as Sixteen Candles, Weird Science and The Breakfast Club (only the best movie of all time). Unfortunately a tall, thin, rather snooty looking woman broke my fog of celebrity adoration by tapping me sharply on the shoulder and saying "Yes, I AM Anthony Michael's mother, Mercedes and you MAY take our photo." To which I curtly replied, "How interesting, I am Karl and Wendy's daughter, and no thanks." I spent the rest of the night irritating her by purposely NOT photographing her and her famous son.
My second encounter was a few years later with Katie Couric. I was stepping up a bit in the celebrity world. Katie was an "unofficial" bridesmaid at this wedding I was shooting . She felt comfortable enough to divulge three things to me in our strange and short encounter. First, Anne Curry is totally annoying and made a lousy Peter Pan at Halloween. Secondly, she bought her boyfriend the same camera for his birthday that I was using for this shoot. And lastly, she can't "use the bathroom" while on vacation with her boyfriend so she frequently uses the hotel lobby bathroom. T.M.I Katie!
My third celebrity encounter wasn't with actual celebrities per se, but rather with future two socialite/diva/reality TV stars-- two and five year old sisters, Lily and Rose (names changed to protect the not-so innocent). A few years prior, we had photographed their parents' lavish wedding at a fabulous Newport mansion. The family was back in town and thought it would be fun to have a portrait done at the beach. Lily and Rose arrived fresh and clean, wearing posh summer dresses and shiny bows atop their perfectly coiffed heads.
It was a lovely summer night with a pink pastel sky and calm blue sea. Trish and I perched the family pristinely on a large rock. I raised the camera to my eye. And then, all hell broke loose. Before I could take one shot, Rose let out an alarming shriek. She had seen (gasp) a bug! Despite explanations of bugs being commonplace at the beach and surely not harmful, the shrieking continued for the remaining ninety minutes of the shoot at increasing decibels. With every outburst, Trish and I became more and more desperate to capture one (dear God please just one) decent photograph.
I was the designated photographer so I crawled, rolled and scrambled through the sand, chasing Lily and Rose to obtain just one shot that could pass as a "natural" portrait. Trish was on child-wrangling. At one desperate point she attempted to elicit a smile from the girls by hopping up and down, waving her arms frantically exclaiming, "Look at my jiggly arm fat, isn't it funny?!"
Lily soon joined in with her sister. Sensitive to the plight of hungry children at dinnertime, Trish sweetly offered a graham cracker, only to have it slapped violently out of her hand by the surprisingly quick-reflexed toddler. I looked at my poor partner who stood there in slapped silence and I pronounced, "It's a wrap." That was the last children's portrait we ever shot. Thank you rotten baby for slapping the sense into us and single handedly changing the direction of our business. For some time we had wondered how we could specialize in weddings, babies, pets, AND seniors. To specialize is to concentrate one's efforts in a particular activity. Or more simply, it's not a speciality if you're doing it ALL. So, with a little help from a maniacal baby we picked what we loved the most-- weddings.
Despite all of my failed brushes with celebrity, one of the speakers I was most excited to see at Imaging was celebrity photographer Greg Gorman, 2013 PPA Lifetime Achievement Award Winner. While on the plane to Atlanta I read an article about him in Professional Photographer. I was immediately attracted to the simple beauty and consistent quality of his celebrity portraits. It's remarkable that his photographic voice remains virtually unchanged over the course of four decades. His simple black and white portraits of the 1970's blend effortlessly with his most recent portraits, illustrating his distinct vision. I am sure I would be able identify a Greg Gorman portrait if I happened upon one.
Hearing Greg Gorman got me wondering about my own longevity in the business. Trish and I won't win any lifetime achievement awards but that doesn't mean we can't build our own instantly recognizable style and legacy. For us, specializing in one thing and doing it really well seems to be the right path to photo-excellence. Every day there's a new post-processing effect you can add to your photos and it's tempting to jump on the bandwagon. But how does that affect your continuity? From what I see, the only major change Gorman has made in his work is moving from film to digital. I want to follow suit and avoid the trappings of trendy ideas, ensuring that our work can stand on its own even 40 years from now.
Part of Gorman's success may be attributed to being in the right place at the right time. Gorman himself acknowledges that today's celebrity climate is vastly different and he is fortunate to have built his career during another era. However, I think what Gorman has achieved and inspired in us is to create images that can stand the test of time. We will create timeless, memorable wedding portraits because no matter the decade, human emotion is unchangeable and classic never goes out of style.
Thank you Greg Gorman, I raise my hands not to slap you... but to applaud. Bravo! Graham cracker?