Let me first say that this post was originally going to be made a few months back, however the temperament of our nation’s political climate seemed too volatile and I was worried that it would detract from the point of the article. While this blog does contain political figures, I hope that it can be read not as a viewpoint on politics, but an approach towards photography.
As all these shoots do, it began with a phone call, this one from The New York Times. On the line was the photo editor asking me if I would be interested in photographing Arizona governor, Jan Brewer. A woman of much controversy, Governor Brewer has made headlines for signing bills that had angered many, and is known for a rather infamous picture of her pointing a finger at President Obama as he walked off Air Force One. On a more personal level, I have actually lost work from clients that were boycotting AZ in light her signing of SB1070.
When I hung up the phone, memories of the infamous photoshoot that Jill Greenberg did of John McCain came to mind. For those that don’t remember it, you should Google it. In short, Jill did not agree with Senator McCain’s political views and wanted to make him look bad without him knowing. She set up a lighting scheme to uplight him and make him appear scary, and so when he came to be photographed, he would never know what had been done until the photo came out.
It was a moment that set the photo world back years, all for the attempted gain of one photographer. We as photographers are nothing without the trust of our subjects, and when that trust is broken we are nothing more than paparazzi with a studio. Yes, the option is yours, but it is Pandora’s box if you choose to mislead someone in an nth degree of passive aggressiveness where you not only waste the subject’s time, but screw them over in the process. When an ulterior motive replaces respect, turn down the assignment and keep your integrity.
So back to the photoshoot of Governor Brewer… yes, she publicly disrespected our President, and yes she has cost me many jobs. However, it is my job to be honest, not just for myself, but in this case my client, the New York Times. So with all the preconceived notions I had entering the day we set up and were ready to go early. Then she entered, and to my crew’s and my surprise was very polite and extremely excited about the photoshoot. We shot for a short while, even though we knew that we had the shot within the first two minutes. We talked life, we even talked politics. I was honest and she respected my views even though we didn’t necessarily see eye to eye. We shook hands, thanked each other for the time and life went on.
At the end of the day, all that matters is the client and your character. Work hard, and be respectful, and this career will be one that means the world to you.
…. OK, so with the lesson of this blog aside, I know you want a good story from the shoot, so enjoy….
The photo I was shooting of Governor Brewer was a full page and needed to have text on each side of it, so my client had asked that her hands remain at her side or crossed in front of her. As I love to do, I had set up a tripod and cable release and talked to her as I shot (a throwback to Avedon). At one point she says to me, “I feel so weird with my hands having to be at my side or crossed, I feel like I should be pointing at something.” Speaking what I probably should have just thought, I replied, “Ma’am, I think there are already enough photos of you pointing.” Everyone on set including my crew and her advisors went dead silent, and then, starting with the governor herself started laughing hysterically.
A Shoutout: I want to send a congratulations to the Arizona State Sun Devils football team, not only for winning the Territorial Cup against U of A, but for doing so with class and character. It takes skill to beat a team of U of A’s caliber, but it takes class to walk to midfield after winning in order to shake the hands instead of gloating… well done guys.