It takes guts to take portraits, especially when it means venturing into a subject’s intimate dwelling having never met them before, with little to no idea what to expect in terms of lighting and space. Now imagine doing that eight times over for one assignment.
Such was the task at hand for New York City-based portrait and interiors photographer Emily Andrews, who was asked by 1st Dibs Introspective Magazine to take eight of the ten portraits of the artists selected for their NFT exhibition “Metaglyphs.”
Emily has worked with 1st Dibs Introspective since 2014, so there was a strong, well-established relationship prior to this assignment. Their familiarity with Emily’s work made the client confident that she would be able to deliver, despite the many artists and minimal planning ahead of time.
My client wasn’t going to be present at the shoots themselves, so I was explicitly told that I should feel free to make whatever creative choices I needed to create the best portrait of each artist. They have always been very trusting of my point of view.
The plan was for Emily to photograph the New York-based artists either in or near their home or studio. Photo editor Katie Dunn coordinated as much as possible with the artists ahead of time to source scouting images of the various locations to give Emily an idea of what to expect before arrival.
But with this kind of thing you rarely have much information going in and just need to be prepared to deal with any lighting conditions or situations you encounter.
And so the adventure began.
Some of the portraits were easier than others. Artist LaJuné McMillan, for example, had created a whole scene ahead of time in preparation for the photoshoot. Not only had she projected her digital art onto the wall of her apartment, she also made a 3D replica of her own face.
Both these elements provided an opportunity to make some interesting pictures in which her actual artwork was incorporated into some of the shots.
Emily’s portraits echo the color schemes and surrealism present in LaJuné’s work, conveying the artist’s identity as synonymous with her artwork.
Savannah Spirit’s art was also worked into her portrait, both stylistically and literally.
Savannah has a photography series called “I Am My Own Muse” which features nude, black-and-white self-portraits with light projected through a blind, creating beautiful patterns on her bare skin. For a clever double-layered portrait, Emily photographed Savannah surrounded by her own self-portraits.
We had access to a photo studio she used for her work, and I had her scatter some of the prints around herself and interact with them.
Similar to LaJuné, Savannah was very thoughtful and aware of how she wanted to present her image as an artist and Emily helped draw this out. In another portrait, Emily stated that she and Savannah
rigged a frame with tape and shined light through it to gently replicate the kind of lighting [Savannah] uses in her own work.
Not every artist had prepared for Emily’s arrival, however. In the glamorous style of artistic and creative chaos, Tali Hinkus of artist duo LoVid had Emily wait while she showered, leaving very little time to capture portraits. As her studio was also a wonderful mess, Emily had to improvise and find another space that would suit her needs.
I took her outside with some of her artwork which was printed on lithfilm, and played with the light coming through it as it cast colorful shapes on her face.
The result is a highly memorable, unique image, proving that spontaneity and being quick on one’s feet can result in the best portraits.
Emily loved the sense of unknown in this project, letting the diversity of each artist shine to create the strong portraits that 1st Dibs Introspective wanted.
My favorite part was finding the unexpected, the sense of collaboration between myself and the artists. It was great to see what they could bring to it.
At the beginning of Carla Gannis’s shoot, for example, Emily noticed that she was stiff and not quite relaxed.
[Carla] eventually realized “Oh, so I can be myself?” I said, yes, of course, that’s what we want! She went away for a moment, reappearing with a VR headset and some other props. It ended up being quite theatrical and fun.
To create Shamus Clisset’s portrait, Emily drew from her impression of Seamus’s artwork.
In my mind, his work, as well as the general idea I have about NFT’s and digital art, bring to mind a kind of retro, sci-fi quality, like in the work of Stanley Kubrick. The hallway made me think of the symmetrical frames in his film 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Looking back on the unexpected twists and turns of this assignment, Emily was reminded of a rule she lives by:
Always take an assistant! Whenever you think it’ll be straight-foward and easy ⸺ it won’t be!