Madison, Wisconsin-based Lauren Justice is a photographer who uses photography as a way to tell peoples’ stories. Her portraits seem simple on the surface, but you can see that they are real and intimate, in a way that’s only achievable through a genuine connection between the subject and photographer.
People have told me that I have a calming presence and am easy to get along with, which can help build connection and trust with the person you’re photographing. I strive to show who a person is through my photography and a personal connection with the subject leads to more intimate images that tell a story.
On a recent assignment for The New York Times, she was put in touch with Karen Olivo, one of the stars of the Broadway musical Moulin Rouge!. The story was focused on the people who worked on the musical and what their experiences were when the show shut down due to the pandemic. As a result of the indefinite hiatus, Karen moved from New York back to Wisconsin with her husband to be near their kids, and their family.
I love working with the [New York] Times. The editors are always so personable and have shown a lot of care throughout the pandemic. They put a lot of trust in their photographer’s vision and are really supportive.
Before her shoot with Karen, Lauren prepared by watching the film adaptation of Moulin Rouge!, a movie she had not seen in many years. She also researched her subject by reading and watching videos to get a sense of who Karen was on and off the stage.
This assignment inspired me to watch the movie “Moulin Rouge!” again. I love that movie! Watching it again helped me get into the right headspace and understand the storyline. I also watched performances and interviews Karen had done in the past. Being able to get a sense of her personality outside of the stage was both helpful and fun. I have a lot of respect for the hard work that goes into a profession like this.
The shoot took place outside of Karen’s home in the suburbs of Wisconsin after a snowstorm — a sharp contrast from the New York City skyline that Karen had been photographed against in the past. The outside location was chosen due to the pandemic precautions and as a way to show Karen’s journey and tell her story through the imagery.
The change of environment is part of her [Karen’s] pandemic story, and having her outside her home was a way we could visually tell her story. I arrived about 30 minutes early to scout the area, taking note of possible locations to shoot. This helped me get a sense of how to manage our time together and think through a natural flow of backgrounds.
When she joined me outside, we took a walk down her street, and then spent some time in her backyard. Karen has an adorable dog, and the editor wanted to have him in some of the images — the dog was with her as she left New York when the production of “Moulin Rouge!” shut down in March of 2020.
While Lauren was well-prepared, the personal connection to the location and her dog’s presence undoubtedly also added to making Karen feel comfortable.
As she and I started our walk, her dog sat in the window watching us and then later came out and played in the backyard. Karen had also brought out some tea with her, making some of the images feel more natural and homey.
The setting also resulted in some spontaneous moments during the shoot where Lauren was able to capture candid moments, conveying genuine emotion and a sense of depth in the portraits.
Lauren’s images from this shoot were part of a larger New York Times piece written by Michael Paulson and titled: ‘Moulin Rouge!’ Was Their Ticket. Then 2020 Happened.’
Editor: Jessie Wender
See more of Lauren’s work at laurenjustice.com.
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