Saroyan Humphrey Photographs Actor and Activist Alfre Woodard for The Guardian

Sep 9, 2020
Photographer Spotlight

Saroyan Humphrey probably couldn’t have asked for a better first post-quarantine assignment than the one he did in early July. It was commissioned by The Guardian, a well-known international publication; it featured a high-profile subject, the actor and activist Alfre Woodard; and it was completed on a beach in Santa Monica with only three people involved and no one around.

I’ve done portrait assignments with Photo Editor Tony Scott and The Guardian in the past. They are always with interesting people, mostly authors. For example, I photographed Amy Tan for The Guardian a couple of years ago.

Saroyan Humphrey The Guardian The Observer Alfre Woodard inside fold out

This was shot in early July, and it was my first assignment in many weeks due to the pandemic. So, of course it was a social distance shoot and of course, I wore a mask. I did not have an assistant and knew I would not have a lot of time, so I kept my kit simple.

In fact, instead of an assistant, Saroyan was helped by Alfre’s husband. In less than an hour, the three knocked out a simple assignment featuring the actress, whose new movie was set to premier in the United Kingdom at the time. Upon completing the work, Saroyan found out it was going to be a cover story for the Guardian’s Sunday magazine, The Observer.

The feature was about her leading role in the critically acclaimed movie "Clemency," which was just being released in the UK, and her journey as a Black actor over her career that spans nearly four decades and her political activism. The day of the shoot, she was also doing other public relations work related to the UK-release of the film, so she was on a pretty tight schedule of appointments. 

Saroyan Humphrey The Guardian The Observer Alfre Woodard cover

I was scheduled for the shoot at high noon in Santa Monica. It’s not my favorite time of day, and there was no shade to be found on the beach. We met in the parking lot, and she was already styled and made up by her team. Fortunately, Alfre’s husband came along as her “bodyguard.” After a short introduction, we went onto the beach, and I asked him to hold my shoot through umbrella over her to keep her in bright shade and it worked nicely. I also didn’t know it was going to be a cover until the issue was going to press. So, that was a nice surprise. 

Though Saroyan hasn’t photographed a ton of actors, he found Alfre easy to work with and shoot. One sign of the assignment’s smoothness? Alfre claims she’s not a fan of laughing in photographs, but Saroyan managed to get a handful of those.

Alfre was very pleasant and down to earth and had a great presence in camera. I haven't photographed many professional actors, but I could sense her screen presence. I have a couple of favorites. I like the shot used on the cover. I think it really shows her strong character.

Saroyan Humphrey The Guardian The Observer Alfre Woodard laughing

I also like the laughing shots. She said she doesn’t like to laugh in photographs, but, somehow, it happened. 

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