Patti Smith

Patti Smith photographed in the Amtrak departure lounge at Penn Station, New York City, 8/27/2015

Patti Smith.

That’s all Rob Smith…the Art Director of Arrive Magazine…said when he called me a few months back.

Patti. Motherfucking. Smith.

I said “Yes!” before he even had time to get another word out. Are you kidding? Of course I wanna shoot Patti Smith! Besides adding to my current string of portraits of iconic women…Judy Collins, Gloria Steinem, Misty Copeland…Patti is someone I have always been fascinated by, and having the opportunity to shoot her would be a dream! The shoot would be tied in with the release of her new book, M Train. But then Rob had more to add…

No Hair and Makeup…

No Styling…

We’d get half an hour from the time she arrived at the studio…not a second more.

Fine..done…it would be a challenge, but I didn’t care…let’s get on with it!

I originally booked a studio in Long Island City because it had lots of character…but a week later Patti’s publicist nixed it saying Patti didn’t want to cross the river. She said Patti lived in the West Village and that she liked shooting at Industria. OK…less character, but if it makes Patti happy, we’ll book Industria. So more than a month goes by and it’s now about a week before the shoot date and I call the publicist and ask if we’re still on track to shoot and if we can confirm the studio…“Sure…we’re all set!”, she says…and I confirm Industria. But then a few days later…only three days before our shoot…she calls back to say that Patti now doesn’t want to shoot in a studio…she wants to do the shoot at Penn Station! She apparently had written a lot of her book while riding the Acela train and liked the metaphor of shooting at Penn Station since we were shooting for Amtrak’s magazine. But besides the fact that canceling Industria meant we would lose about $2 Grand…exactly how were we gonna shoot in the departure lounge of the busiest train station in America on three days notice?!! Without getting into detail, I’m just gonna fast-forward past the conference calls, begging and hand-wringing that ensued,  and say that somehow we were given permission. And so on an extremely hot August afternoon, myself and my crew took over Penn Station…

Patti wanted the Departure Board…she gets the Departure Board…


…but even though I lost my studio aspect of the shoot, I figured we could still set up a smallish backdrop off to the side…


The two areas were only a few feet apart, but the Penn Station folks were still kinda freaked out when they saw the size of our setup!


But I didn’t care…I was shooting Patti Smith, dammit!


Patti Smith photographed in the Amtrak departure lounge at Penn Station, New York City, 8/27/2015


Now let’s move over to that backdrop…



Patti Smith photographed in the Amtrak departure lounge at Penn Station, New York City, 8/27/2015


And then…just as we were pretty much finished…something truly magical happened…

Patti Smith photographed in the Amtrak departure lounge at Penn Station, New York City, 8/27/2015

Those kids sticking their heads around the corner might be the best happy accident I’ve ever photographed.

For one final setup, I pulled back the curtain to show the overall set and exactly where our little popup studio was…

Patti Smith photographed in the Amtrak departure lounge at Penn Station, New York City, 8/27/2015

Here’s how everything looked in ‘Arrive’…






So even though we were thrown more curveballs than I had seen in a year, everything worked out in the end…


The APA Image Maker Lecture Series Is Gonna Be Damn Ugly


Hey kids…this coming Monday, November 9th…Mr. Damn Ugly will be taking over the Apple Store in SoHo (103 Prince Street at Greene Street) as the next speaker in the APA Image Maker Lecture Series. I’ll be dropping plenty of bon mots about what actually happens on my shoots, complete with lots of behind-the-scenes juice and info on the post-processing that goes into making my final images.


Check out the APA NY Facebook Events Page where you can sign up if you wanna go…and it’s 100% free! And as an added incentive, they tell me there’s gonna be a post-Image Makers Talk Networking Happy Hour hosted by the folks at APA NY.

Gloria Steinem

Gloria Steinem

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Over the years, my association with the Wall Street Journal has allowed me to photograph quite a few truly amazing personalities…Tony Bennett, Judy Collins, Penn Jillette and Willem Dafoe…just to name a few, and the string continues with my recent shoot with writer, journalist, activist and all-round cool lady, Gloria Steinem. The Journal’s ‘Mansion’ section was profiling her about the release of her book…‘My Life On The Road’…where among other things, she recalls her early life crisscrossing the country in her family’s Airstream. When I arrived, I found a pre-release copy next to her bed…complete with an editing pen…


This was my second time photographing Gloria…the first being for BusinessWeek back in 2001…

Gloria Steinem

…and just as back then, my assigning Photo Editor was Ronnie Weil, who came along on the shoot and got to act as Gloria’s stand in…


Where else to start but in Gloria’s bedroom?!!



…which gave us the photo that opened the story…

Gloria Steinem Gloria Steinem

For our second portrait, we turned to her living room, where the years she spent in India shows through in her decorating style…

Gloria Steinem


Another iconic day…thanks to Ronnie…


…and of course, thanks to Ms. Steinem…


Drinking A Few Beers With DW Gibson

DW Gibson

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DW Gibson is a writer and journalist whose work appears in publications like the Washington Post, the New York Times, New York Magazine, the Village Voice & The Daily Beast and is also a contributor to NPR’s All Things Considered. And over the past few years, he’s written extensively about New Yorkers who’ve been affected by gentrification. Here’s a little behind the scenes of my shoot for WirtschaftsWoche…one of my European clients…when they asked if I could shoot him in his own rapidly gentrifying neighborhood in Brooklyn…

Kaz and I started with a pretty simple setup in between DW’s house and his next door neighbors. I liked the way the design of the houses showed the type of architecture the neighborhood was comprised of, and it also allowed me to do one of my ‘Artificial Portraits’, since my editor at WiWo had specifically asked me to do at least one setup that showed my lighting kit…


DW Gibson

Did I mention it was about 100 degrees the day we were shooting? DW was very gracious and offered beer to keep us cool…

DW Gibson

Next, we crossed the street for a couple of portraits against a brick wall…


DW Gibson

DW Gibson

…and finally finished off with some views of his street…

DW Gibson

DW Gibson

…which opened our story…


At Home With Judy Collins


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I had so much fun shooting Judy Collins for the Wall Street Journal earlier this year that they decided to send me uptown to shoot her at home for the ‘House Call’ column in the ‘Mansion’ section. Here’s how the day went…

Judy lives in a fabulous Pre-War apartment that immediately gave us a few locations to choose from…




I wanted to keep the look and feel of the apartment without relying on too much lighting, so we figured using my DIY Ghetto-Flo Lights was the way to go. This way we could just drop in a bit of accent lighting where we needed it, but use the great available light that poured into the apartment. Here are the results…




…and the final image used in Mansion



Thank you, Judy…until our next shoot…


Misty Copeland’s New Website Is Damn Ugly…


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Misty Copeland’s new website just went live, and there are a surprising number of Damn Ugly photographs taking up space…





I’ve been working with Lisa Clayton at Starving Artist Web Design who did all the heavy lifting with the layout of the new site…especially the inventive way she Photoshopped that swirling red skirt onto my shot for the home page…Bravo!!!

Bill Nighy Is Way Cooler Than You

Bill Nighy

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Bill Nighy is cool. Throughout the meandering flow of his career he’s played a vampire, a wizard, an aging, sleazy burnout rock star, a nazi, a time traveler and even Davy Jones with an Octopus face! Whatever he’s in, he’s the coolest guy on the screen. And he wears a suit really well, too. When he arrived at the Golden Theater…where he was starring in Skylight with Cary Mulligan…for our Wall Street Journal shoot, he just oozed cool…that bespoke suit, his perfect diction, his silky smooth attitude…I thought to myself…he’s the King of Cool.

And…off we go…


The mezzanine of the Golden had lotsa space for Julien and Kaz to assemble our pop-up studio…




And a quick 45 degree turn to the left offered up a wonderful second shot…



Here’s how everything turned out…

Bill Nighy

Bill Nighy

Bill Nighy


I wanna be cool like Bill…