Not long after the tragedies of September 11th, I became
involved in a grass-roots photography project known as "Here Is New
York." Some readers may already be familiar with this amazing
project. For those who are not, "Here Is New York" is a growing
collection of images taken by a wide range of photographers in
reaction to the terrible events of September 11th. While some of
the photographs in the show document the destruction of the World
Trade Center here in New York and the attack on the Pentagon in
Washington D.C., others capture the aftermath—the recovery
effort, the grief and anguish many from around the world have felt
since the tragedies, and the inspiring sense of resiliency and hope
that has sprung up from these disasters.
If you haven't seen the show, I urge you to visit the gallery at 116 Prince Street in the SoHo section of Manhattan, where "Here Is New York" is currently on display. Images from the show are for sale at $25 per print, with all proceeds going to the Children's Aid Society WTC relief fund. "Here Is New York" has been extended until Dec. 24th. For updated information, visit www.hereisnewyork.org.
My involvement in the show has been largely of a technical and support nature. However, my vocation—indeed, my passion in life—has always been photography. Consequently, I was moved to contribute some of my own images to the show. For me, the question was: which images?
Because much of my photography focuses on beauty and fashion, my goal was to provide something from my own particular vision. I wanted to make pictures that didn't concentrate on death and destruction so much, but ones that added a sense of aesthetic and beauty amidst all the grim imagery.
The series I came up with is entitled "Towers of Light." The cover image of this magazine as well as the images on the surrounding pages comprise the series.
One of my early decisions in creating shots for "Here Is New York" was to streamline the process as much as possible. By coincidence, I had been testing Olympus' new professional digital camera, the E-20N, when I first got the inspiration for this project. As a longtime user of Olympus' equipment, I have been very excited about the capabilities and potential of this new addition to the digital camera market. The new camera is easy to use, since it is similar to the Olympus E-10, which I had been using prior to the E-20N. The E-20N offers adjustable white balance that provides incredible color accuracy in any light, plus 5.0 megapixel resolution that produces file sizes of up to 28MB(16 bit raw format) for large prints. Because I knew I wanted to shoot the series very quickly while maintaining optimum quality, the E-20N was a perfect fit.
My concept was to create a series of images of a model's face that both captured the spirit of this country and suggested a sense of hope. At the same time, I wanted something about the images to recall the memory of the World Trade Center. Despite the complexity of the undertaking, the idea for the shots actually came to me rather quickly.
One of my photographic trademarks involves striking catch-lights in a model's eyes. From my experience working with Balcar Prisma Light Boxes, I have been able to produce catch-lights that resemble a variety of icons and symbols. Here, my aim was to recreate, somehow, an image of the Twin Towers in the model's eyes.
At the same time, I wanted the model's expressions to conjure up an evocative mood, a mood reflecting the range of emotions this country is experiencing right now. Certainly a happy mood would not be appropriate. But neither would an overly sad, or depressed mood. Instead, I imagined an expression that was solemn yet optimistic about the future.
Naturally, casting was critical. The model I selected, Flavie, from Elite Models, was the ideal choice. Her ability to transmit complex emotions through subtle expressions, proved to me that she is as skilled an actress as she is a model. Most important was Flavie's ability to convey sincerity.
Almost equally important was collaborating on visual concepts with my longtime hair and makeup artist, Sylvia Pichler. Sylvia and I both agreed from the beginning that we didn't want something overtly patriotic in the makeup patterns on Flavie's face. That's been done before by others, with questionable success. As an alternative, we hoped to evoke the tenor of the country without being too literal.
When we had worked out the concept, we headed down to SoHo Studios on Laight Street in Manhattan to start the shoot. (An important note: Without the invaluable assistance of Paul Cousins, SoHo Studios' studio manager, this project would not have been possible.)
I spent the first part of the morning setting up the graphically important lighting arrangement. After several hours, I had the Balcar Prisma lights, which were powered by Balcar Nexus 3200 packs, positioned about two and a half feet from the model's face. Highlights in the center of the eye established the "Twin Tower" effect in the pupil. In between the lights was just enough room for me to fit with the camera.