Entertainment Weekly, February 2015, photo by Steve LaBadessa
In 1996 Jewel wrote a song, “Who Will Save Your Soul,” a thoughtful poem about the struggle of life and redemption. The song later brought her national attention as well as a Grammy nomination. On assignment for People magazine I was asked to make a portrait that illustrated her story.
Jewel’s home was located in an urban section of San Diego. On my arrival Nedra, Jewel’s mother, directed me inside. Jewel, raised in Alaska, shared a home with her mom.
I photographed Jewel in three different settings; surfing, painting on a canvas and sitting in her ’67 Volkswagen van. The van seemed the most comfortable location for her. She used the van to travel to gigs and it served as a place for her to sleep for out-of-town performances.
In the Volkswagen Jewel started to sing, “Who Will Save Your Soul”. Her voice was passionate yet soft. I was awestruck by the private concert that transpired. Passersby didn’t seem to notice the chart-topping singer songwriter was performing on this narrow street.
Jewel was unpretentious in every way. There was no hair and make-up stylist. She was dressed in jeans and a t-shirt. She didn’t even wear shoes. Photographing Jewel was one of my favorite celebrity shoots of all time.
The van photo has achieved iconic status. Every few months I get a request to use the photo on-line or in a publication. Several months ago I got a call from a photo editor at Entertainment Weekly. She remembered the photo. She wanted to use it as the opening spread for a dedicated issue about Jewel. She said it was a beautiful picture that symbolized Jewel’s humble beginnings. That’s how I remember it too.
A good photograph like a good book contains conflict. However, the conflict in a photo is visual, your eyes bounce off the conflicting elements as they explore the image. To communicate the idea of an IPO, Silicon Valley meeting Wall Street, I found using conflicting elements would be my best approach.
While planning the shoot, I decided that for each high tech item I added to the image I’d put in a corresponding Wall Street element. A cigar is offset with high tech Google Glass, a conservative suit is made new with a pixelation filter, and the model’s youthful face is framed with slicked back hair.
This photograph was turned into a visual soup of props and styling that tell the story.
Wall Street meets Silicon Valley
Recently I photographed Luka Fineisen for the cover of a European magazine. She’s a hot new German artist whose work explores how art can exist in liquid and gas forms.
I like working with artists because they bring an interesting set of parameters to a shoot. With Luka I knew my portrait would need to show her and at the same time demonstrate how liquids or solids can be seen as art. It was a fun challenge.
Prior to the shoot Luka and I spoke everyday for 2 weeks, bouncing ideas off each other. We thought about using a fog machine in new ways. We talked about covering her in paint. In the end we decided on this concept: dripping a bucket of paint into her hand and capturing the moment in midair. Because artists create work with their hands, the concept had a double meaning. It seemed fitting. The magazine loved the creativity involved and that it represented Luka’s style.
Having the concept in mind was great but the execution of the shot was another matter. I used a high-speed camera to freeze the paint in midair. My assistant, who was dripping the paint, needed perfect aim. How the paint would splatter after hitting her hand was the great unknown. I knew if all went well I would only have a few attempts to make the shot. After four drips Luka ran out of clean clothes and the set was covered in paint.
The concept worked surprisingly well. Liquid appeared solid for a brief instant. My camera captured the moment permanently. The shutter speed was 1/8000 of a second. That’s all the time this picture existed. I had my cover shot.
A photo of the set is below.
To see more of my work visit, stevelabadessa.com
The only thing worse than a visit to dentist’s office is a visit to the doctor’s office. No one likes being examined, poked, or prodded.
Recently, I had an assignment to shoot a series of wellness exams. The photos were supposed to be content babies being examined. As the shoot progressed, I couldn’t help but notice some of the most interesting photos were the outtakes.
For this shoot I had 3 pediatricians on set. They did their best to gently perform the exams, but these babies they don’t play fair. They squirmed, they cried, and they grimaced. Their overriding sentiment was, “Enough of this. I want my mama!”
My assignment was to photograph 9 wine makers in Northern California. As I made initial contact with my subjects I came to realize they’re all humble men. On the phone several of them referred to themselves as simple farmers who grow grapes.
Over the course of the project I found them to be anything but simple farmers. They’re all very sophisticated men. Collectively they’re some of the best wine makers in the world. In addition, they’re a quirky set of characters. They all have unique backgrounds. As a photographer I couldn’t imagine a more interesting group of personalities to photograph.
David Del Dotto of Del Dotto Vineyards was a surfer in Hawaii when he bought 17 acres in Napa. He purchased the land because he thought it was beautiful. He never intended to be in the wine business. Now, he is one of the most well-known vintners in Napa.
Linda and Lester Schwartz of Fort Ross Vineyard came to the US from South Africa. They strongly disagreed with the government’s policy of apartheid. In good conscience the Schwartzs couldn’t stay in South Africa. In 1976 they bought 970 aces of land in California. Without guilt they grow pinotage grapes and produce wine native to South Africa.
Donnie Schatzberg of Precious Mountain Vineyard lives off the grid in a house he built. His vineyard is perhaps the most isolated of all the wineries I visited. I guessed Schtzberg hadn’t seen more than 4 human beings in a month. He looked like a mountain man out of Central Casting.
Jayson Pahlmeyer of Pahlmeyer is a lawyer turned wine maker. He’s lighthearted and kept me laughing throughout the shoot. He’s a bit less humble than most of the vintners. He insisted he was the best looking guy I photographed on this project.
I spent 3 days driving up and down mountain roads shooting these portraits. The schedule was hectic. Each shoot involved a quick location scout, equipment set up, and then a shoot. I’m sad to say there was no time for even a sip.
To see more images from this shoot visit stevelabadessa.com
I shot an advertising campaign for BikeOne unicycles. The concept of the project was anywhere you ride a unicycle is, “the road less traveled”. The shots were a mix of realism and fantasy which is what I like. To get that, I put together the final compositions in Photoshop. The subjects were shot separate from the locations.
After showing a couple of the finished photos to one of the unicyclists, he commented, “the pictures look great but they aren’t real practical”. This got me thinking.
In my head I tried to imagine a cowboy riding a unicycle down a dusty road in Reno, Nevada. Cowboys just aren’t unicycle types. The follow-up question to this picture is, “Would the cowboy be rounding up some cattle on a unicycle.” Sounds dangerous, but it’d be fun to watch.
Then there is the Maui photo. Maui is more of a surfer town than a unicycle town. I start to think about the occasional volcano in Hawaii. I can’t imagine a unicyclist trying to out run a lava flow, not very practical.
Then I think about the San Francisco shot happening in real life, someone pedaling to work on a unicycle. A lot of people in this town bike and some don’t even bother to put on clothes. This one could definitely happen in real life. Maybe these pictures aren’t so crazy after all.
Are these images a good use of Photoshop?
Vacations are all about down time and relaxing but in Maui it’s hard to put away your camera. One evening I went to pick up some food in the town of Haiku and ran across this unusual fence made entirely of surfboards. The fence looks like a cross between Stonehendge and the Cadillac Ranch. It was a row of colorful surfboards pointing straight into the air for as long as the eye can see.
Surprising discoveries are what makes vacations fun. When you travel to Maui you should expect a few magic moments. This was one. It was late in the day and the boards were glowing amber in the Hawaiian sunset.
I hopped out of the car and started taking some pictures. Eventually, I walked down the driveway and towards the main house to get some information about the fence. Because the location was a little farm in an isolated section of Maui I wasn’t sure if I was going to be greeted with a shotgun or handshake.
That’s when I met Brian. He was house sitting for the owner and greeted me with a big smile. He said lots of people stop by for a visit. He told me the fence was made by Donald Dettloff about 20 years ago. He had a couple of old boards he wanted to get rid of but didn’t want to put them in the landfill. Other surfers saw the small fence and started leaving their boards on his driveway so the fence grew. It now contains over 800 surfboards. It’s the largest surfboard fence in the world.
To my surprise very few stories have ever been published about this fence. On my return to California I sent a set of my pictures to some friends at USA Today. They loved the pictures. They agreed to post them in their travel section on-line. Here is the link to the USA Today gallery, http://www.usatoday.com/media/cinematic/gallery/1605591 Also, there are pictures posted on my website, www.stevelabadessa.com
I photographed Michael Clarke Duncan after he appeared in the Green Mile, his oscar nominated role. He was happy and excited to be on the shoot. He said, “Whatever you want to do let me know, you’re the boss”. He was accommodating throughout the day and with his help I got lots of great images.”
Michael never intended to be an actor. He explained that he got his start in Hollywood working as a bodyguard for Bruce Willis. Bruce recommend him for numerous film roles. With his huge muscles and deep voice Michael was a larger than life character. He had no problem getting work.
Everyone liked Michael, it was his sweet and gentle nature. I heard that when fans met him they asked for hugs not autographs.
He died last week at the age of 54. He wasn’t one of those actors you know by their first names but he might have been. I was sad to hear of his death.