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.
South Florida is unique. It has a mix of US and Latin cultures. It has warm light and cosmopolitan people. Walking around you see 50’s Art Deco styling everywhere and yet it embraces all that is modern. I love it.
I was in South Florida last week on assignment. On my down time I captured these images in the Naples area.
Warm evening light covers a woman on the beach in South Florida
Showering off at Naples Pier
Storm clouds building in the afternoon heat
Playing paddle games on Naples Beach
Palm trees, cars and architecture
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!”
I was commissioned to shoot a series of portraits of runner Michelle Jenay. My objective was to make several living breathing portraits. Portraits are too often interpreted as static photos. If you’re gong to shoot a runner, she ought to be moving. I wanted to keep it simple, colorful and believable.
I was in New York City for a series of meetings with art directors and photo editors. I took an hour off and shot some photos along The High Line in Lower Manhattan.
The city felt refreshingly colorful. It glowed in shades of orange and blue. New architecture popped up on every corner. The old city seemed alive with new energy.
Recently, I was shooting a travel story on the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown LA. My assignment was to make some unique images of the Frank Gehry designed building. It’s a popular stop for tourist and professional photographers a like. This building is typically photographed against the skyline of Los Angeles. You see huge panels of folded steel contrasting the straight and narrow city buildings. To make my pictures I had to find a different approach.
Rather than shoot the usual grand vista I decide to get in close. I wanted to get an intimate view. As I looked around I got the impression this structure wasn’t designed so much as a building but as a sculpture. It was meant to be viewed from many different angles. As you walk around the building you make these little visual discoveries. There are stairways hidden behind steels facades and walkway wedged between massive silhouettes. It looks as though the structure itself was pealed away to make room for the exit doors. And when you look up, you see light bounce from panel to panel projecting brilliant patterns on the structure.
I’ve always enjoyed architecture as an art form. The artist, the architect, has something to show you. It’s a visual art like photography. With architecture and photography you need to take your time and experience the art in front of you.
Photographing in a television studio is like working in a war zone. Your results will be determined by the situation on the ground at the time of the operation.
Recently, I was on the set of the Food Network photographing Cat Cora and Johnny Iuzzini. I was told I would have 30 minutes to set up and shoot. That’s a tight schedule for a soup to nuts (pardon the pun) photo shoot. My client requested 2 variations of the duo cooking together on set, and hoped for a few more situations if time permitted.
At the studio I was greeted with the words, “we’re running late today”. That’s a Hollywood producer’s way of saying hello. She did have some good news though. I would have an extra half hour on set. I can shoot just about anything given an hour.
Racing your way through a shot list doesn’t always make the best pictures. In situations like this thinking on your feet is critical. When I asked Johnny to hold a rolling pin for one of my “must have” shots, his response was, “What am I a 50’s housewife?” So, you have to adapt. I brought a case full of props anticipating this type of problem. He found something he liked.
Letting people be themselves ultimately makes the best shots. Johnny pouring dry ice on the set and Cat fixing her hair weren’t concepts on my shot list but they were honest moments. When you have a crowd of stage hands constantly asking, “When are you going to be done?” honest moments are a gift you gladly take.