Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Flashback: August 17, 2007 – Kim Kardashian @ Edison Bar

In August 2007, after 2½ years in the magazine world, I was gaining a reputation for photographing beautiful women. And that year, there was no one with more beauty and buzz than Kim Kardashian.

When I teamed up with the short-lived Coexistence magazine, whose goal it was to introduce notable personalities of Middle Eastern descent to the mainstream public, Kim was at the top of their wishlist. She was the entertainment industry’s “It-girl.” Through a friend of a friend, I managed to get in touch with Kim’s people, and once I had the greenlight, my mind started racing. I wanted to take her to the desert (surprise!), but her publicist told me it wasn’t happening. Too far, too dirty. Make it local and convenient, I was instructed.

I love contrasting beautiful women with dirty, busted environments, something I did in that same Coexistence issue with my Skid Row Princess fashion spread. I’ve always been secretly envious of photographers who live near desolate, forgotten areas because there are so many old and crappy buildings and environments to place your model. In Los Angeles, everything is, well, new and crappy. We finally settled on The Edison bar in Downtown LA, which was formerly a power-plant in the old Higgins building, built in 1910. Nearly 100 years old, and totally awesome.

I did a ton of prep for this shoot, pulling tear sheets, shooting backplates, and storyboarding. I was ready to pitch a hard sell, because at that point, Kim didn’t have a clue who I was, and it was clear that her publicist didn’t like me or the magazine very much.

But when it came right down to it, Kim was suprisingly easy to work with—she was even down with all of my poses, as I had her crawl on cold metal boilers and arch her back on cast-iron stoves. No drama whatsoever—she was a total sweetheart.

Since this was back before I started hiring behind-the-scenes photographers, I managed to pull the next best thing: lighting and exposure tests with my assistants from the shoot, Corey and Zak (known affectionately as “the goons”…note the excited look on their faces). The Edison had lots of moody practical lighting that the cinematographer in me went crazy for, but alas, none of it was gonna show up at 100 ISO. So I took long-exposure plate shots to allow the practicals to burn in and gauge the actual color temperature, then I gelled my strobes and lit Kim properly, effectively letting the background go F* itself. Finally, I blended the two shots in post…sort of a ghetto HDR.

When the mag was released in December 2007, some people commented that these shots looked overly retouched. But the truth is that the cell-shading look on her skin is more a result of heavy bronzer (make-up) combined with the oversaturation of my gelled lights. In hindsight, I should have shot her naturally (non-gelled strobes) to preserve the white highlights, and then warmed her mids and shadows in post. All in all, I still love this shoot. Due to positive female customer feedback, it headlined the website longer than any shoot I’ve ever done.

Even better, Kim and I kept in touch after the shoot, and I’ve now shot the entire Kardashian family several times over. When she went blonde in summer ‘09, she called me to capture it before she went back to classic brunette. Kim later leaked a photo from that shoot on her blog, which resulted in my first call from TMZ—hilarious. I’ll post more info on that shoot soon.


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