Ethan Hill – Portrait & Celebrity Photographer


(bright music) – Hello and welcome to
the i3 Lecture Series hosted by the Masters in Digital
Photography program at SVA. We are thrilled to have
photographer Ethan Hill as tonight’s guest speaker. Ethan is a portrait and
celebrity photographer based in New York. He’s a graduate of
ArtCenter College of Design in California. His projects are wide-ranging
and include anything from A-list celebrities in
film, theater, and music, to scientists working
on cutting-edge research in medicine and technology. Clients include Entertainment
Weekly, Esquire Magazine, Rolling Stone, Food &
Wine, Harper’s Bazaar, Newsweek, Time, Dell Computers,
and UPS, among others. Aside from this commercial assignments, Ethan is involved in shooting personal portrait-based projects, teaching at The International
Center for Photography, and making and publishing artists books. So please help me welcome Ethan
Hill to our lecture series. (audience applause) – Thank you, everybody. (laughs) I’d love to thank SVA for having me. This is a huge honor to be here and to Hymie for inviting me. It’s sort of … The timing is sort of perfect. This is the year that I’ve
been in New York for 20 years. Next year is gonna be the
year that the big project that I ended up shooting
that gave me a career and put me on the map will
be the 20th anniversary next year of that project. And if it’s possible to
dedicate nights to people, I’d like to dedicate this
evening to Karen Pearson who I couldn’t have gotten
it together for tonight without her help. So thank you for that. (audience applause) I was trying to think of … So I wanted to talk to you guys about, seeing as it’s 20 years,
here’s 20 years of my life. I was trying to think of
one word to sum this time up and it’s been a very
interesting, weird, great trip to sort of go back through the boxes and look at all of this stuff again and tumbleweed was the
word that came to mind. I feel like I have lived like
a tumbleweed in this business for the last 20 years. There’s a really great
Ruth Bernhard documentary which I think is sort of hard to find. I recently went back and looked on Amazon, I looked on eBay, and I couldn’t find it. The last place I saw it was
at the bookstore at the ICP and everybody knows Ruth Bernhard’s nudes and the still lifes and
she has this great line in the film where
someone asks her to shoot their cat I think. It was a cat or a dog and she
very sort of nonchalantly said “Well, you know, and then all of a sudden “I was Ruth Bernhard, pet photographer.” And I thought wow, that’s … Yeah, why not? If you’re gonna shoot the cat very nicely then why not be that? So for this evening I broke
my life up into four parts and I wanted to start at the
beginning in the late ’90s. So I moved to New York and
got a job at 68 Degrees which was a really wonderful
black and white lab which sort of doesn’t exist
anymore, only technically, and got folded into LTI. I worked there for many
years and 68 was this sort of high-end editorial fashion division. It catered to people
like Stephane Sednaoui and photographers of that caliber. It was fashion work
that we were going for. My job was at the front desk packing jobs, which meant I would go through film, I would make sure all of
the contacts had been made for every roll of film that was run, I would dry prints, I would dust, I would spot prints for dust, and when it was a real
emergency which it often was, I was messenger boy and
I would get on my bike and I would haul stuff up to
whosever office needed it. I was on the phone all the time and I was this sort of gatekeeper for did you get your job on time or not and most of the people were
really really nice to work with and one of the clients
was Harper’s Bazaar. So this was the era, in 1992, this cover was the launch
for a redesign I believe and Liz Tilberis was the
editor in chief at Bazaar at the time. ’92 was, if I read all of
the information correctly, ’92 was her first year there and this was the relaunch of the magazine, beautifully steered by Fabien
Baron as the creative director and I was one year into
college at that time and I remember seeing this cover and it was just like one of those moments where the image sinks in. You are just like, something
strikes you so viscerally and maybe you don’t have words as to why and I think maybe 20
odd years later, today, I actually just figured
out why this picture made such a huge impact on me. It was photographed by
Patrick Demarchelier and this was the beginning of Liz’s era. Dennis Golonka towards the
end of the ’90s, ’97, ’98, Dennis Golonka was the director and Rebecca Greenfield worked with Dennis and I was on the phone
with those two all the time and for me when … They were the nicest people under the sun. I heard that Liz Tilberis
was the kindest person ever in a position that high and I always wanted to meet her and I never had the opportunity to. And I called Dennis up one day and I said hey, on a personal note, can
I come and show you some work? And he said “by all means,
when do you wanna come in?” And Dennis gave me my start
and Rebecca gave me my start. So in ’97 I started
shooting fashion designers. I was the front of the book
man for Harper’s Bazaar. I absolutely loved the job. It was … Everybody new that was coming up, new boutique owners, amazing artists, up-and-coming writers, everybody that was
getting their first chance that was like the new buzz, I got to photograph many of those people. This is ASFOUR. They were a … Well I guess this was sort
of like a ’90s phenomenon. They all lived together and they all were in business together and they all had cats and they basically were always together and I don’t know, I just said “hey, can you all raise “your cats up in the air?” And I got one frame, the cats freaked out, we lost them immediately,
scratching, hissing. (hissing) Cats were gone under the
bed and that was over. Oh! I forgot to say something. The way I designed this presentation is that I had this personal rule for myself on every job, no matter
if it was like all day or 10 minutes, I always did three setups period. So I’m showing you stuff, most of this didn’t ever run and no one has ever seen this stuff and then there’s outtakes as well. So these were … The way this presentation is
is various things I would try. So ASFOUR again. This is Jean Paul Knott. He is currently living in Belgium and he’s a women’s wear
and men’s wear designer. Oh another thing, see I have notes. Another thing, there are some
things I remember very well, and some things that are
shockingly blank gaps, so I’ll tell you when I think it’s true and when I might just be making it up. (audience laughs) I think I may be making this up, that this is Jean Paul’s first … Daniel, it’s a show, when
you don’t have a runway. – [Daniel] A presentation. – It’s a presentation, thank you. Look, I just, I used my … – [Daniel] Phone a friend? – Phone a friend! (laughs) Yes. I think this was his first
presentation in New York, coinciding with one fashion
week at the end of the ’90s. The nicest man. The best furry pants that
you’ve ever seen in your life. This is Yoshio Taniguchi. Yoshio was the architect who was awarded the redesign for MOMA. This was, I don’t know, a
year or so before construction actually started, but he had won the job at that point. There were so many cool
things about doing this and I think just in my whole
career as a portrait shooter rather than doing anything else, although all those other
things certainly have their historical markers
which I find amazing, but like MOMA’s never
gonna look the same again and it was so wonderful to be
able to photograph this guy in this space that he ended up ultimately completely transforming. This is Elizabeth Peyton the painter, the wonderful wonderful painter. Right I believe towards the
beginning of her career. She was obviously getting
some press already. She had a apartment. This was an apartment
that was used as a studio in a basement in the
East Village somewhere and no one could live there,
but it was her working space. This is Karim Rashid,
the product designer. I believe he’s had a
long and amazing career. This was when things were
really just taking off for him. I would also get these funny projects where like they were
architecture projects. I basically ended up shooting the house and I don’t know why Dennis
and Rebecca hired me, but I would get these jobs sort
of if there was one portrait sort of at the end of the day. And when these things would run, this would be an example
of something where I would get maybe a couple of pages where stuff would run really small, sort of collaged on one or two pages. This is Kathy and Lindy Jones. They are two sisters who
had bought this house out in the Hamptons and it
was super fancy and nice so I was supposed to
go and shoot the house with all of the furniture and then they were
dressed and we got to do a couple of portraits with them. This is something that
obviously would never run, but this was in the house, it was this amazing birdcage and it was a nice opportunity just to make a picture for myself. This did end up running, I recall. So then there was this
store called The Apartment that is still in business. This is when they were under construction. And the idea for The
Apartment I believe (laughs) was that they were gonna
have two models sort of in the space while the store was open as the residents of this retail store. And the retail store was
designed as someone’s home that you were going into. And there would be two fake
people living fake lives, and the idea was that you
would be able to go in and everything was for sale. You could rummage through their closets, you could rummage through their drawers, you could rummage
through the refrigerator, and every single thing was
a product that was for sale. It was a curious idea and I looked them up and they’re still in business
although I think they ended up being bought or sold, but it’s in SoHo. I don’t know if they have fake
people still living there, but that was the original idea. This is Miguel Adrover. Really nice man, great fashion designer. This was at the time
when he was designing, but he also had a retail
store in the East Village called Horn, hence the horns. At the end of the shoot,
his neighbor came over and it’s sort of funny, like it’s just changing so quickly and I can’t imagine like
photographs of people sitting on garbage cans are
gonna be able to be made in that neighborhood for very much longer and all of that sort of romance, that historical romance
of that neighborhood is going so quickly, so I am happy that I have this. When I was retouching it
I noticed that the … So the neighbor is really
amazingly old school and that dress has a stitch
right at the front of it that is definitely hand done and I just sort of
thought that it was ironic that here’s this little old
grandma from the country and this guy who’s selling these incredibly expensive garments sort of directly behind them, and I just sort of loved the
juxtaposition of those things. She died a think within
a year of this picture and they were very close so it was nice to have that for Miguel. This is Jeffery Kalinsky
of the Jeffrey Store in the Meatpacking District. This is when that store
was under construction. It was going to be a big deal. It is and has become and
remains a super big deal. I believe it was
definitely one of the first fashion retail stores of that
caliber to move into the area and of course many other
labels followed suit. Again it’s such a great
opportunity to have that space as raw and rough as it was and to see thing that it’s now become. It’s definitely his business partner, I don’t know if it’s his boyfriend or not. I think that it’s not. I think that they were
just business partners, but I could be wrong. Milk had recently opened and Milk is of course right next door, so we were able to get a
deal because it was Bazaar and to pop upstairs and shoot them sort of as a studio setup real quick. This is Susan and Eliza Minot. They are sisters with
several siblings in-between, but Susan is the oldest out of the group and Eliza is the youngest. At this point Susan was a
very well-established author and had worked on film scripts and had a very sort of amazing reputation. Eliza had just gotten her first book deal and she had gotten on the same publisher with the same editor that Susan had done, and I remember them thinking
that there was gonna be some talk about that and some favoritism and that sort of thing going on and they were courting some press to try to get ahead of that story to allow Eliza to have a writing career of her own and to be able to earn her
own way in the literary world. We ended up going out
to the family’s house off an island in Maine and it
was one of those great trips where you end up on a
ferry with the writer. There was literally one hotel room left so I had to share it with the writer which really freaked me out because I like my privacy at night and then it ended up being so okay. She was like … It was a big room and she
was the nicest person ever and we rode around with the taxi driver, there was only one who
had this oxygen tank in the back of his car and
that also made me nervous but then you get to be
in a place like this which is just like fantastic. So Eliza is gorgeous and
I got to photograph her sort of a bunch. This is Jeffrey Bilhuber. I’ll confess at this point that I can’t remember why I was there. I actually have no idea, but I’m guessing that it was because his house
is really nice and he just … Jeffrey was like one of
those classic classic ’50s and ’40s New York gay guys who I hold in such high esteem. Just the way that he dressed and the way that he carried himself and I just remember just liking
him very much as a person. So, this would have been … I guess we’re around
’99 maybe at this point. Time just a little bit
here in terms of years, but let’s just say we’re in ’99 and then we’ll go back a year or so. So Liz Tilberis passes away in 1999. She runs Harper’s Bazaar from ’92 to ’99 and she passes away from ovarian cancer. She’s not even 50 yet and I
never did get to meet her. Kate Betts is the editor in
chief who took over Bazaar at that point and there
was a seismic staff change at Bazaar at that time. Dennis Golonka was shooting
really great fashion and took it as an
opportunity to give it a try. He wanted to see if he could shoot and he’s a really great fashion shooter. Rebecca is a really wonderful journalist and documentary shooter. She’s still a very good
friend on mine today and she decided to leave at that point and I have never done
a job for Bazaar again. By this point, other things
have sort of come up. I was working for some business magazine, I was working for Food
& Wine here and there. There were other things going on and one day Rolling Stone calls and of course they’re
a dream client, right? This was the era of Fred Woodard, the genius, absolute genius
designer and art director and creative director. Rachel Knepfer was the
photography director and Fiona Ferrel was also working there. Fiona called me and she said
“hey, I’ve got a job for you. “Do you wanna go and
shoot some gay teenagers? “David Lipsky is working on this story “and we thought you would
be a good match for this. “I think you can shoot
it in black and white.” And of course I said yes. I mean this is why I
wanted to be in this craft and to be in this world of magazines and it was this kind of story
that I wanted to pursue. This project changed my life. There were many firsts for this project. It was my first job where I
ever shot more than one person, it was my first job where
I ever traveled anywhere. I was extremely naive and really green and didn’t realize that
I could take an assistant on a project like this, opted not to because
I thought these people are all gonna be really young and maybe it would be more intimate and less scary for them
if I just go alone. I kinda didn’t know and I just did it. So I know I went to Boston. I know I went to Atlanta. I may have gone to Mississippi. I definitely went to Indianapolis. This guy’s name is Shamma. He I believe was in Atlanta. It’s one of those luxury
projects where you just go and spend a day with someone and that never happens anymore hardly. You could talk to people and you could look at their stuff and you could try lots and
lots of different things and they were cool with you being there and they were excited to be a part of this and have their story told. This is Conniption. It was so amazing to me
the diversity of people that David found to interview. I mean in ’90 … This was ’98. Yeah, it’s 2017 now. This was 1998. And she was a 17-year-old transsexual. I still have the issue and she said “Oh I read
some of the interview” and she said “Yeah, I’ve
started hormone treatment “and then I’ll be able
to start having surgery “when I turn 18.” She was a brassy teenager. We went and had dinner the night
before we ended up shooting and she was giving me all kinds of like kid versus old man grief and I was only 25. (laughs) But she was a spark plug. Okay, Patrick. Patrick is really a wonderful person. I had this incredibly
daunting experience with him in that he lied to his mother. Most of the people, almost everybody, was under 18 years of age so I needed to have their parents sign and Patrick lied to his mom. I don’t know what he told her, but I think it was something … This could be a complete lie, but what I remember is he said
“Rolling Stone is interested “in the musical tastes
of teenagers like me.” And she’s a smart lady
and she’s like “what? “They’re gonna fly someone
from New York to Indianapolis “to talk to you about what
cassettes you’re playing?” And we did the whole shoot and then I was like “Oh
yeah, hey Mrs. Patrick’s mom. Would you sign the model release?” And then she’s like “what is this for?” And then she refused. She refused to sign so it was awkward and I left her one saying
maybe you’ll change your mind and this is not a conversation
that I can have with you. This is a conversation that
you have to have with my editor or somebody else at the office and I’d like to leave this form with you and then you and Patrick
can talk about this. Then I ended up going back. I don’t know what happened, but I ended up being flown
back there to shoot him again for a completely new shoot
and I don’t think she signed, but then … – [Audience Member]
Part of the same story? – Yes, for exactly the same story and then they ran a picture anyway. So I’m not sure. The legal stuff is fascinating on sensitive stories like this. So this is Dylan. He’s still a very good
friend of mine today. We became great friends
because of this project and he moved around a
lot, moved to New York. He was here for a while. He’s married now and he and his husband just moved to London. So he’s a very good friend. This is Michael, our goth kid. He was going to a gay support center, a gay youth center, and I think these were
all girls from the … His posse. And this is Kelly. So I’m in Salt Lake City now and it was really interesting
because everybody was single except for the Salt Lake City people. Kelly was amazing. She told me this story
about how her grandfather was a bathtub moonshine bootlegger. So this is her with her girlfriend and I think these two were girlfriends and just friends of Kelly’s. So then Nathan and his boyfriend
Aaron also in Salt Lake. This was interesting. David hadn’t interviewed them and we didn’t have any gay
boys that were together. There wasn’t a gay male
couple for this story and I was hoping that we
could get something like that and Kelly knew Nathan but she
didn’t have his phone number and I called Fiona and I said “Hey, do you mind if I stay? “Like I think I got a lead on the boys.” And they allowed me to change the ticket and this was so great. Kelly said “just go to this coffee shop “and maybe they’ll be there. “I don’t know how to get
ahold of them otherwise.” So I did and Nathan shows up and I said “Hey, can you shoot tomorrow? “Can you shoot this thing
for Rolling Stone tomorrow “and maybe be interviewed later by phone?” As I said, David hadn’t interviewed them and then the story editor,
who was different than Fiona, had contacted me after I
had gotten back to New York and she said, “Hey, we have
no caption information. “I don’t know anything about these guys. “Can you write something
up for me and send it?” And I was like “Uh, I
don’t know how to do that. “So why don’t I figure it out
and I’ll send you something.” So I called Nathan and he
ended up answering the phone and this was also like
a huge thing for me. We ended up talking for more
than an hour on the phone and I asked questions, he answered. I had never interviewed anybody before and it didn’t even really feel
like it was a real interview, it just was like this conversation where amazingly interesting things … I didn’t have time to sort
of ask them how they met and how they had gotten
this apartment together and what they were doing in school and all of this sort of stuff, but we did have this chance
to do it on the phone. And I have become obsessed
with asking people questions and I think part of what’s
been a strength of mine as an editorial shooter
on sensitive stories has been this ability
to break ice that way and not just go in and
say, “Hey, stand there, “stand there, and do this.” My friend Heather Connelly
who worked with me for many many years said that I was the greediest
photographer that she had ever met and if the people wouldn’t kick me out then I wouldn’t leave and let’s try this other situation, let’s try this other shot,
let’s try this other shot and that’s probably true. So this is … You know we’re all in such a
weird sort of spot in the world with everything that’s incredibly obvious and sometimes I think human beings have this incredible capacity for
forgetting the super bad things so they can get on with their lives and engage in the act of being alive and Will & Grace has come and gone since this shoot happened. There are obviously incredible
issues of human rights and immigrations rights at stake and the current climate
in which we’re living and I don’t know if anybody is on the Visual AIDS Instagram feed, but it’s really good
and maybe you may want to consider hooking up with them. It’s a non-profit arts organization that does many many things including being formal representation
for artists who have made work. They represent the estates
for artists who have either passed away from AIDS or there is no place for that work to go. There is a place, which is Visual AIDS and they do exhibitions and they do many many wonderful things. So lest we forget, I’d
like to read something that I saw on the Instagram feed and it’s a fax. “Recipient information, to faggot. Company, Visual AIDS. Sender information,
from Mrs. Gas the gays. Company, fuck off nigger. Phone number, sent on
Thursday, March 30, 2017. Kill yourself you fucking Kike fags. I hope you all die a slow painful death. You know for such a brief
note, it’s really encompassing. I emailed them today and
asked permission to use that in the talk and they
said that they’ve gotten several other faxes since
this one on March 30th. So lest we forget, it’s always good to
keep fighting the fight and I did look up David
Lipsky’s information prior to coming this evening and I believe he did win a GLAAD award which is a media award for
the positive representation of the LGBT community in the media and I believe that David won
it for this particular story. Another incredible thing happened because of this Rolling Stone story. They did this little profile
on me that actually ran. I had shot the gay teen story,
then they did this profile. I think we were held up
because of Patrick’s situation with the model release
and can we? Can’t we? I don’t know, blah blah,
let’s talk to the lawyers. And this other issue got sort of snaked in before the gay teens story ran and they did this enormous profile on … It was this incredible mix of real people and then celebrities and I got
asked to be a part of this. So this was how the
picture ran and the opener and I was asked to do this self portrait and I had wanted set up the picture to have all of my best friends
represented in the picture. So there’s pictures from
my friend John Clark and the bike I was riding at the time, and my friend Patty is in there, and my friend Adam R. and
John Stowa are in there. And in that story it talks
about where I was from, the town that I had grew up in, and that I was gay, and etc. etc. I was 25 and living my
life and trying to work and all this sort of other stuff. So remember this is the era of the pager, not the cell phone, and I
get this phone call at home on my land line and I
never picked up the phone, but I just picked up the
phone, and this guy called me. He said, “I got your phone
number from information “and I saw that story
about you in Rolling Stone “and I was wondering if I could just “talk to you for a minute.” And I said, “Sure.” And he said “I’m from where you are. “I’m from the same town that you’re from. “I saw what it said in the article “and I’m gay too and I
don’t know how to come out “to my parents, and I was wondering “if I could just talk to you about it “because I’m really worried,
but it needs to happen.” And we ended up talking for a long time and it was a really incredible
sort of moment for me. The guy never told me his name, he called me from a pay phone. I never knew his name,
never heard from him again, and I remember them telling us in school that you do this job with incredible care and you care about the people
that you’re photographing and you respect them and you
treat this job with honor and that this work is extremely powerful. I was like, what do you mean powerful? I don’t understand. And it was after that phone call where I did really
understand that this work is super super important
and lest we forget. So life bumps on. Michele Romero at Entertainment Weekly had seen the gay teen story run and she had put my name in
the hat with Sarah Rosen who was another photo editor
at Entertainment Weekly to shoot Don Knotts. And I did it and I didn’t blow it. It ran full page and I think
for about 11 or 12 years I never had to try to get work again. It just came. These are some outtakes obviously. He was in his 90s by this point and I think he lived to be over 100. To 100, or just 101 maybe and I liked him from Three’s Company. I know I’m supposed to say Andy Griffith, but I liked him from Three’s Company. This is Micheal Henry Adams. This was another home story. I started shooting a lot of them for New York Magazine at the time. He had a beautiful apartment up in Harlem and I was told he dressed like a dandy and just was like the coolest guy ever. This is Eva Zeisel. She was shot for Fast Company. The historically super important designer. This is Dr. Eve Bruce. She was a … She had two lives, a plastic
surgeon and a shaman healer, and the way that I remember
it is that she said, “I’d rather talk you out of surgery, “but if you really want fake boobs, “I have the skill to do that
and I have a mortgage to pay.” So this was for Health Magazine and the idea was just to shoot her living both of her lives. Her daughter was gracious enough to be the model for the surgery. And then there was a story
for people in espanol. And it was such a goofy one. Sexy, sexy in the city it was called. And it was like hot, sexy, single men and it was a portfolio so I didn’t say no. And I remember we shot this bartender and it grosses me out to admit it, but I made him lie on the bar like he was lying on a car hood and then we had a boxer who
was like the most jacked man you’ve ever seen in your life,
like stunningly beaut … It was hard to look at him. Sort of like he was
like looking at the sun. Too beautiful. And then there was Angel
who was a firefighter and I tried, I admit it, I
tried stepping out of the things and it was just awful, awful, awful. So I’m only showing you
the straight portraits, which I liked better. So sexy firemen. And so this was shot on September 8, 2000, and Angel died in the World Trade Center and I didn’t really know for sure, but I did see it after
the incredible craziness was over in the media. I was on a job and I was
watching the news in a hotel TV and they were running
some profiles on people who had passed away and Angel
was an obvious candidate because he had done these
reality shows and he liked it, he liked being in the media. And I saw that he had passed away and I went home and I
went through the files and I had two prints that the lab had made that had been returned
to me after the story ran and I packed them up and
I went to the fire house, which is right here. It’s the 19th Street one,
right across the street from where Print Space was and I walked into the
office that literally he’s framed up in the
doorway of that office and I handed the package over to the guy that was sitting there and he opens the thing up and
he starts crying immediately and I said, “You know, so I was thinking “one is for the station
and one is for his mom.” And then I ran away. I couldn’t deal with it. So I don’t know if she ever got it, but I’m sure that she did. So then we go to war. I had been shooting for
Newsweek already at this point, but this really completely solidified my relationship with them. I was never on staff, but I
worked basically every week in some capacity for 11 years. It started off … By the afternoon of September 11, 2001, I think everybody
understood we were at war. Because we had a president
who actually followed protocol at the time, rather than
just launching missiles, and we had a president who
actually went through Congress, I knew that there was gonna be some time. And the way that that schedule
played out for me personally was that we ended up
doing all of these stories related to the World
Trade Center specifically and to New York. Children who had lost parents
in the World Trade Center, businesses that had been destroyed either by geographic location or
direct financial piggybacking and piggybacking with businesses that were in the World Trade Center that were not there anymore, stories about funerals, stories about everything. And then troops started to go off to war and I started doing all kinds of stories about the troops coming back. I never went to Iraq and I
was never asked to go to Iraq and I don’t think I could have done that. I don’t think I would
have been able to do that, but I was incredibly happy
to work on the stories that I did here to honor, in the best way that I could, the people that had
done what they had done in the service of this country. This is a portfolio of
people who had been wounded. This guy had been shot in the shoulder and he was going back for a second tour. This was a training area
that was on the base. So it’s not a real bunker,
it’s a training bunker. I wish I could remember this guy’s name. He’s really important. I was told we had gotten someone who had been shot in the head and was willing to be photographed. I can’t remember where he was. I know it was the Pacific Northwest. Spokane, Seattle, or Portland, Oregon. It was one of those three places. And the front of his head is a plate. The front of his skull
was blown away and I knew, I was told that we was missing an eye. And I remember on the plane
having this conversation with myself saying, “When
you get there, do not flinch. “No matter what it looks
like, you cannot flinch “because that is going to be, he’ll know, “it’s gonna be the
highest form of disrespect “that you can give this guy, period. “Do not flinch, do not flinch,
whatever it looks like.” And it kind of became
the mantra going forward. I couldn’t believe that he
let me photograph his eye and I asked and he said, “Sure.” This guy had been shot in the face. He was in the process
of a series of surgeries for correcting what could be done. He was so swollen when
he returned to the states and his mother was finally able to come to the hospital to see him, that the only way she
actually recognized him was because of the tattoo on his arm. It was the only way that
she was able to recognize that that was her son. This one was really hard for me because I couldn’t understand
what he was saying. His jaw was wired shut and
I was trying really hard to have a conversation with
him and I couldn’t do it. I literally couldn’t understand what he was trying to say and on this one, mercifully the writer had come and the writer was okay and
the interview was very short. The shoot was very short and the writer was able to sort of
compensate for my deficit in this particular situation. I remember he ended up vomiting twice while we were shooting. The meds that he was on
was making him really ill and he would go and throw up
and then come back to work and then he would get sick again and he would leave for a minute and then he would come back
and we would continue shooting. This was wallpaper in the kitchen. I was able to get him to sit down and I just wanted to share
this because this has a nice, it’s a nice veiw of the trach hole from the scar from the trach. This is … When people had snapshots,
I would never take them. I liked to just do copy
work of those photographs so that any original last prints would never get lost that way and people could just keep their stuff. So this is a photograph of our guy here, sort of before and after. I started keeping notebooks with Polaroids when I was doing these jobs. Sometimes they would be
like six shoots in six days. It was extremely frantic. Many of the shoots were
multiple people in groups which needed to be sorted out. I would get model releases
signed from everybody but then forget like when
I walked out the door what people’s names were. So I started going back to Nathan and the gay teens project because of that experience
I had with Nathan it occurred to me that it would behoove me to start making notebooks for my editors so that the people that i
photographed wouldn’t have to get calls either from
me or from them saying oh, by the way, who was this person? And the notebooks ended up
becoming really detailed and I would just hand
them in with the job. Apparently no one else was doing this, although it seemed very obvious to me that this was a smart thing to do and it’s a great source of pride to me that editors have come back later and said that they stole some of my books. So I’m missing a bunch of them because people stole them at the office and that makes me really happy. (audience laughs) So It just continued. I mean these are more wounded guys. I had notes on him, but I’ve forgotten almost everybody’s name. I know he was married, he
was about to get divorced. He had kids. He was a tank driver. He had been wounded during
practice stateside, not abroad, and had several of his
vertebrae fused together because of the spinal injury. This was at Walter Reed. Same gentleman. This is Melissa Stockwell. She is the first female amputee, first military female amputee
from this conflict in Iraq. This was a example of
traumatic brain injury. It’s a boy and his father. This was in a hospital in Chicago and it’s funny when you look
at he picture really close. When I was doing the retouching you can see that their faces are, they’re exactly the same person, just a couple of years apart. The physical therapy crew was really upset that they did not want
him photographed this way with his legs curled up. Apparently it’s like really bad form and they were constantly
trying to stretch his legs out and his hand would close up
and his legs would close up and it was a natural resting place for him and the muscles would
lock and it was very hard to sort of elongate his
limbs again and they said, “Don’t show a photograph of that. “That’s not good PT work. “We wanna show that his body’s improving.” He always, when he looked at you, he always looked like he was smiling. He couldn’t speak so I
never know if he was okay with me being there and these
photographs being taken. I asked him and I was … His dad said it was okay,
so that’s why I continued to stay and do it. He did look like he was smiling, although I always choose
the non-smiley ones. Double amputee. She’s amazing. This is Connie Spinks. She was burned in a
humvee and she ended up meeting her husband,
who’s also an amputee, at Walter Reed when they were recovering. And this was a back injury. So there was other random
stuff going on at this time. This is Bill Keller
from the New York Times. Senators. Mitch McConnell. This is probably my proudest moment ever. This was about Geoghan,
the Catholic priest molesting the boys in Massachusetts. I got a call on Tuesday
night from my editor Myra and she said, “Go to Boston tomorrow.” I said, “I’m really sick.” “Go to Boston tomorrow and
wait for my phone call. “I don’t know where you’re
going, but you’ll get a call.” And it ended up being this story and Newsweek ended up beating every other weekly news
magazine for a cover story. Everyone was scrambling the
following week to get covers and there were more and
more and more stories. The Boston Globe broke the
story originally obviously, we all know that. And then Newsweek was the first
national weekly to break it. These were all people who were
molested by Catholic priests. This was a story about
the lost boys of Sudan who were being brought over
by a Christian organization. I believe they were all orphans and we shot in the Midwest somewhere. There were many locations that
these kids were brought to, but I went somewhere in the Midwest. I like the idea of sort of
mirroring this Americana junk with people who had never
used a telephone before, and never bought shoes at a store before, and never had a refrigerator before. This is a teenage prostitute story. The challenge for this,
they were being kept out of the Mall of America. I was told in the brief that
these kids were having sex so they could buy fancy
jeans, like $400 jeans, and that they were coming
from normal families and they were just like
having sex in the bus depot to buy jeans, which
can’t be entirely true. I think that was the brief
that was given to my editor and then the story progressed, because obviously these people were not living at home anymore. They were in shelters and halfway homes and because they were minors we were not allowed to show their faces, so the challenge was to
obscure them in some way. So I’d like to read one thing and then I’ll just blaze
through the rest of this. While I was doing the Newsweek stuff, I was also constantly shooting
celebrity work here and there and the celebrity work was kind of like the mental antidote to
all of the other things that I was seeing on a regular basis. I wanted to read one thing. Cynthia Carr has this beautiful biography about the artist David Wojnarowicz who I would highly
recommend everybody read because it’s such a great book just about David and the history of the ’80s East Village
art gallery scene. It’s a phenomenal book. So David’s an AIDS activist as well and died of AIDS and I’ll just read this. This is about an interaction
that the artist Zoe Lenard had with David as told to
Cynthia who wrote the book. One day she asked him
to come to her apartment and look at some prints. “I was taking all these
ariel photographs,” Zoe said, “and I confided with
him about this conflict “I was having as an
artist about the intensity “of the activist work and
the harshness of the reality “of the AIDS crisis and I
was photographing clouds. “There was just beginning
to be a little bit “of interest in my work. “I had been offered a one-person show “and I remember being really
confused, like what do I do? “There’s this divide in my life “and I showed him all these prints. “I used to work en masse
and I had stacks and stacks “of prints all of the
floor and he was so kind.” Her voice broke as she
recounted what David told her, “Zoe, these are beautiful “and that’s what we’re fighting for. “We’re being angry and
complaining because we have to, “but where we wanna go back to is beauty. “If you let go of that, we
don’t have anywhere to go.” So I think that celebrity work
is as historically important as any of the war stuff, as anything. These moments in pop culture
define us as an entire society, as much as hardcore
journalistic stuff does. It’d be fun to tell you the stories about all of these people. Some of them are like real A-list people, some of them are not, just people that I think are super cool, but I love meeting these people because sometimes it’s so
great just to be in a room where people are pretty
and they sing amazing songs and they act really well
and the movie’s incredible and I like being around that as much as I like being
around anything else. So there’s one last little bit here, and I’ll tell you that
speaking of 20 years, it’s like the death card in
the tarot pack came up for me and like life is gonna change again and I’ve been working on this
project for about five years, which I think is where
my life is headed next. I wanna have a gallery show. I’m looking for a gallery. I am interested in publishing a book. This is a personal project
I’ve been working on that is just about light. I shot this in my bedroom. It became many many different
things over the years. It started off as a
black and white project, then it started off as a project that was retouched real
open because I was thinking maybe I could start showing this and trying to get some fashion work, and then I just thought
I don’t care about that. This is my damn project
and I’m gonna do it my way and the most seductive
thing about the pictures was the enormous, huge chunks of black and the little bit of sparkle
in that rectangle of light and I’ll argue that these
aren’t portraits at all. I think these are just pictures of light and they’re pictures
of absolutely nothing. I started using the frames, the bodies as frames to catch the light and to make a shape and it sort of was really
completely antithetical to what my whole career has
been up until this point and this stuff I’m super happy. I’m almost done with this, done shooting, and I have four more weeks
to go on the retouching and the whole project is done so thank you for your time. (audience applause) A question! (laughs) – [Brooklyn] Thank you for sharing. My name is Brooklyn
and I’m in my last year of my masters thesis program and looking at the work
that you’re doing right now, especially this end part, and something that
really resonated with me is that you started off
the project thinking it was gonna be a fashion portfolio, then you decided to do it as a project. What was the change in
you that made you think about it as this is my project and I wanna do it in a specific way? – I think in some I’ve
always been aiming … There’s always been part of my life that’s always been
aiming in this direction. I’ve always been interested in pursuing some kind of gallery career. I think what it was was that I realized that the pictures would
be completely unsaleable in a commercial market. I was showing it and I was getting a pretty poor response commercially because there’s so no detail
in many of the images, or huge chunks of the body
are just completely missing and the prints are really pretty. Like when I make the prints I like the way the prints look and I knew that the
pictures weren’t as strong when I retouched them more open and I shot over 70 people for this project and it’s been five years of my life and I just thought this is the glue. My friend Paul and my friend Kerry both have put exhibitions together and I think what’s always
been lacking in the work that I’ve done
assignment-wise was the specs. The specs where, hey,
I need you to go there and shoot that person on seamless. I need you to go there and
shoot it environmentally. I need you to go there and
shoot it in the office. Go there, it has to be outside. And the picture served
the story for the story, but they don’t hold
water as a body of work. It’s too random. And I was watching Paul and
Kerry put shows together and I think I really
admire you for being able to be in a program like this because I don’t feel like I’m … And I say this with all seriousness. I don’t think I’m intelligent enough or have the drive or the
patience to be able to go through a masters program
so I really admire that you’re able to do it because I barely made
it out of high school, not to mention college. And this was the one thing that I had that held water together as a single unit. Does that answer it? – [Audience Member] Going
back to your portraits, when you look through your
images when you’re editing, what are some of the things that you look for that signal a good shot? – Oh that’s a good question because the answer is really specific. I’ll propose a theory
to you that photographs have sound in them and for example if you look at a David LaChapelle photograph, there’s a lot of loud
volume in that picture and I’ve always gravitated
towards the silent pictures. And it’s interesting now
that we all edit digitally nothing is side by side anymore, everything is stacked
on top of each other. And because everything is
stacked on top of each other, you can see people breathe, and I’ve noticed that I
always pick the image, I always pick the exhale. I always pick the most silent moment and that’s the thing that’s
most attractive in the setup. This was because almost
all of this scanned film, it was not that experience, but that’s definitely what I aim for now. Just quiet. – [Audience Member] Hi, one
thing that struck me about a lot of the portraits, especially the more journalistic portraits going out on location is you still have such
nice clean compositions in a lot of these location portraits. When you go out, what
are some of the things that go through your mind because a lot you’re showing up and of course not
knowing what you’re going to find when you get there. So maybe a little bit about how you think about how you’re gonna place your subject in the frame. – Yeah, you know one of my
heroes is Arnold Newman, who is think was one of
the greatest composers ever and he was a hero of mine
from almost the beginning and of course there are always
different scenarios, right? You get there the day before and you actually have time to look around or you get off the plane and you go and do the shoot immediately and I’m pretty methodical about it. I look, I say hello, I
look around, I make a list. Then I’ll go to the subject and say are you okay with
doing these three shots? I’d like to make sure you
area totally cool with this and I’m gonna ask you for what I want and if you’re not okay with
this, that is completely okay. And I always gravitate towards things where I think I can frame
someone up in something. I look for it and I feel like I tend to repeat myself sometimes as we all do, and I notice the itch comes up when I feel like my composition
is getting really boring and too redundant. That’s when I feel like I
need to start a new project to shake that up, but I love it. I love everything being
in its right place. – [Christine] Ethan, you alluded to this in talking about the Rolling Stones story. I’m interested in the interplay
between the photography and the editorial side of the house, the writer and the editor, and perhaps the tension between those two, and you have such a capacity
for perceiving individuals and appreciating them
and in relating to them, engaging with them. I would think that in the
course of the work you have done you would be developing
dimensions of the story that the writer perhaps
would not be aware of and I would think you would
want to be pushing, driving the story writing as well
as the photography taking. How did that play out? – You know, Christine, it’s a good point. Because I liked talking to people so much, I really enjoyed the idea … I think less with the gay teens because that was all brand new and it took me a while to
figure all that stuff out, but once I kicked in with Newsweek and I knew it was
something that I was doing. I made a very conscious effort to have those conversations with people to try to make the photographs elaborate on part of the story that
the writer couldn’t get. There were circumstances with Newsweek especially where the story
editor had such a specific agenda and I would hear these reporters, we were often going together
or I would be setting up while the interview was
happening and I would eavesdrop because I was of course super curious. And there was a set of questions and a specific timeframe
that was not deviated from and I had the luxury of being able to have those other conversations. Hey, what’s in that book over there? What did you mean when you were talking to the guy about that? And I would try to bring those
things into the photograph to try to … If the consumer would bother
to look at the picture, it would help with the
story a little bit more to tell another part of the
story that is not in the text. I will in all honesty tell you
that I never cared what ran. I never cared what picture ran. I tried my hardest, I would
send the notebooks in. I never cared how the
pictures were cropped, what was big, what was small. It was not my job. It was the job of the art directors and the story editors
to pick what they felt best told the story
that they wanted to tell and how they did that, I didn’t care. I was happy to make the pictures and I had them for myself and I knew that and whatever happened … I also never liked looking at stuff run. It embarrassed me to see it in print. It freaked me out and
I can’t tell you why. It was mortally embarrassing
to see the stuff in print so I never looked and I also didn’t care, but I let them know what I thought, and then whatever happened
after that was what happened. – [Host] Thank you, Ethan,
for a wonderful lecture. (audience applause) – Thank you. (audience applause)

One Reply to “Ethan Hill – Portrait & Celebrity Photographer”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *