In the hierarchy of things I'd love to photograph, the official Grammys after-party is close to the top of the list. And in 2018, I almost got my wish. The W magazine sent me on assignment to shoot the exclusive event, all-access guaranteed.
In giddy anticipation of the night, I imagined the raucous Weimar-style revelry, a room full of my favorite musicians engaging in all kinds of sordid rock-star behavior. There was only one thing I had to watch out for, the PR people, those eternal ruiners of all things fun. Always on guard, always ready to put a hand in front of my camera to prevent an image of their famous ward - gasp - imbibing a whiskey. The fastidious men and women of the PR clan make it their specialty to create needless obstacles and turn unguarded moments into self-conscious photo-ops. But I was ready for them. Over the years, I learned how to avoid, swerve, sneak and then - BAM! - flash a celebrity in the face mid-drink. Game-on, I thought as I arrived at the Grammy's after-party location.
Game-on, the PR people thought back.
Once I got past security, I was informed that, inexplicably, my all-access had turned into no access. Instead of being allowed into the festive Valhalla, I was asked to shoot the musicians against the corporate wall of shame - a background of logos - as they posed and smiled for the 30 photographers cramming into one another, all competing to take the exact same photograph. Then they would be ushered by the PR into the unreachable party of my dreams.
PR vs Dina, 1:0
After frantically calling my editor, and after he frantically attempted to rectify the disaster (hopeless), my frustration turned into anger. In the hierarchy of things that I hate to photograph, posed red-carpet images are right there at the top of the list.
"I am about to QUIT," I texted my friend, Nikola, in a rage.
"HACK it," he shot back.
Grudgingly, I elbowed my way into the sad lineup of photographers, videographers and news anchors. The musicians were paraded in front us, stopping every couple of steps to flash a skillfully counterfeit smile. Suddenly, in those little steps between the poses, I saw a way out. I had about 5 seconds to catch everyone as they moved through a gap in the logos while letting the corners of their lips rest. The task became intensely focused — trying to get the tricky, "in-between" portraits. For extra pizzazz, I added a slight camera shake. If I was going to take these out of context, I wanted to have some fun with it.
Running from the front of the line-up to the back, I was able to get 3 to 5 images of each person. After an hour of such sprints, I dragged myself home, editing the photos till 5am to have them ready for the morning's slideshow. On waking up, I laughed reading the headline on W's feature from the night, "Photographer Dina Litovsky captured some rare, calm moments before the true debauchery began." I had to admit that the night had been a strange success. In a way, the rewards felt bigger than if I had been allowed to shoot the party itself. The photos added up to a coherent, vaguely surreal series of portraits, one that belied the defeat, frustration and chaos of the night. And there wasn't a logo in sight.
Dina vs PR, 1:0
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