I am doing my first Q&A post today. I asked for questions in Instagram stories and got a lot of great ones. A few were asked by several people, so I'll be addressing those here. If you are a subscriber and would like to ask me something, please do so in comments and I'll save them for my next Q&A.
I will also be doing a live session for subscribers in January of 2022. Join me!
Q: For your street work, do you wander about to catch a moment or select a place and wait for the perfect time?
It's a combination of both. For Dark City, I walked around until I found a perfect setting — a beautiful neon sign, a striking background that fit the atmosphere of the series, an interesting overhead angle. Then I'd stay at the spot waiting for something to happen. It could take 10 minutes; it could take an hour. With a couple of locations, I ended up returning a few times.
I loved the Rite Aid sign with the sliver of light from the entrance. I caught a few people walking by until the man in a pink mask appeared. I photographed him before he entered the pharmacy and as he was coming out. The before image made the edit.
This train stop in SoHo was a tricky one. I really wanted to get the red of the LED screens but just couldn't get the photo that I wanted. I ended up returning there four or five times. One day this worker was cleaning the stairs and I knew I had it and never went back.
For Meatpacking, it was less about the setting and more about the available light. I was limited to shooting in spaces that were well lit — by a streetlamp, a hot-dog stand — so I spent a lot of time hanging out by specific locations. I missed a lot of great moments that happened in the shadows and that's why the series took me three summers to complete.
Q: When photographing on the street, how long do you spend with any given subject? How many takes does it take?
There has been a discussion surrounding the article on consent, regarding what is "allowable" in street photography — implying that a photographer shouldn't spend time with and do many outtakes of a single subject because it crosses some kind of arbitrary line and is "creepy." But that's not really how photography works. Sometimes, if you are lucky, you get a shot in 30 seconds, sometimes you need an hour. Sometimes (almost never) you get the image you want in a single take, sometimes 30 — but the total number doesn't matter since you end up using just one. As long as you are not making the subject uncomfortable, the process is irrelevant, and honestly, nobody's business.
I sat across the ice-cream shop waiting for a perfect confluence of things to happen on the benches. A couple sat down on the right; it was a good start but definitely not enough. Then the three Amish girls with ice cream cones sat next to them and it was almost perfect. Still, the left and top areas of the image were empty. I took a few shots, and waited. Then another couple walked into the shop, and a moment later the young woman opened the door and the man appeared in the window — those were the layers I needed. The photo took about 30 minutes with at least 20 different takes.
Q: Do you crop and process your images?
Yes, and yes. I crop the image as much or as little as they need to be cropped. While I try to compose the image so it doesn't need to be cut too much, that's mostly to preserve the quality and image size if they are to be printed large-scale. Taking the photo in camera is just a part of the process, the cropping/post-processing is just as important and just as deliberate. One is no less vital than the other in creating work.
Q: What's one of the favorite images you have taken?
In 2014, New York Magazine sent me to Paris to shoot fashion week. One of the shows on my list was the Stella McCartney collection at the Paris Opera. I have been an avid Beatles fan since I was 15, so the possibility that Paul McCartney could actually show up backstage was almost too much to bear. That morning, I spent a couple of hours photographing models getting their hair and makeup done, spinning around every time I heard footsteps at the entrance, but alas, it wasn't Paul. And then, the PR people came to kick every photographer out. So I did what any self-respecting Beatlemaniac would do. I hid in the women's bathroom.
After everyone left, the opera house became very quiet and I decided to poke out and see what was happening. Just as I stepped out, I heard footsteps and a familiar voice. So, so familiar. A few seconds later, Paul walked a few feet in front of me and disappeared down the hallway. I sank into the bench, shellshocked. And just as I was about to start bawling that I didn't even take a photo, I heard Paul walking back. With shaking hands, I picked up my camera and as he stepped out straight in front of me, I took a single shot. He waved and smiled. And then he disappeared again.
After, I walked the streets of Paris and cried, overwhelmed by the surreal moment of seeing Paul McCartney in the flesh. The photo is crap of course. But for me, it's the most magical image I've ever taken.
And now a question for you — should I do more of these?
Find me on Instagram, @dina_litovsky