The Weekly Edit
The Atlantic: Darhil Crooks/Erin Patrice O’Brien

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The Atlantic

Creative Director: Darhil Crooks


What was it about Erin’s work that made you choose her for this assignment?

DC: I had a pretty straightforward concept for the shoot. The piece was about the effects of iPads on toddlers, so I wanted to shoot toddlers with iPads. I also wanted it to be more “organic”. Not too much of a set-up or concept. I wanted to see what happened when you put this device in their hands.How they held it, did the smile, were they focused, did they get frustrated with it, angry with each other? It was almost like reportage with a seamless background. I knew I needed someone who worked well with kids.

Had you two worked together before and how did you discover her?

DC: I met Erin years ago through a mutual friend back in Brooklyn and was familiar with her work. We’d never worked together, but I remember specifically the calendar she shot for her daughter’s school. I figured if someone could wrangle a bunch of 6 and 7 year olds (Is this the right age Erin?) they could handle a few toddlers. I also wanted to do something that was bright and fun. Something that Erin does well and she delivered. From the casting to the retouching of the final files. Even the untied shoelaces on the cover image…I’m not sure if she planned that, but it was perfect.

I read that you were interested in making the magazine bolder and taking more risks. Tell us a little bit about how that’s going so far and what has been your biggest challenge.

DC: When I took on the role of Creative Director at The Atlantic, I wanted to change the perception of the magazine visually. That’s what I mean when I talk about taking risks. People see The Atlantic as a publication that is earnest and challenging. Sometimes it is, but the magazine and websites have evolved into something that is more about ideas and opinions about everyday life. My job is to make those ideas more accessible visually and to have some fun with it too.
The biggest challenge (even though I wouldn’t necessarily call it a challenge because it a lot of fun) is the fact that these are ideas. Sometimes they are very complicated or abstract ideas. I try to make those complicated and abstract ideas and communicate them in the best way possible. The great thing is that every issue is so unique from the last…it keeps you on your toes. I’ve been able to work with great photographers based on each individual piece rather than a specific aesthetic for the magazine. I think it’s given The Atlantic a lot of visual variety that it didn’t necessarily have before.

 

 

Erin Patrice O’Brien

For this project, you seemed to wear many hats, was that due to budget or schedule?

I was lucky to be given a lot of freedom by the creative director, Darhil. Since I have my own studio in Brooklyn, I cast toddlers locally the week before the shoot. I used a local list serve and emailed a few parents I knew. I think we saw about 15 kids and narrowed it down to 6. With children it’s very hit or miss. Some kids are too shy but the parents don’t know that until they get in front of the camera. For the styling, Darhil wanted an authentic look. Brooklyn kids were perfect because they have a unique style of their own. Clothes are really important in my shoots so I asked the parents to bring 3 outfits for each kid and chose them myself.

What was the biggest challenge overall?

The biggest challenge is the kids. They only really last about 10-15 minutes. So it’s always intense. The combination of 3-year-olds and seamless backgrounds is also anxiety provoking because the kids want to run into the sweep of paper. That day in particular, my assistant didn’t show up because of an accident, so I did the whole shoot with just my intern Julia. She totally rallied and we managed to shoot all 6 kids with 3 shots each and 3 seamless changes in 3 hours. (Did I mention the nap time issue?)

Some of your personal work is based around children, what’s the draw for you photographically?

I like making portraits of interesting people. Children are just small people. Some are quite enchanting and some are not. Just like adults. As a photo student, I loved the work of Sally Mann and Nan Goldin. Kind of polar opposites but both very intimate in their own way. Since becoming a parent myself, I’ve also become interested in the idea of education. Last year I worked on a photography project about a progressive orphanage and school called Vatsalya in Jaipur, India. I wanted to collaborate with my daughter Maya and her first grade class and the Indian children. I documented the kids writing letters to each other and made it into a short film. It was very impactful to use the medium of photography and film to teach children about different cultures.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vKW7uI137cg

Currently, I’m working on a project about the stages of life, photographing and interviewing 100 people between the ages of 1 and 100.

Why do you think you were selected for this story for the Atlantic?

I had met Darhil Crooks through another creative director, Michelle Willems. I had worked with Michelle at Comedy Central on Dave Chapelle’s show. I kept in touch with Darhil while he was at Esquire, Ebony and now the Atlantic. I sent him a portrait project about seven-year-old girls. He liked it and wanted a similar tone for this article.

Pablo (on left ) with his band Contramano

I know your husband did the retouching, do you collaborate often? How much retouching was needed here?

Yes, my husband Pablo aka Pablito Retoucher, does all of my retouching. I’m lucky because he is one the best high-end retouchers in NYC. Sometimes we collaborate on more advanced compositing type photos like the Fast Company shot of Morgan Spurlock on a bed with a life size POM bottle, and sometimes he just retouches whatever I shot. For this shoot, after I sent in the images, Darhil decided to change the background color from aqua green to powder blue. Originally we had played with the idea of seeing images on the iPad screen, but it looked too fake and kind of made your eye go to the iPad instead of the overall photo. http://www.pablitoretoucher.com

 

Heidi Volpe

There Are 5 Comments On This Article.

  1. scott Rex Ely

    Awesome new format.
    Great insights and background info.
    Thanks Heidi and Rob.

  2. Leslie dela Vega

    I’m a subscriber and fan of the Atlantic and an even bigger fan of Erin Patrice O’Brien. It’s a perfect pairing. When I work with Erin, you know you’ll get 250% of hard work, options and wait…did I say, hard work? Nice job guys!

  3. interesting website. i read it but i still have a few questions. shoot me an email and we will talk more because i may have an interesting idea for you.