The Weekly Edit
UCLA Magazine: Charlie Hess & Tierney Gearon for UCLA Magazine

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UCLA Magazine

Design Director: Charlie Hess
Photographer: Tierney Gearon

Heidi: When and how did you first start working with Tierney?

Charlie: Initially I fell in love with Tierney’s video project for the New York Times Magazine, called “Wide Awake.” She made these dreamscapes with thirteen top actresses. I’d never seen anything quite like them — her way of seeing and her intimacy with the actresses were beautiful and original.

Meanwhile I had started running these semiannual events for the Society of Publication Designers called “Unsung Heroes of the American West,” where we celebrate California photographers, illustrators and designers This particular event was on artists who had worked primarily in stills and were now making interesting work with moving images. I knew I definitely wanted Tierney to be a part of it, and got a mutual friend to introduce us. We hit it off right away. I could only show two of the thirteen videos, and when I told her my two choices, she got a bit emotional. Turned out I’d picked her two favorites! I knew then that we were simpatico.

Were you surprised when she agreed to work with you? What was your first assignment together?

I was blown away. I art direct these small circulation alumni and institutional magazines. And my budgets don’t exactly compete with Vanity Fair! But I’ve also learned that if you offer artists interesting subjects and plenty of freedom, they’ll usually say yes if you can keep the assignment and logistics simple. Great artists want to make great work, regardless of the budget, as long as you take care of them.

Originally I asked Tierney to shoot a portrait of a costume designer. The shoot was to be local, all natural light, and an interesting, creative person. Perfect for Tierney. I was thrilled that she agreed. But then, unexpectedly, the shoot got cancelled last minute. I was devastated. But, after sleeping on it, I remembered that I had a much better feature shoot available — the story of an institute at UCLA law school that educates and advocates for LGBT rights. Intuitively I just knew that it was perfect for her.

Tierney agreed without a second thought. The concept I gave her was to shoot people that were positively affected by the work of the Williams Institute. The portraits were to be intimate, human stories of real people fighting ignorance and discrimination. We shot a lovely gay male couple, a deeply committed lesbian couple and two people transitioning to become women. The subjects were all wonderful and appreciative, and Tierney was her charming, engaged self.
The key to the success of the assignment was limiting it mostly to one day, and creating a schedule that gave her the time she needed with each subject. It’s not the sexiest part of a photo shoot, but it’s all the pre-planning and logistics that allowed Tierney to do her thing. We made it as easy as possible for her to be able to do her best work.

What are the ingredients that make Tierney the perfect hire, meaning what is on your mental check list of things you’d like to see happen in the work?

Tierney is the most intuitive photographer that I’ve ever worked with. She doesn’t plan. She doesn’t light. She just shows up, engages with the subjects, and looks for the location and the available light. More than any other photographer I know she trusts her instincts and has confidence she can pull it off. It’s a wonderfully loose and organic process. And I think that’s the secret to her success. That’s exactly what I wanted from this assignment — portraits of people’s dignity and humanity, without artifice. In the magazine spreads here you can decide if we succeeded.


Tierney Gearon: Photographer and Director

Heidi: You can shoot for any magazine you’d like. What drew you to the UCLA Magazine assignment?

Tierney: Who wouldn’t want to shoot a transgender story? I was fascinated by the idea, and we had so much fun doing it. I am always open to new opportunities and I love to work in ways or fields that are not so obvious. UCLA Magazine has current, interesting, fun projects! I am up for anything if it is interesting, challenging or fun.  I am not a person that likes to say: No.

How did you approach this particular shoot for UCLA and what were you trying to draw out of the couples? What was the biggest challenge, if any, to get the images you wanted?

Like all my jobs, I focus on the subjects. I try to connect with them as much as possible — to make them feel comfortable and have fun. This way I get more than expected out of the experience.
I see from your blog that you’re interested in tie dye. How did photography inform that process? Did the tie dye come as a result of your shape color show?

I have been tie dying for years now. It’s actually something I do to relax, especially after a very stressful period of work. I love it. All my friends love it too. It’s a way of sharing myself with my friends. I call it:  “Givable Art. ” Being creative just feels so good, it’s incredibly healing.  I do it where ever I am.  I have recently started selling my T’s, as so many people asked me if they could buy them — its been a really fun process; for friends and children. it brings people together. This summer we did tye dying in Santa Monica, Lakeville CT, The Cotswolds in England, Nantucket, and Mustique.
Can you tell us a little about the alphabet book? Did you shoot your family and friends children and what drove you to create this book?

It’s out in October, and it looks fantastic. Its been almost 4 years in the making!  Yes its a book for my children, a friend and family collaboration.  The initial idea came from a friend who was going through a divorce and needed to make some money. I suggested making a children’s ABC book. She and I had one meeting and then she moved on to something else. My next book project had launched and over the next 3 to 4 years I was working away on the shape, color, images and the alphabet book. It comes out in October with Damiani and it will be featured on my website!

 


Heidi Volpe

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