Creative Director: Magnus Berger
Design Director: Pierre Tardif
Photography Director: Jennifer Pastore
Photo Editor: Damian Prado
Art Director: Tanya Moskowitz
Assistant Photo Editor: Hope Brimelow
Photographer: Lawrence Beck
Heidi: This is your first editorial commission, congratulations and what a treat for WSJ. What was it about this project that made you accept?
Lawrence: The Diego Della Valle/Coliseum shoot seemed the perfect subject for my first editorial commission, in addition to the fact it was for the WSJ magazine, which is beautifully printed and of very high quality and content, the subject matter was right in line with what I’ve been working on for 4 or so years in Italy, and more specifically in Rome.
The most captivating element of photographing nature and the union of human-made and the natural, has been the core subject matter of my photographic oeuvre for more than 15 years. I was extremely lucky growing up in a beautiful setting such as the Italian Alps in summers, and being able to look at great artworks in Italy, fresco cycles being amongst my favorites. The “Thickets” series represents a kind of “all over” photography, relating to Pollack’s drip paintings and abstract-expressionism as a whole, and the notion of “all over painting”. The “Italian Gardens” were inspired more from early Renaissance painting were perspective was just being figured out and has a similar look and feel to the inherent flatness of a photograph, specifically in artists such as Masaccio, Piero della Francesca and even from Giotto, who painted a century earlier.
How did Italy’s crumbling Colosseum and the Italian billionaire (Diego Della Valle) who’s funding its restoration project come about? What intrigued you about this?
The commission from the WSJ came about through the gallery that represents my work, The Sonnabend Gallery in New York. There was interest shown in my photography because of my concentration in photographing gardens, villas and ruins in Rome over these last years. The idea of photographing the Coliseum made me happy and stirred up excitement within me, though the prospect of making a portrait of Diego Della Valle was intriguing mostly because the vast majority of the portraiture that I have done over the years is of my family, my wife and my young daughter. The whole thing became a challenge, shooting digitally, which is not what I normally do, and having time constraints which is something that I’m not used to. With my own work, I still shoot film and use a view camera, which allows me to utilize the inherent camera movements that come in very handy in certain cases of fine focus and depth of field. It would have been much more difficult to shoot a portrait with a 4 x5”, so I shot with a DSLR and a medium format digital camera.
What are you considerations when executing this type of work? Did you propose this project to the magazine or did they reach out to you?
Diego was extremely friendly and generous with his time. We basically started down in the Coliseum, in the cavernous ground level maze of tunnels and passages used to keep animals and the other players who performed on the stage of the Coliseum just above us. We moved to the top level of the edifice and that is where I ended up getting the best shot of Diego, used in the magazine. The project was not something that I had considered bringing to the WSJ personally, not really knowing that this is something to consider, though in hindsight, it worked out beautifully and opened a door to editorial photography. I fully enjoyed the experience, and have a greater understanding of the technical challenges inherent in this type of project, along with the logistical problematic such as the trip from New York to Rome.
Your work is so dramatic and refined, how do you feel about the quickness of imagery floating about today. Can you share some of your more personal work from your iphone and your thoughts on the brevity of images these days.
Do you enjoy instagram?
For many years, I shied away from digital capture, believing that it was not true photography, but was forced to learn it when ektachrome was discontinued and reproducing artwork (painting and sculpture) had to be done digitally. What has really intrigued me is phone photography, the immediacy and quality of the image and the ability under the proper circumstances to make a decent 8 x 10” photo. I have come to fully embrace the digital medium, learning Photoshop in the process and being able to use this brilliant new tool, which I believe is one of the greatest inventions in photography.