“Difficult” Stars Are the Best to Photograph

The photographer talks about her favorite—and most difficult—subjects.
  • Transcript


Question: Who have been your most difficult subjects?

Carol Friedman:  When people warn me about someone—the label head or the publishing head—that somebody is difficult, I’m in heaven.  I just say "Bring them on and I can’t wait," because when people are described as difficult and have a reputation as difficult it’s 99% of the time because they’ve been disappointed over and over again by people who don’t really know what to do for them, and I know I’m going to make them happy and I can’t wait to work with them. And that happens time after time, so when I hear someone is difficult I can’t wait to work with them.

Question: Who have been your favorite subjects?

Carol Friedman:  I think my most favorite subject was Lena Horne because she embodies soul and grace and elegance and street.  She embodies everything and beauty, great beauty, so she was a favorite subject.  Many of the jazz musicians whom are no longer here.  You don’t realize that it's history when it is happening and then time passes and you look at a picture and you say "Wow, there is history attached to that."  You know, Dexter Gordon playing, you know, in my studio for an hour after the session, things like that.  There has been wonderful moments like that.  This sounds so corny, but I love my subjects.  I have to love them to do what I do.  I have to fall in love with them to create a successful portrait of them and it’s not confected.  It just has to be, so it’s like a mother saying "I love all my children equally," but I really do.  I love my subjects.

Question: Do you feel more self-conscious when photographing a fellow artist?

Carol Friedman:  Robert Rauschenberg, one of my favorite sessions actually.  I had never met him and came to his studio, where he lives, where he painted, where he works.  He has a building, had a building and there was a few minutes that I had to wait and there was an incredible piece of his that was forged of texture, metal, you know.  It was probably a big rusted side of a truck or something, but it was this beautiful textured metal, and Bob was great.  He was just so wonderful, and I didn’t like what he had on.  I, you know... clothing is a big component, but that is another story, so I said can I look through his closet.  He said sure, so I picked a shirt and then there it was.  There was this leather jacket that was the same exact texture of the metal, so you live for moments like that and again that is what I mean by paying attention.  That is what I mean by mastering improvisation.  It’s all there.  You just have to find it.  So I grabbed the shirt.  I grabbed the jacket and of course in the picture that jacket and that metal is one thing and it is all organic and wonderful and he was beautiful.  Great artists know who they are, so there is no excavating at all.  They’re happy to share and I think that I’m really blessed actually to be able to be in the presence of them and to give them back to themselves in my work.  It is really wonderful.  I’m thinking aside from Rauschenberg, same thing with Roy Lichtenstein, same thing.  These painters, they know exactly who they are.  Great jazz musicians, they know exactly who they are.  Great opera singers know exactly who they are.  Jessye Norman, there is not really work to do with Jessye.  It’s just centering in on exactly who she is.

Question: Who would you most like to photograph that you’ve never had a chance to?

Carol Friedman:  Frank Sinatra, Pablo Picasso, Billie Holiday, Ray Charles, Bob Dylan.  What does Bob Dylan have that those other people do not?  He’s still here. So Bob, call me.

Recorded on April 21, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen