Make art and make it fast

February 24, 2011 | By Jemal.Countess | Entertainment
NEW YORK, NY – FEBRUARY 17: A model walks the runway at the L.A.M.B. Fall 2011 fashion show during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week at The Theatre at Lincoln Center on February 17, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images for IMG)


I have just finished the bi-annual exercise in endurance, strength and patience known as New York Fashion Week.  Nestled within the manic period between the Sundance Film Festival and awards season, this weeklong blur of long legs, couture fashion and angry European photographers is one of my favorite times of year – in spite of the lack of sleep, long hours and occasional confrontations with elitist fashion folk that seem to be the “Yang” to Fashion Week’s creative “Ying.”.  This season was especially brutal for me, as I returned from Sundance with a respiratory virus and had only a few days to transition from a coughing, medicated zombie to a sharp and consistent runway shooter.  Oyy…what a week this would be.

So it started with a bang with the Amfar New York Gala the night before my first shows.  A red carpet blitz of “who’s who” in the music and movie biz, topped off with a performance of “That’s What Friends Are For” by Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Dionne Warwick and Gladys Knight   It was great to hear this tune live, and I felt privileged to do so.  It was a nice way to start off the week. 

The next day began the seesaw process of getting to the tents early, sitting in your spot at the end of the runway, watching the show’s dress rehearsal, checking the light and color temperature and then beginning the meticulous and often delicate “Rubics Cube” game of settling into your position.  This is where the fights begin. You see, a lot of these runway shooters travel from Fashion Week to Fashion Week around the world covering shows  – and have been doing it for years.  Paris, Milan, Tokyo, Brazil, New York, London.  Often gone from home for weeks at a time, they form close bonds with each other and work together wherever they may be. But as they approach New York, a lot of them feel a sense of ire over the way the system works here.  They scowl at the level of politics and just how much is controlled by a 21-year-old blond with a clipboard wearing all black, wielding her power like a drunken 6-year-old with a shotgun (yes, the dreaded publicist).  So when it comes time for them to deal with some guy they see twice a year, shooting from the “house position,” their dispositions are not always pleasant.  But we find a way and make due as we have a job to do, and we usually keep issues down to a dull roar.

NEW YORK, NY – FEBRUARY 13: TV Personality Jill Zarin and designer, Zang Toi walk the runway at the Zang Toi Fall 2011 fashion show during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week at The Studio at Lincoln Center on February 13, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images for IMG)


Anyway, once settled into a position and with all being happy, suddenly the lights go down and the games begin. Five to 10 minutes of visual and aural stimulation greet me.  Within a model’s first few steps I analyze her from head to toe and take note of hair, make-up, accessories, shoes and any other accents in addition to the cloths themselves.  All this while timing steps so that I can capture one foot firmly planted and the other just behind the lead foot, to capture motion which adds life and flow to the clothing.  I am prodded into a rhythm by the other 50 or so photographers, who are counting steps and shooting just as I am.  With the timed clicks of shutters and the models determined and purposeful steps, it’s almost like the sound of her footsteps become a thunderous pounding even though you cannot hear them over the music and sound. 

All of this activity is framed by the loud and often driving music to which the show is choreographed.  As a DJ and audiophile, this is more of a comfort and support to me because the rhythms of show music also help me to stay focused while shooting.  (See the Carolina Herrera Spring-Summer 2011 show,  and the L.A.M.B Fall 2011 show to see what I mean — how music and proper choreography can turn a show into a full-on experience.) 

By the time you have taken in the breadth of this experience, it is over… the designer’s bow signals the end of the show and the beginnings of the mad dash — or turtle’s crawl — to the next show.  This happens up to five times a day, a seesaw of emotions and experiences, each unique and different but all equally as intense.

With that said I must point to my favorite shows this season that I shot:

Zang Toi

Jason Wu


and Badgley Mischka, to name the ones that stood out in my mind on all accounts.

With all of this in mind I will say that shooting runway and backstage is an experience.  “Make art and make it fast” is the running theme here, and the challenge of this makes it fun and worthwhile in spite of all the other obstacles.

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