If you listen to the podcast On Taking Pictures, you know that co-host of the program Bill Wadman is a New York-based portrait photographer who's worked with the likes of Seth Godin, Malcolm Gladwell, Philip Glass, Ze Frank, and many, many others. Though his traditional portrait and conceptual work are tremendous in their own right, Bill has gotten quite a bit of attention over the years for his projects such as his critically acclaimed Dancers in Motion, cinematic Drabbles, and the 365 Portrait project that helped him to start it all. Now Bill is at it again, this time he's photographing people in a beautiful DIY corner set in his New York apartment, referencing the work of Irving Penn's corner series. Bill was kind enough to take the time to meet with me for a brief interview and to give us a look behind-the-scenes at the creation of his corner.
Bill and I began by talking about the impetus behind the project. For him, projects provide a framework and motivation to experiment and hone his craft. Bill, like I, is a self-professed procrastinator, having a regular project spurs him to push himself to shoot regularly. "The simple answer is that mostly I just get bored and I’m also a chronic procrastinator. I’ve learned that I need to just start, to jump headlong into the water and see what I can do. So one day I decided ‘I’m going to build a wall over there and shoot portraits in it’. Part of it had to do with the fact that I wanted to see if I actually could do it. I had to actually, physically, build [the corner] from scratch with some two-by-fours."
Rather than just using a pre-existing corner or bare wall in his apartment, it was important to Bill to make the set from the ground up. He continues, saying he likes to consider his approach to taking portraits to be completely designed and built on his own as shown in the image above. Taking a step back, Bill describes the process of building out the walls for the corner. "Maybe this is just my crazy thing, but I like to say ‘not only did I take that photo, I made that background, too. I did all that stuff’. It’s sort of a holistic approach, it’s sort of like building your own tools. A cousin of mine used to work at Sikorsky, the helicopter company. One of the first jobs for the guys who work there is in the tool factory, they actually build the tools they use to build the helicopters. I always liked that idea of starting from scratch, building the tools first. In my case this meant not only choosing the focal length, lighting, aperture, and post production, but also the environment the subject found himself in."
In his own words:
[The corner] takes away the excuses for me not to create. Now whenever someone walks into my place I'll always have the ability to photograph them in a way that I'd be happy with. That's exactly what I should do, it's exactly what I need to do. It's that creative cardio; it may not be fun getting yourself to go to the gym for the first month but after a while it'll become something you're used to, something you crave every day. This corner, these portraits are going to become a creative habit, something I want to do daily.