Text by Joel Levinson, Copyright 2023
Behind The Scenes
I FELT LIKE I was Marcello Mastroianni walking onto the film set for La Dolce Vita; a colorful cast of characters assembled in slightly exotic circumstances later than scheduled. The Dolce Vita feeling stayed with me, even intensified, as the afternoon progressed.
Tony had invited me to be a BTS (behind the scenes) photographer and I did my best to remain behind the scenes. It was his project and he had a specific vision of what was going to happen, in what order. So…in that context I knew I was merely a passive participant. I had once before shot in another photographer’s studio. On that occasion, it was my show with the model. But on this day, I happily marched to Tony’s drumbeats.
I have almost always photographed with natural light, not studio lights. My eye has been trained over many decades to see the results in advance…that is to say when I deem the daylight just right. Fortunately, there were several occasions through the day to shoot in natural light…in the studio, in his house, and in the garden that separated house from garden. In those moments, between setups, when I knew I didn’t have to be behind the scenes , I was free to pick my subjects and my moments to click the shutter. Not unusual, I shot things that were totally unrelated to the goal of the day. During the shoot, I kept wishing the studio had skylights but that isn’t Tony’s artistic MO.
One of my goals was to capture Tony at work…Tony in his element. It didn’t sink in when Tony invited me to the Dolce Vita event that there would be an artistic director. But first to arrive was KVaughn, a force unto himself; high energy, purpose-driven, stylish in his attire, and from my perspective, the most photogenic character in the studio and on the property. He was OK with me taking a few snaps when he was sitting near me on two occasions, when the daylight struck me as just right. He insisted on always having his glasses on…and he won out…most of the time.
Tony, dressed like he was on vacation but worked with focus…he worked like he was on anything but vacation. He was a pro through and through. I stayed out of the way, mostly behind him as he moved about. Sometimes he was up on a low stool to explore an alternative perspective. He seemed to be in three places at once.
Frankly, I went hoping to see some skin, but I saw less skin on this shoot than in a shopping center. I like shooting nudes (a great challenge to do well), but today the goal was otherwise. Ellen Tiberino, Tony’s subject, has a face that for me, was not easy to capture in studio lighting. When she sat down for a few minutes in the soft up light of a make-up counter, I saw what I was after in reflections of her in the makeup counter’s mirror. She was not aware, at the counter, that I was shooting (happily so…because I do best with candid shots), but at one point, I let on what I was doing and she willingly responded. Those mirror shots were some of my best ones of Ellen.
I also took a few candid shots of Tracey Olkus as she applied makeup or tweaked a few hairs on Ellen’s brow or around her shoulders. Regrettably, I took no separate shots of Sam Binder as he did Tony’s bidding with the lights, the hand-held diffusing scrim, and the backdrop behind Ellen.
After the session, it was great to sit at a table under roof with everyone for a late but tasty lunch. We all relaxed and became old friends. The only person missing was La Dolce Vita’s director Federico Fellini.
About The Author: Joel Levinson is a veteran architect and photographer based in Philadelphia. Joel is currently working on a book of his photographs. This is his first contribution to TWS.