Thursday, March 29, 2012


EJ CAMP (Polaroid Portrait).
by Anita Sarko

“I’ve just finished being photographed by EJ CAMP at The Rivington. Get over here right now!” I texted Patrick McMullan. “It’s quick, painless and she’s so nice!”

“I LOVE EJ CAMP! She’s a great photographer!” Patrick texted back.

The ONLY way to get Patrick to communicate is by texting ... SHORT texts; Patrick has a VERY short attention span ... which was why I mentioned the word “quick."

Me: “You’re supposed to be here NOW to get photographed and, obviously, you’re not.”

PM: “I’ll be right there. My assistants ...”

Oh sure ... the Assistants Excuse ...

EJ CAMP (on bike).
Patrick and I, along with scads of others (Debbie Harry, David Byrne, Jay McInerney, Moby, Patricia Field, Betsey Johnson, Michael Musto ...), were to be photographed by Camp for The Rivington Project. The Rivington Hotel had commissioned Camp to shoot Polaroids of the Downtown art scene to line the walls of their restaurant CO-OP as a permanent installation.

Scheduled for 15-minute intervals at the hotel, each sat on a chair in front of a giant camera. A string was pulled out and subjects were told to extend their head to the string. An adorable, chatty, FUN blonde woman rapidly clicked a large camera and it was finished.

I’ve been photographed by everyone from Annie Leibovitz and Josef Astor to some horrid German guy who specialized in making subjects look grotesque (who, despite his high estimation of himself, was no Lucian Freud), but this experience was unique. The atmosphere was so lacking in pretention and everything was so EASY. Believe me, this is not the norm.

The results were stunning. And, considering everyone’s high opinion of Camp, I felt like such a dunce for not knowing who she was. After I investigated, I REALLY felt stupid.

EJ Camp was responsible for such iconic posters as Forrest Gump, Top Gun, and the original Two and a Half Men, famous advertising campaigns for American Express, IBM and Dr. Pepper, and her portraits have been a staple at Rolling Stone, as well as in worldwide exhibits and books (From Polaroid to Impossible: Masterpieces of Instant Photography — the most recent — reprints various Rivington images; The World’s Top Photographers: Portraits). In addition, her fine art photography is highly coveted by collectors.
BILLY IDOL. "I flew to London to shoot him for the cover of 'Rolling Stone'. The magazine asked me to make it risqué, so I tore up a t-shirt and made a thong for Billy to wear. Can you believe it ... the issue in Canada had a brown paper wrapper on it at the newsstands! Shows you how much times have changed."
ANNIE LENOX. "The Eurhythmics had just had their big hit, "Sweet Dreams," when I was assigned to shoot her for the cover. She was game enough for me to have us cut her hair, dye it orange, and paint a mask on her face. Now a publicist would jump in and yell, 'No way!'"
TOP GUN. "My first movie poster, and one of the last times you would see a poster shot with available light. Tom warned me that Kelly (McGillis) was very nervous about her height. 'Don't make her look too tall.' Guess what ... she showed up in stilettos! Who's nervous about their height?"
FORREST GUMP. "My assignment for this movie poster was very simple: We needed a photograph of Tom Hanks, a suitcase and a bench. Tom was already so recognizable, that the world would know who he was, even pulled way back and shot from the back. Why this is my favorite poster, out of the hundreds that I have done, is that it implied the use of negative space and isn't a head shot of a celebrity that fills the page ... two things you don't see anymore."
Camp began as a photo assistant to Albert Watson and Bruce Weber upon moving to NYC after graduating from the Rochester Institute of Technology. For 20 years, she ran her own studio in NYC, then relocated to LA to be closer to the film industry. She’s now bi-coastal and teaches at The International Center of Photography [ICP].

So mind-boggled was I by the number of celebrities she’s shot, I wondered who EJ considered a good subject. “One who trusts you.” She replied. To achieve this end, she makes sure she knows about their careers and reads the script for whatever project they’re working on or promoting. She finds a way to make them laugh and welcomes their input.

Believe me, this is not the norm when being photographed by the best. “Dictatorship” is the word that comes to mind, quite frankly. “A good photographer listens to others, and respects the subject. A surprising amount of people who seem very creative, do not know how to interact well with people. Not only is this an issue in getting your subject to relax and work with you, it can be very alienating for the client.”
GEORGE CLOONEY. "He lives up to everything you dream he would be. He connected to everyone on the shoot, and won the hearts of every man and woman that worked with him that day. Who isn't in love with George Clooney?!"
GWYNETH PALTROW, LIV TYLER, and MAGGIE GYLLENHAAL. "Each of these actresses was overwhelmed by the other one, EXCEPT Gwyneth. We shot them all together that day because they were all appearing, at the time, in movies about Super Heroes. Funny ... looking back on it, these are indeed Super Women: Smart, sexy, talented, beautiful and in control of their careers."
HELEN MIRREN. "She proved to be extremely edgy ... not in an offensive way, but in an alternative way. She has 'X' tattooed above her thumb and loves to joke around. Nothing like "The Queen" and other characters she has portrayed so well."
Camp constantly walks a tightrope between staying true to her own artistic vision, yet satisfying others. “It’s extremely difficult to satisfy both the client and myself. Most of the time, I shoot it both ways. Sometimes, the client sees it my way.” Spoken like a real politician ... which you have to be doing what she does, and with whom she does it.

Her work is quite varied, considering the portraits, the commercial work and her artier side. “I have changed the focus of my career whenever I find an opening in a field that isn’t too crowded. Ultimately, I love taking photographs, whatever the subject.”

Now, added to the mix, is her teaching career. So much for H. L. Mencken’s oft-quoted contention that Those who can, do; those who can't, teach. “I learn from my students. I witness new ways of doing things, and am inspired by their excitement.” Not that Camp is immune to the other delights of being The Master: “It’s also a great ego booster to have a classroom of young professionals who have sought you out and paid dearly to learn from you.” 
HUGH JACKMAN. "What a hunk!"
KEVIN SPACEY. "Another actor who proved to have such a playful side. So contrary to the parts he plays."
MICHELLE PFEIFFER. "Actually, a very nerve-racking subject to shoot. We spent many, many hours shooting Polaroids for her to examine because she was so worried about how her figure looked. It's tough being an actress who also banks on her looks… or being that the world banks on her looks."
NICK NOLTE and BRAWLEY NOLTE. "Father and son. So cool!"
NORMAN MAILER. "Tough guy. Pictures of all his former wives, all beautiful, hanging on the wall."
SAMUEL JACKSON. "Sam said, 'Relax, don't be nervous.' Mr. Cool."
STEWART COPELAND. (Drummer: Police).
Though she loves the “extremely flattering and painterly” results and savings in time the very old school Polaroids instantly provide, Camp is most turned on by technology. She spends many hours with postproduction scanning, retouching and printing, “... all of which I do myself.” She emphasizes. “I get the same satisfaction in doing this work on the print as I did with processing and printing images from film not so many years ago. I love technology! Technology is a force that is ever-trying to evolve the way we do things.”

And the string thing? “The old Polaroid camera uncontrollably changes the aperture on the camera if they sense you have changed the distance to the subject. It was very frustrating at first and, once I figured it out, I found that the string allows the subject to participate and understand the distance issue, without the invasion of using a tape measure.”
AMAGANSETT-WAVES. "The sea. Light and shape constantly changing. A subject both inviting and frightening at the same time."
TRUMAN'S BEACH-SUNSET. "I shoot a lot on the beaches of both the North and South Fork. The B&W photographs are shot with an old Linhof 4x5 camera and a heavy wooden tripod. The color photographs are shot with a large Leica S camera and a carbon fiber Gitzo tripod. By using these extremely different tools, I am able to capture images that employ both the latest and the most classic of photographic techniques."
AQUADETTES. Camp's personal favorite piece of her own work. " These ladies are an inspiration to me, having so much fun together late in life."
Ok, so now that we know about EJ Camp, Famous Photographer, what about EJ Camp, the PERSON? EJ provides us with the following info:

“Has a Cairn Terrier named Scout; is passionate about sailing; collects anchor jewelry; is from Kentucky, so is particular about what bourbon goes into a Manhattan; writes thank-you notes on personalized stationary from Paris; is fanatical about the fine art of making the perfect espresso; is a voracious reader of historical nonfiction.”

She adds that she reveres Gerhard Richter and photographing Nature.
RIVINGTON HOTEL PROJECT: CO-OP Restaurant's Wall Installation.

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