Rafael Fuchs is a Tel Aviv-born photographer and gallery owner living and working in Bushwick, Brooklyn. He began producing “Icons,” a series of Polaroids featuring some of the largest celebrities of the 1990’s and 2000’s while working commercial jobs. The series is currently being featured on ARTNET. Fuchs was kind enough to tell us a bit about the series and his life as a photographer.
For the uninitiated, who are you and what do you do?
Hi, My name is Rafael Fuchs. I am a photographer. I was born in Tel Aviv and moved to NY in the 80’s.
I have been living in Bushwick, Brooklyn, New York for the past 10 years, and started a gallery 3 years ago, entitled “Fuchs Projects.”
Can you tell us about the series? What inspired it and how long were you shooting these portraits.
The Polaroids series started as a practice when I was shooting analog back in the 1990s as “test images” before I shot the “real film” for each session I was doing. It started as a practical tool to examine exposure and composition, and it grew on me as its own style. I really liked the immediacy of the results when working with Polaroids, and being able to show it to the subjects created more intimacy and trust between us, and helped us with exploring further scenarios during the sessions. I also liked the imperfections that occurred every now and then while peeling the Polaroid.
When I started shooting digital, I continued using Polaroids with an analog camera—mostly big format 4″x5”. The portraits, which are a part of the “Icons” on-line auction by artnet were done between 1997-2004, at the turn of the millennium when digital was replacing analog in the common markets and everyday life.
What was the process of shooting all thee people?
Most of the portraits were shot as an assignments for different magazines, as Entertainment Weekly, Vanity Fair, Time, Newsweek, People, Fortune, The Source, and more. Some were done in a studio, and I would bring, occasionally, some props that I felt would be appropriate with the subject and their latest project ,as the “wicked” dinner I assembled for Jonathan Franzen, with inedible moss as the main course, to go with his book “The Corrections”, or the life saver I brought to the shoot with Bob Denver, who played Gilligan in Gilligan’s island. Some of the shoots were done on locations, so I was using some elements that were a part of the background, and picked certain spots in the natural surrounding, as the blue cushioned walls of the staircase in the club “Spy” in Houston, TX when I was shooting Beyonce, or the fireplace section in Michael Stipe’s apartment in NY, using different color gels for my lights.
Also, those shots of Geraldo Rivera are kind of amazing. What was that shoot like?
The assignment of Geraldo Rivera was commissioned by People magazine, for their story about “Men and their toys.” It was done in the compound he owned in NJ, by the water. We set the wardrobe racks for the shoot in one of his car garages while he was on his boat sailing, but when he returned and was striding towards us without a shirt, I asked him to have his portrait taken next to his vintage (1954) Jaguar cars as he was, shirtless, and he had no problems agreeing. He knew he looked good. Only afterwards we went through the wardrobe we brought and picked different shirts for him. The photographs without the shirts were not published, not surprisingly. By the way, I don’t want to change the triumphant mood, but both cars (that Geraldo was dedicating to his two sons in his will) were destroyed when his garage, unfortunately, burst into flames last year.
Was JK Rowling cool? She went from being a broke single mom to the richest writer in history or something. What’s she like?
JK Rowling was super cool. She would do any pose I asked her to do without holding back. She was very playful with the props that I got to the shoot, as the crystal ball, and other items, and was posing wearing the red velvet dress I got her from a wardrobe rental place. She loved the set I created the day before the shoot. I was lucky to spend half a day with her, keeping playing together and trying different props and poses. Apparently, that was her only shoot in her career that she was so generous with her poses and willingness to play the role of a magical character.
The shot of Burt is iconic. What did you use to set that mood. What references went into the aesthetic?
For the shoot with Burt Reynolds that was set in a studio in Manhattan I created two main sets: one with hay and a painted backdrop of sunset using bright lights (he asked to have the hay stacks removed from that set), and the other set had a darker mood feeling, with a painted backdrop of stormy sky, that I rented for the shoot. I just wanted to have a couple of different sets that evoked different moods. He loved the darker set, and walked right into it as he entered in the studio, saying that he’s ready for the shoot.
It was, actually, his coat that he was wearing, and he was getting into a character as soon as he stepped in front of that one light that I placed for this particular set. He was completely different while shooting in the “sunny” set…very animated. I guess the darker set was a good slow start for a great day of portraits sessions.
What are you presently working on, and what’s next?
Right now I am completing the 5th. work for an art commission from a Swiss collector. The series is done in a photo collage style, and it depicts portraits of women that I have been taking throughout the years combined with images of birds.
After this I will concentrate on editing and publishing the book “Bushwick Forever.” that will include photographs from my personal social documentary in Bushwick in the past decade, of people and places in this special neighborhood that gained the title of “arguably the coolest place on the planet” by NY Times magazine.
That’s great Rafael. Thank you so much for speaking with us.
Thank you sir.