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Rf0410 Grecco Blanchfield


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Rangfinder profile of Michael Grecco

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Rf0410 Grecco Blanchfield

  1. 1. on the michael grecco RADIO Cover By Martha Blanchfield T he boy who most liked “conceptual art and experiential art photography” in high school is now the man who’s conceptualizing a wave of influential digital photo art in Los Angeles. “After watching Starsky and Hutch on TV I knew I needed to be in that Southern California environment,” laughs Michael Grecco, top photographer of celebrity, edi- torial and commercial assignments. In 1987 he departed New England, and a budding career as a news photographer, to head for the thrills of Hollywood. The migration offered twists and turns—taking him to the boardrooms of major corporations, inside private mansions and even onto the sets of the U.S. porn industry. Grecco is stylish, polished and precise, much like the cover imagery and inside photos he creates for a wide range of magazines, including everything from Life, BusinessWeek, Forbes and Time, to Sports Illustrated, Men’s Health and even Playboy. Major corporations like GE, Walt Disney Company, Crown Publishers and Apple all have tapped his magic. Top advertising and marketing agencies such as BBDO, TBWA/Chiat Day, Saatchi & Saatchi and Grey Advertising keep him close at hand. Grecco is a pro when it comes to creating cover looks, having landed his first publication front with New York Magazine in 1982 while working as a freelancer for the Providence, RI photo agency Picture Group. That first image, produced as a news assignment, was of the enigmatic Claus von Bülow during the infamous trial wherein Claus was accused of attempted murder of his wife. Calling up more of a formal cover assignment, he references an image done in the early 90s: a photo of Janet Jackson for Entertainment Weekly. A second favorite of that era done for the same publication was of Chris Farley (see left). “This image was produced originally while working on a Bikini Magazine cover package. One of the unpublished images was then picked up and ran on the cover of a memorial issue that Entertainment Weekly produced,” states Grec- co. “After Chris passed away, the editors produced a tribute issue profiling him. They selected my photograph. It was an honor to know Chris; he truly was a delight to work with.” Signature Style In celebrity photography circles, Grecco’s acclaim rapidly rose. By 1987 he was a regular con- tributor to People, covering A-list celeb parties and major awards such as the Golden Globes, the Emmys and the Oscars. His images were landing on more and more covers. On a quieter path, Grecco was scooping up freelance assignments doing movie set photography for film and TV. The time spent on and near the sets turned out to be a powerful influence, greatly temper- ing how he would reshape his own photography. This time exposed him to new techniques and styles of illumination, ultimately helping him perfect that sharp signature look. Grecco began applying personalized techniques while working on smaller assignments and projects, mostly when photographing executives assigned as cover and editorial for business ALL PHOTOs COPYRIGHT © MICHAeL GReCCO publications. The editors deemed his new look to be very powerful—just the vision needed to play up corporate leadership. He shares, “One of the biggest style shifts for me was the addi- tion of very strong directional strobe lighting with much of my location work. Strobe lighting offered a feel markedly different from what was currently favored by the publications. My im- ages were contrasty and vivid, the darker backgrounds looked epic.” The overall approach for each assignment was altered too. “My sessions now had a set, theme and conceptual message. I wanted the subject to appear as more than just a person in a photo—I built a set around him or her to play up persona. Every detail was considered.” This new way of seeing and working was eventually something Grecco coined, “conceptual photography.” Aside from signature lighting and staging most suited for a cover, Grecco knows how to
  2. 2. optimally frame to allow for drop-in over- lays. “I need to be artful, yet remain mindful of where logo, title and type may fall. Color and background need to complement; this also applies to wardrobe and prop tones.” For his Forbes cover look with Cisco chief executive John Chambers (see below), Grecco included essential hardware and cable trunk props, plus a gilded frame. He positioned Chambers in a contemplative pose but heightened the effect by casting light onto his face and shoulders. He then placed his camera below and slightly to the side of the executive’s direct line of sight— yielding an image that displays executive power, but with a hint of slyness; the bold phrase, “Power Hungry,” adjacent. Grecco produces cover images like this using a Hasselblad H3DII-50 (he also has a Canon EOS 5D Mark II), Dynalite, Bron- color HMIs lights, Apple computers and Adobe Photoshop are mainstays, and he often uses Chimera softboxes and soft fab- rics plus grids to create little pools of light, interest and detail in his looks. One-on-One Statistics show that featuring a person in a photo, whether advertisement, book or magazine cover, can build a connection with the viewer. Magazines know that an engaging cover, especially one where the model captures a viewer’s glance, can be a tipping point to cause a consumer to reach and purchase. After all, it’s the meaningful gaze given the photographer that is the same given the viewer. Having produced hundreds of covers in even more marked. “I found myself at his 25-year career, Grecco certainly can a point where I knew I needed oppor- capture that gaze. “Covering red carpet tunities for more one-on-one sessions and celebrity events was a great starting in order to really produce a solid image, point for picking up more work over- whether for commercial assignment or all. The event photography led to more desired portraiture.” commercial assignments, which afforded more one-on-one time with models and The Cover That Was subjects. Both assignment types eventually An example of that winning glance can helped pave the way toward what I most be seen in a 2005 cover assignment with love: portrait work.” Steven Spielberg (see above). Production But he shares it was still somewhat of of Spielberg’s movie Munich was veiled a leap to go from impersonal red carpet under immense secrecy, with only one work, to successful commercial looks, advance interview and print exclusive al- to landing the prized portrait session. lowed to the media. The film, a historical “A challenge at the start was that event portrayal of the Israeli government’s secret work really offered little intimacy, and retaliation attacks following the Munich intimacy is what’s most needed to build massacre of Israeli athletes by the Black connections with subjects.” As the num- September militant group during the 1972 ber of his commercial assignments rose, Summer Olympics, was ultimately profiled the importance of being able to relate by Time, and Grecco was solely selected to to and draw out his subjects became photograph the master. He recounts, “The
  3. 3. photo session itself was a grand production with many people involved, last minute de- tail changes, much discussion over contro- versial elements for the final background, props to create, and an incredibly tight turnaround time.” The portrait sitting was scheduled for Tuesday after Thanksgiving. The creative director, photo director and Grecco vol- leyed back and forth over background choices for the cover. Four choices were on the table: a distressed concrete wall, a wall peppered with bullet holes, an image with the five Olympics rings visible and Grecco’s choice: the Associated Press (AP) news image “Black September Terrorist.” On the Friday prior to the session, a decision was finally reached regarding background image. Grecco’s choice won, but not after heated debate to also rule out a filmstrip view of all four images. Immediately, permission had to be ob- The Cover That Wasn’t tained to print, frame and use the photo. “Here’s a story about a cover that did not An FTP of the file was ordered and sent to a make it,” laughs Grecco. He and the talent production team, which output a 4 x 8-foot thoroughly staged the image (see above) transparency onto clear film mounted onto with the intent to make it the book’s jacket. Plexiglas, then framed. “All this had to be He says it happens to be one of the funniest coordinated, produced and to the Universal sessions and output series he’s created in a Studios in record time. And in the midst of long while. Why didn’t it make the cover? this flurry, Spielberg had to be contacted “Chelsea was having a bad hair day!” he and give permission for the look.” shares. “My images were in the final round The session happened as planned with of submissions, but unfortunately were an expectation that Spielberg would be on not chosen. I hear Chelsea had the editors hand for two hours. “At an hour and three deliberating over options right up to the quarters into the shoot he had to break for last minute.” pressing matters, but did return to give us Chelsea Handler is a stand-up comedian, a remaining 20 minutes.” Grecco fashioned television host and actress with her own a powerful set of high contrast looks using late night talk show, Chelsea Lately. For gray, red and black dominating. In advance, her newest book, Chelsea Chelsea Bang he anticipated and dealt with the potential Bang, Grecco wished to spoof the title (her for reflection showing up due to the Plexi- father was a junk car fanatic, hence the glas; grids and spots were positioned ac- alliteration). Taking personality to heart, cordingly. He slanted light onto Spielberg Grecco built a nutty set for a one-day shoot. to vividly, yet softly frame his face. The production featured an uncomplicated
  4. 4. good company, Grecco has collaborated with a long list of celebrities, including: Martin Scorsese, Hugh Hefner, Robert Du- vall, Lucy Liu, Will Ferrell, Mel Brooks, Christina Applegate, Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Penelope Cruz and Bill Murray, to name a few. Whether working from his studio or on the road (he logs about 100,000 miles a year), Grecco pushes the shutter for fashion, celebrity and editorial/commer- cial accounts. Drama, intention, color pop and often a dash of humor are embedded within his art. He consistently brings a combination of intimate rapport, creative flair and technical acumen to every photo- graph he creates. View Grecco’s Web site at www.michael Martha Blanchfield is creator of the Renegade Photo Shoots ( and a freelance marketing and public relations consultant. handed her a Big Gulp cup. “I like pulling in 3 ElEmEnTs that twist, that dichotomy—in this instance a contrast of good versus poor taste. of a CovEr look “In my portrait work, whether with ce- Top photographer Michael Grecco lebrity or CEO or hired model, it’s a push comments, “Fashion, backgrounds and pull getting what I need for that assign- and even layout trends may change ment,” he explains. “I love portrait work over time, but the recipe for a good and know the best results come when cover remains the same.” photographer and subject are working in Three things are important: harmony. But it’s a fine balance—get too 1 Keep the subject’s eyes in the top close to a personality and you may become one-third of the frame. too risk averse because you are too close, 2 Place the subject within a clean surrounding. and that can dull down a photo.” 3 Capture a provocative look, one with excellent eye contact that reaches out from a newsstand. Portraits Covered Of all the projects and challenges he takes on, Grecco most loves building portrait vi- sions. The definition of portrait means far cloud-dotted sky as backdrop. A junk car more than a framed rendition of a person’s was brought in. Grecco had a hole punched physical features: it’s elevating that persona through the vinyl rooftop to allow Chelsea, within an art form capable of revealing, or in a glam green gown destined for her im- concealing. “I wish to create an image, not pending round of Hollywood awards shows, capture an image. I don’t want to be tied to fit through. Once wiggled into place, he down when building a look.” Standing in