By: Keith Huang
Welcome to Photo Pollinating, an Apiary feature in which we briefly interview a professional photographer who has shot some crazygood photos of a comedic personality. For this edition, we chose Ryan Schude's photograph of comedy stateswoman Margaret Cho, which appeared in Hyphen Magazine. Schude lives and works out of a studio called the Forge near Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.
My friend Ejen Chuang put me in touch with Hyphen Magazine.
I had definitely heard of her, but I wasn't really familiar with her work when I first took the assignment. Before the shoot I had done a fair amount of research on her website and watching Yutube clips of her performing.
We see a piñata, a Dagwood-style hero and Gallagher-smashing watermelon activity in a Lycra bodysuit: Is there a pictorial code at work here?
Hmm, pictorial code, I'm gonna have to steal that if it's okay -- not sure what it means, but it sounds smart. I can explain though. I had to look up Dagwood as well, I feel so uncultured right now. This was supposed to be the "Action" issue which, I think, originally was intended to indicate more social action than physical movement, but Hyphen was very open to allowing me to interpret the theme any way I chose.
Margaret plays a role in a fair amount of social-change activities so in hindsight it might have been more appropriate to try and use a concept which exemplified her involvement, but I immediately started brainstorming ways to make her smash things so I went that route.
I sat around with my brother Collins, who comes up with many of the great ideas for our shoots, and one night it kinda snowballed. I knew we'd have more time with her than you'd usually get with a celebrity-type shoot, so I wanted to really milk such a good opportunity since I assumed Margaret would be down for having fun and breaking stuff.
And karate chopping stuff.
The karate chop cliché was too obvious to pass up even though Hyphen said they don't like to use stereotypically Asian visuals. We added the sandwich both for how it would work visually and functionally without any good reason conceptually. The Gallagher thing was a direct homage. We had a great time building the hammer and lugging the perfect stump over a fence and squeezing it into the trunk of my unsuspecting friend's car. The bodysuit was Margaret's own creation. There is no way anyone could have imagined a more perfectly ridiculous or appropriate fruit-smashing outfit. I have been obsessed with piñatas for a few years now, and I couldn't wait to find an excuse to put one in a shoot.
Did Margaret do any bits while she was prepping for these shots?
She actually was nearly mute the whole day. Don't get me wrong, she cooperated even past the point I could have expected and completely nailed it very professionally, but it wasn't like an all-day free comedy show for us.
Going back to the karate-chopping of the sandwich. That photo is pretty insane. How did you accomplish that?
Collins again came through tough on this one, he built the sandwiches complete with homemade meatballs. It would have been nice to have her chop about 50 of those things to insure getting it just right, but it was a huge pain in the ass to even get one up there and pin it together so it held long enough before she chopped the thing. We had her posing with her hand just resting on the sandwich for a bunch of tests to get her expression and body positioning down but all in all she only took out three hoagies, and we got a good one and moved on.
Yeah, I was inspired after looking at the gallery on her website because she had already worked with some great photographers. I could also tell she was used to making proper photos, so I wanted to push it as far as possible. I don't think she was too thrilled about the fruit smashing since the damn mallet weighed a ton, and it was really tough to actually break melons and look at the camera at the same time. I'm sure Gallagher's hammer wasn't a rain soaked log, though, so that was my bad. But she took it like a champ though and put down some good swings.
I think in general a humorous portrait is expected when shooting a comedian, but it's not always necessary. It really just depends on the photographer and the comic and what they are shooting for. I have shot a few other comedians such as Sarah Silverman, Amy Poehler and Dennis Leary. The context for those shots wan't given to making a humorous portrait, so I shot them more straightforward -- except for Sarah Silverman who couldn't help making something funny. If William Eggleston were shooting Lenny Bruce back in the day just because they happened to be hanging out, I don't think the photo would have much obvious humor in it, but it would probably kick a lot of butt regardless.
There are indeed. I haven't shot that many, but the ones I have shot are way more open to playing around and they understand what it takes to make a good photo. So I would definitely like to photograph more. My top three would have to be Rodney Dangerfield circa Caddyshack, Bill Murray and Eddie Murphy in his Delirious leathers.