It was ten years ago this week that Hurricane Katrina almost wiped America’s most interesting city right of the map. I remember watching the drama unfold on TV, in disbelief with each day going by and still nothing seeming to be done. In all honesty, like everyone else, I never really thought it would get this bad and was kicking myself that I hadn’t found a way to get out there sooner, but after a couple of days I was relieved to get a call from People Magazine and I was on the next flight to Houston. I’ve been fortunate to cover many important human interest stories for People over the years and love working on current events with the deeper perspective a weekly magazine can offer, and with no story being bigger than this, I was excited to be a part of the team.After a few days in Houston I drove down to New Orleans proper, along with my buddy and longtime colleague People correspondent Ken Lee (which was an adventure), where I was shocked to find a city completely deserted and literally under martial law. One sight in particular that sticks in my mind from my first day there; a pick-up truck casually pulls onto the freeway ahead of us, pretty normal, until I notice a passenger sitting on the flatbed, scanning the horizon, brandishing a shotgun, cocked and looking for action!It was an unusual time to say the least and very grateful for the experience. There’s really nothing quite like witnessing real life in action; the good, the bad and the ugly. I’ve been back to New Orleans quite a few times since then, and happy to say it doesn’t seem to have lost it’s charm, or its edge. Hallelujah!
Earlier this year I spent a few days in Arizona on a controversial and emotionally charged Death Row story for Der Spiegel. Debra Milke, from Berlin, was convicted of the murder of her son Christopher in 1990 and had been awaiting her death until March 23, 2015, when her case was formally dismissed. I spent those final few transformative days with her, from going through the dismissal process, to facing the media and finally tasting true freedom again, as if for the first time.
As a photographer, this assignment called on all my skills; as portrait photographer, reportage photographer and news photographer. An intense and hectic combination, but I love to immerse myself in shooting real, honest situations with depth, and it doesn’t get much more real than Death Row. But it was a delicate situation and there was an awful lot of skepticism, doubt and questions flying around about her acquittal in general. This poor lady was literally out of the frying pan and into the fire with the world’s press! So they’re was a lot going on.
But none the less, we had a job to do to tell this story, and on top of that we needed to shoot a cover on a tight deadline, so we created a location studio in her house, as the rest of the world’s press was on her tail. Debra was clearly overwhelmed and emotionally taught with the whole thing. Not an easy situation, but with great help of my local assistant in Phoenix, Madison Kirkman, we pulled it all off.
In the end, our cover didn’t run as it was a busy news week in Germany and sadly a crazy German pilot decided to fly a plane into the side of a mountain. But here’s a mock-up of one option we were working on; Debra Milke before and after a long visit to the big house. To see more of my latest work go to gallagherphoto.com.
I was interviewed recently by PDN about my work, my process and my Clickbooq website (seriously, the best websites in the business, for photographers, in my view). Here’s an excerpt and you can read the full thing here.
“Robert Gallagher’s photography career is dynamic: One day he’s shooting a travel feature in Bora Bora for The Guardian; another day it’s the cofounder and CEO of the dating app, Tinder, for the cover of Forbes. When we connect over the phone, he’s brimming with excitement over a shoot in Los Angeles with singer, songwriter and musician John Lydon, who is best known by his former stage name as the Sex Pistols’ front man, Johnny Rotten. The shoot was a treat for the photographer, who having grown up in England in the 1970s, notes that it was “Margaret Thatcher vs. the Sex Pistols” in the spectrum of cultural iconography. He had the opportunity to get to know the family-man side of the infamous English punk rock singer when he gave him a ride home from the shoot. “That’s why I love my job,” he says. “You never know who you’re going to meet from one day to the next—I love those little vignettes of life.” But what really struck him about Lydon was that he showed up to the set with only a simple plastic bag full of his belongings. “He still a little bit anti-establishment,” Gallagher laughs.”…….
Go whoop that sucker, Manny!
What a team these two make. It’s clear when you see Freddie Roach and Manny Pacquiao working together that not only are they a great team, but have a genuine friendship too.Freddie has Parkinson’s pretty bad, but the astonishing thing is, once he’s in the ring, gloves on, pads on…it’s gone. Not a sign of it. Clearly he’s operating on another level.Much respect to him and his life’s work…. Manny the Pacman Pacquiao. Poetry in motion.
It makes for an interesting life when one day out of the blue an email can come in and the very next week you’re off to a South Pacific Island for a few days to tootle around and shoot beautifully inspired pictures. What i love specifically about travel photography is that in its very essence it’s your job to immerse yourself in the travel experience. You have to feel it to capture it. That does mean long hours though, as you’ll always be top and tailing the day (shooting at sunrise and sunset) which means up at the crack for the best light, but it does make for a memorable experience!
This assignment was with esteemed writer and columnist Andrew O’Hagan, who was a great travel partner and portrait subject. Like me he had no problem getting into the zone!
And as an extra added bonus to myself, I managed to wangle my return flight at my own expense……
Flight change fee: $100
Extra nights stay on Tahiti: $150
Rubbiing lime juice on hand, feet and butt after getting dragged over the reef surfing Taapuna: priceless!
I’ve always dreamed of surfing Tahiti, so couldn’t let this opportunity pass, but definately had no plan as to how to make it happen (there’s nowhere the rent boards on the island it turns out). But after meeting some awesome people within 24 hrs, I was also able to turn an amazing work trip into a fun little surf trip as well. Life is what you make it and take chances when opportunities arise. Oh, and the $150/ night place on Tahiti? The Tahiti Airport Motel. Great place, very clean, friendly and literally right across from the airport. I walked to catch my flight!
Part of the job description of being an editorial photographer is being able to pull all kinds of productions together in a relatively short amount of time, without of course compromising any sort of quality. It’s a fun and exciting aspect of the game, as well as a nerve-jangling one (but i suspect that’s what keeps us in it, right?). And although this was’nt a huge production challenge in terms of what could have been needed on any given day (which basically consists of literally anything!) it’s always somewhat of a tricky challenge to create an entire photo- studio in someone else’s workspace, one that’s high quality enough to grace the cover of a major newsstand magazine, all within a limited time-frame.I mean, it’s not exactly like working in a studio where you’re lighting, spacing and set-up have some consistency and familiarity. No, in this instance we basically have two hours to park, haul a studio up to the ninth floor, construct, concept, test, adjust, back-up concept, test, think, re-think, decide if you actually like the light or even the idea, sometimes start from scratch, hopefully have a cup of tea, enough to re-build your energy, ‘cos guess what, in 10 minutes your subjects gonna arrive and you’ve got to shoot a kick-ass cover. And oh yeah, he’s not someone who makes a living in front of camera, so I’ve really gotta bring it, to get him be there! So, it’s challenging, but also fun in a sort of self-mutilating/ testing ones- self kind of way! Ha. Oh yeah, and we also need a double page spread shot too! Yep, that’s got to be creatively worked, concepted, lit etc. So there’s a lot of work that goes into these location cover shoots in a very small amount of time and I couldn’t even come close to doing it without a great team, who act as a spare set of eyes as well as literally muscle. The trust allows it to become a great little creative menagerie, a melting pot where i’m nothing more than the head chef, as well as kind of circus ringleader! Thanks to a great team guys….Thomas Hencz, Leah Christensen and David Fearns.
It’s not everyday you get the run of the entire 20th Century Fox studio backlot, $250,000 worth of Ferrari, oh and yes, the venerable Mr. Jim Gianopulos, CEO of said studio, to play with. But thanks to The Official Ferrari Magazine, that’s exactly what happened back in June.Jim was actually awesome to work with. I’ve shot plenty of business types, and some you just can’t loosen up, but he seemed to totally enjoy the process and had fun with it. Partly due to the location, the car, and his Godfather-esque looks, i was feeling a kind of ‘Little Italy tough guy from the streets done good’ kind of vibe, and Jim was right there with me. Hey, forgetaboutit! It’s almost like he hangs around with famous actors all day!Great working with you Jim, hope we get to do it again some day. Thanks also to the excellent production team at Ferrari, and Amy Trezise and the location team at Fox.
Romo and the Cowboys are a rollin’, with talk of being the best team in the league! We’ve done a couple of shoots with the Cowboys QB over the years for Sports Illustrated and Pepsi. Stand up guy!
A few weeks ago we had the pleasure of working with LPGA Tour Pro Lizette Salas for Golf Digest. The editors there are so great to work with, always encouraging to go beyond the obvious ‘golfy’ shot, gives you so much more freedom and confidence to play around and have fun. And one thing i learned, if you’re ever short of a wind machine, a leaf-blower works pretty darn well as a stand-in! Especially when subject’s Dad is groundskeeper of said club.A fun day was had by all, and i think it shows in the pictures! Thanks Lizette and best of luck, we’ll be rooting for ya.
Stanford University’s Technology Ventures Program is Silicon Valley’s incubator for the next big thing. A business program where playtime is problem- solving. The brainchild of innovation gurus Tina Seelig, Ph.D and Tom Byers, Ph.D, the program is dedicated to accelerating high-tech entrepreneurship. It’s a high value prize for all at Stanford, and enrollment is limited to a dozen outstanding students each year. Plus you get to wear paper cones on your head all day and call it work!
We spent a couple of days with the professors and students of the STVP, poking around the creative hub on campus that is the d.school and generally soaking up the chilled out yet intense vibe that is Stanford for The Times magazine, and let me tell you, these kids know they’re at the center of the business world.
With the release of Cesar Chavez , i thought i’d re-visit a personal project i’ve been working on about immigrant farmworkers in California. Maybe it’s because i’m not from here, but this hidden, yet essential workforce has always fascinated me. They may be in America, but it’s certainly not a dream…..
California has long been the land of the migrant farm worker. From the dust bowl migration of the great depression, as depicted by John Steinbeck in Grapes of Wrath, to todays countless undocumented border jumpers. With an endless supply of an increasingly desperate labor-force, California’s central valley economy continues to reap the benefit, becoming the main agricultural center in the US and propelling the State to the level of a global economic power.
For many who cross America’s borders illegally however, life can be harsh; some have no option but live in shanty town- like labor camps; some of the women are subjected to rape. Even embezzlement by fellow Mexicans immigrants is a problem, as well as the pure physical exhaustion of the un- regulated manual work, not to mention the constant fear of deportation. All to earn just $6 an hour.
Huron, a small town of 5,900, is a virtual Grand Central terminal for the immigrant workforce. Twice a year, lettuce is harvested in the area, and the population at least doubles in size. Known as the “Heart of the Valley,” Huron, in western Fresno county, lies about 50 miles southwest of Fresno. This is the heartland for what inspired Steinbeck, and where he ultimately set his literary classic.
It’s like a time- warp to a frontier town of the Old West, except the cowboys are all Latino’s and instead of carrying six- shooters, they’re packing lettuce knives! It has been described as ‘knife-fight city’ by some, due to the evening activities of some migrants who descend on the town. There’s a handful of bars, five gangs and a famous drug alley. In 1992, the mayor was shot in a dispute between bar owners and resigned. With it’s undocumented and transient workforce, cash is the preferred form of payment, and robberies are common. Gang members know most workers don’t have bank accounts.In 1998, Huron averaged 15% unemployment, and it’s per capita income was fifth lowest in the state, with 39% of it’s residents living below the poverty line. Many of the migrant workers either live in the labor camps in town for about $6 a night, or in converted garages and back-yard sheds, paying $300 a month or more. There is limited housing available for farm workers, and many live in trailer parks that have sprung up over town, that don’t have permits for even basic utilities. Not much seems to have changed for the impoverished and desperate working man since the 1930’s. As Steinbeck described in Grapes of Wrath; “They ain’t human. A human being wouldn’t live like they do. A human being couldn’t stand it to be so dirty and miserable.”Enrique is a 35 year old undocumented farmworker from San Luis, Mexico. He began his journey north on Valentine’s Day 2006, leaving behind a mother, sister and niece. In his quest to reach California, he paid a coyote $1200 and endured three straight days and nights walking in the Arizona desert. He makes his home for now, which was donated, in an overcrowded and moldy trailer in the backyard of a sympathetic Huron resident’s house. He is lucky, although damp and cramped, he manages to find privacy and safety over the choice living in a shared room at the labor camps.This photo- essay examines the daily life of the undocumented immigrant, picking food for our tables at minimum wage, whilst we debate whether we even want them here.
Here’s a fun shoot with renaissance- woman Sasha Grey. This girl’s a good laugh and so easy to work with, hope we get to do it all again sometime soon.
A girl who’s resume includes actress, model, author, musician, and former pornographic actress, and all by the age of 24! That’s not messing around! She played the lead role in Steven Soderbergh’s 2009 film The Girlfriend Experience ( and was excellent in my opinion) and is currently in the middle of promoting ‘The Juliette Society’, a fictional erotic novel, released earlier this year. A. O. Scott of The New York Times described her pornographic career as having “an unusual degree of intellectual seriousness about it.” In the words of Andy Samberg doing a Nicholas Cage impression…. “That’s high praise!” She’s an interesting girl, and quite clearly more than just a pretty face. Oh, and her instagram feed…. Sasha gone done got herself a good eye!
and of course, suitably inspired, she insisted on getting in on the photo- taking business herself….. my, what a fine looking couple of photogs right there! 😉