Image Source photographer Angela Cappetta
has an eye for social and psychological nuance. Her photos are great visual anecdotes. It’s why she’s recognised as one of America’s top lifestyle photographers. I first came across the work of Angela Cappetta around 10 years ago, working on a project with Paul Pensom, now Art Director of Creative Review. We were doing a photography feature on the desire for the ‘new’ authenticity in advertising photography – in journalism it pays to have a goldfish memory. The feature was partly inspired by the Cruel + Tender exhibition at the Tate Museum in London. Pensom wasn’t just a great designer, annoyingly he would write better headlines than the editor, and had a gunslinger’s eye for spotting the killer photo.
There was one image of what looked like a Mother/Mother-In-Law at a wedding whose body language suggests she’d really prefer not to let go, if you don’t mind. It’s sweet, it’s a little a bit cheeky, and because it has an emotional edge, it means the viewer is kept a little off-balance. Angela Cappetta’s image nailed the feature, and would later nail this ad for Citi.
On her website Cappetta has a call out from PDN that says,
“This artist is among the nation’s top wedding photographers today.” To enumerate, the wedding and social event is the perfect dramatic backdrop where heightened anxieties and emotions are played out. Cappetta has an eye for narrative, in that way she has a classic illustrator’s eye. And the ceremony, the ritual, the big emotional theatre of weddings suits a photographic sensibility that’s sharp in spotting social nuances.
It’s not just weddings of course. Cappetta just makes great compositions.
Catch some of Cappetta’s take on the world below in her interview with Lisa Curesky, Image Source Director of Photography, USA, and spend a few moments on her blog and appreciate her unique photographic anecdotes.
A shot of a single object that expresses a powerful memory/event
The stick shift knob of my car is my favorite thing. It has never asked for anything in return. I throw my gear in the back and go. I usually photograph alone, sometimes with an assistant or a friend.
Three books that have inspired you?
Three books, I tried. I really did. But three isn’t fair. Here is the bookshelf in my studio. This is the fiction, non fiction section arranged by color. The monograph and art compilation section is a whole other thing. Those are arranged right to left in the order of which I refer to them.
Here are three I’ve used a lot lately. My Medusa project is primarily influenced by the work of Robert Frost and William Carlos Williams.
and the Truman Capote book is there just because I think In Cold Blood is one of the best crafted stories ever told
Favourite photo you have taken?
Its not about individual pictures for me, rather, bodies of work. I’m only as good as my next project, That said, my favorite project to revisit these days is L’Ulivello, pictures from an Italian villa where i lived and worked as a kid. It was my first successful attempt at a project. Looking back on it, I now realize that I was examining the act of simplicity. It was shot with TriX and a Leica over several visits. I got grant money and was fortunate to be able to develop it into something more than one trip could give me.
It depends. I’m really gonna dork out hard on this one. I admire Lee Friedlander for sheer will of picture making, he just doesn’t stop and it’s always incredible. When I need formal inspiration I look at Judith Joy Ross and Carleton Watkins.
For perfect cacophony, I go to the Ragubir Singh section of my shelf. Then there are the days when I need to look at Helen Frankenthaller or Richard Diebenkorn, so I will hit the books from my painting section. Sometimes nothing scratches an itch like an Ad Reinhardt painting. You get the idea. Dork transmission complete.
Angela, your tagline on your tumblr page reads ‘documentary style photography with edgy warmth’ – talk to me about this. How did style develop?
It’s something a collector once said to me. I liked it because it summed me up so well. I’m other things, too, but I’m mostly that, the sideways glance of the thing you almost missed. I don’t think I cultivated that look on purpose, it’s something that evolved naturally. I have a wide scope of ability, but my signature look is refined and consistent.
How important is social media in your self promotion?
It’s a necessary requirement for getting new assignment work, but I’m so busy shooting that I try to fit in the weekly marketing from whatever airport I’m running through. I recently met Victoria’s Secret model Cameron Russell on social media. She wrote to me and said she loved my work and wanted to collaborate on her new project, Interrupt Magazine . We’ve shot excellent assignments together and I’m now a regular contributor. Cameron is a great art director and lovely person. That never would have happened without the resource of Twitter.
How did the Joffrey Ballet project come about? Do you have a favorite image from this project?
I live near the Joffrey and I’d see the dancers everyday, at the deli, the coffee shop, the drug store etc. I knew I wanted to photograph them in their environment, but that was all I knew.
One day I sat down and wrote a letter to the director of the Joffrey. I included a project statement for pictures which didn’t exist yet. It is called it “Built on Toil” and likened the trainees to soldiers doing a job under command of a general. In my head I could see it clearly: TriX and a 6×9 punched up with the bare bulb of a Lumedyne. I just needed him to say yes. Later that day he wrote back. He explained that he regularly gets requests from photographers and always says no. But, he was so struck by the clarity of my proposal, that he’d be happy to offer me complete access for as long as I wanted. I almost fell off my chair. I started the next day and continued for two years.
Mostly, It was a lot of me trying not to get kicked in the head. I was right in the thick of it with the dancers. On the floor in the middle of their routines with a lens in their faces, they’d gently glide around me. It was beautiful to watch. If an elephant fell stage center they’d dance around it without breaking focus. They were incredibly gracious and kind to me. We executed a print project of the ballet work (with the Art Director Liron Kormas). She brought me the idea, and I liked it.
You shoot a lot of weddings, are there any trends you are seeing emerge in this area?
So, I’m the last person you should ask about trends. But if it’s interesting from behind a lens, then sign me up.
What is the strangest Wedding request you were ever asked by a potential client?
For me, nothing is “strange.” I think getting married is strange. Beautiful and strange.
What have you learned to get the best shots at a Wedding?
A few good pictures do not a photographer make. I shoot weddings with the same acumen I’d shoot any editorial, personal or advertising assignment. No matter what I’m shooting I never pretend to be something I’m not. Having a clear goal in mind is essential.
Furthermore, being fit and healthy helps with my shoot performance in ways that are incalculable. Muscle strain is your enemy. When I feel escalating pain I go straight to the acupuncturist. People don’t realize how much a serious photographer uses their entire body. I see pictures of myself working after the fact and I’m amazed I bent myself like that. The adrenaline kicks in and you just go for it.
Is there a predominant theme in your work?
Any hidden talents we should know about?
Dogs love me, and I them, I know how to train a horse and I am a member of an elite knitting circle.