Photographing the subjects of “Hidden Damages”

There is no formula for what I do, or how much I interact with subjects. Sometimes I don’t talk at all in hopes that they’ll retreat into their own worlds and let me see them as they are. Other times, I’m actively having a conversation, trying to draw out an interesting gesture or expression. Too much direction, especially for subjects who aren’t often in front of the camera, makes people feel self-conscious and stiff. When I first meet someone, I watch them closely and if there’s a pose or a gesture of theirs that I like, I’ll sometimes ask them to do it again.

I found Stephen Flatow to be an incredibly interesting person. As I was setting up, he asked if I wanted him to bring a photo of his daughter for the “grieving father picture.” I declined, but it reminded me that my subject was not only brave and unrelenting, but very savvy about telling his daughter’s story.

With the exception of Thomas Fay, all of the shoots took place in conference rooms with bad lighting. I decided to turn off all the lights and create my own lighting from scratch. I tried to keep my compositions very clean. In the case of Mr. Fay, he had this great messy desk and was rather imposing in person, so I wanted to show a little of what it might feel to be arguing a case against him.

Clockwise from top left: Stephen Flatow, Thomas Fay, Patrick Clawson, and Steven Perles. 
Clockwise from top left: Stephen Flatow, Thomas Fay, Patrick Clawson, and Steven Perles. 

I’m not sure anyone knows more about Iranian economics and their financial system outside of their own country than Patrick Clawson. In photographing him, I wanted to show him somewhat isolated, and also capture some of the strength that I sensed from him in our meeting.

Steve Perles had a great energy when he walked into the room. I wanted to take photos that were more physical, and that showed someone in command of the space around him. I spent a lot of time moving out furniture to create a very spare environment that would keep the attention on him.

For these portraits, I wanted a somewhat somber mood. At the same time, these guys are all brawlers. You don’t get the sense that any of them feel intimidated by going head-to-head with a hostile foreign government (or a hostile U.S. government.) That grit and perseverance is probably my lasting impression of all four of them, and what I want readers to take from these images.

Read “Hidden Damages.”