PDN Photo of the Day

Finding the Real Story in a Photograph

Elinor Carucci’s photograph of a couple kissing was created to accompany a short story in The New Yorker called “Cat Person.” The image won in the Magazine/Editorial category of PDN’s Photo Annual 2018 and was featured on the cover of the June 2018 issue of PDN.

PDN’s Photo Annual is now open for entries for 2019. Visit www.pdnphotoannual.com to learn more and enter.

PDN: How did this assignment come about?
Elinor Carucci: I was approached by two of The New Yorker photo editors, Thea Traff and Joanna Milter, to create a photograph for the short story “Cat Person” by Kristen Roupenian.

PDN: What was the relationship between the story and the image? Had you read the story prior to taking the photo?
EC: I had read the story. After a conference call with Joanna and Thea, we decided to focus on the different kisses in the story, both the good kiss and the bad kiss.

PDN: What was it like photographing an image that was intended to be paired with a fiction story? How much direction did you get from the photo editor?
EC: I discussed with the photo editors what the direction of the shoot should be and how to create an image that would convey both the intimacy and the disturbing elements of the story. We wanted to create an intense image that would make the viewers feel like they were ‘inside’ the story. We agreed on close-up images, which is the style of many of my photos. Joanna and Thea mentioned trying to create an intimate, up-close feel. They also showed me photographs from both my personal work and previous assignments that they felt were representative of the direction they wanted to go for this image.

After reading “Cat Person,” I was really inspired by the opportunity to create an image that would be paired, side by side, with it. But I knew it was going to be challenging, since the story is so complex and has so many nuances and emotions. My goal was to create an image that contained a subtle level of darkness, and a real sense of real people, with their desires and beauties and insecurities and flaws.

PDN: This photograph is of a real couple kissing. How did you find your models?
EC: I wanted to photograph a real couple. I felt it had to be real because of the kind of photographer I am. My personal work is about the everyday drama of real life: my family, my flaws, my ugliness, my joy and what makes me wonderful. I am drawn to photographing real things, so the three of us thought about couples we know. It was Thea who found the “right” real couple!

PDN: How did you set up the lighting for this shoot?
EC: My husband Eran, who was assisting me on this shoot, held a Profoto strobe with a honeycomb grid. He moved around the couple as they were moving and kissing so they were free to just be themselves and not stay in the light. I wanted them to be able to move spontaneously while he followed their bodies and faces with the light.

PDN: What is your favorite part of this photo?
EC: As I was guiding this younger couple into different situations and positions to bring emotion into their kissing, I felt like I was somehow witnessing different aspects of their relationships. Part of who they are was unveiling in front of my eyes through my camera; I will never forget it.


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