Long before Lauren Dukoff, the subject of the cover story in PDN‘s September issue, started shooting fashion stories for Vogue Japan, she had known for her music photography and portraits. She captured intimate, often candid images for Rolling Stone and Spin, shot the art for Adele’s album 21, and in 2009 published her book Family, based on her collection of behind-the-scenes and on-the-road images of her longtime friend Devendra Barnhart and the musicians with whom he collaborated. She found herself in recording studios, dressing rooms and intimate settings with artists she looked up to. “I felt so awkward in this private space, but with my camera, it was a kind of shield and it gave me a reason to be there,” Dukoff said in a recent lecture at the Skylight Studios, part of the Iris Nights lecture series run by the Annenberg Space for Photography. (The full video of Dukoff’s talk, “A Collaborative Path,” is archived on the Annenberg website. )
While Dukoff’s quiet approach to capturing unguarded moments might seem like an odd stepping stone to directing models in couture gowns and managing large productions, she told her audience at Skylight Studios that she got valuable training and encouragement while working in the studio of Autumn De Wilde. Dukoff had long admired De Wilde’s work and was happy to take on any job available. In time, she worked her way up from babysitter to studio manager, where she helped arrange productions, and learned “the nuts and bolts” of hiring a crew and looking after shoot logistics. While some young photographers “go the assistant route,” Dukoff said, learning production “was really valuable to me because I knew I wanted to be a commercial photographer.”
De Wilde also encouraged Dukoff to believe in the work she was shooting on her own time through collaborations with friends. By pursuing it, Dukoff says, “I was starting to build a visual identity of your own.”
As PDN‘s story explains, Dukoff moved from capturing in-between moments with musicians and other artists, to creating posed portraits, and then to collaborating with fashion stylists on celebrity portraits for magazines such as L’Uomo Vogue, Lula and Vanity Fair. Along the way, she also learned to shoot commercials by collaborating with experienced film crews. Like De Wilde, she has experimented with a variety of genres, to stretch herself creatively while also expanding her clientele.
“I find that as soon as I’m comfortable I think: I better figure something else out, because there’s so much more to do, there’s so much more to learn,” she told her audience. “I’m not saying you shouldn’t stay true to your style. But don’t be afraid to try things and expand.”
Dukoff spoke at the Iris Night lecture during the run of the “Emerging” exhibition at the Annenberg Space for Photography (curated by the editors of PDN). Other photographers in the “Emerging” show who shared how they found their voices, established their place in the photo world and navigated the photo business include Zun Lee, Olivia Bee, Corey Arnold and Bryan Derballa. All the videos of their talks can be found online at the Annenberg website.