An important aspect of my job as Photography Director at Playboy was to come up with concepts, ideas behind the pictures that gave the image or group of images a raison d’etre, a reason to be. If we were going to shoot a girl for Playmate, we first sat down and figured out what the story of her pictorial would be. Sometimes the ideas were right in front of us. Example:
A girl is a Bunny at the St. Louis Playboy Club plus she’s studied dance and is quite graceful.”
Bingo: we’ll do some photos of her in the club working as a Bunny so the readers can see her as they might encounter her if they visited the club. And then we’ll find a situation where we can capture some of her grace and beauty as a dancer, perhaps in a dance studio where she goes to practice her avocation. And then we can naturally flow from there into some nudes as she relaxes when she’s finished, when she showers, when we figuratively encounter her after she’s done.
Or the girl is from Iowa and grew up on a farm where she rode horses, tended livestock, etc. Maybe she’s not on the farm anymore but let’s take her back there and create a little fantasy about this beautiful girl riding a horse, playing with a baby animal…something that brings out her personality and makes us see the attractiveness not only her face and figure but also her humor and warmth.
Stories aren’t always so obvious and often we’d need to really stretch reality (they call it artistic license) in order to create a story that offered us interesting photo opportunities and gave the girl something to do, something to interact with.Stories aren’t always so obvious and often we’d need to really stretch reality (they call it artistic license) in order to create a story that offered us interesting photo opportunities and gave the girl something to do, something to interact with.
Even with a single photo, let’s say a photo in a “Girls of” pictorial, we tried to look for situations and ideas to build the shooting around, even though we might only wind up publishing one shot for that shoot.
And there were other, grander pictorial concepts that we were constantly looking for. What concept would be meaningful to the reader in the next issue? What concept would be so appealing that the editors could write a compelling cover line that would prompt a newsstand sale or garner a bit of publicity. Sometimes we knew what would be a strong selling concept but we might have difficulty finding a way to produce it.
For example: Everybody was in love with the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders. Let’s do a pictorial on them. Only problem: the Cowboys had a tight leash on all the girls and had made them sign contracts that prevented them from posing nude. What about the cheerleaders of other NFL teams? We found there were some who didn’t have contracts with their cheerleaders.
As stubborn as we were, we kept at it. Word finally got around that Playboy was pursuing this concept and we finally began to get leads. And then do shootings. The pictorial finally came off and the issue was a big seller.How do we get to the girls and find out who might be interested in posing? So Jeff Cohen (Playboy editor) and I sent photographers to NFL games, ostensibly to photograph the football game but in reality to pass out cards and try to have a bit of conversation with at least a few of the girls. We tried. We spent quite a lot of money and time on the project. Nothing seemed to happen.
Jeff and I considered giving up the idea but, stubborn as we were, we kept at it. Word finally got around that Playboy was pursuing this concept and we finally began to get leads. And then do shootings. The pictorial finally came off and the issue was a big seller. As a side note: the Chicago Bears were so upset that their squad, the Honey Bears, had a couple of girls pose that they disbanded their cheerleaders and more than 25 years later are still one of the few teams that do not have a cheerleading squad.
What has all this got to do with you as a photographer?
The message is that sometimes you can land an assignment by thinking editorially.
Pay attention to what kinds of pictorials a magazine publishes and then suggest a concept to them. And tell them how the concept can be executed. Is it easy? No. It’s not but it can be done. I can think of several photographers who got published for the first time in Playboy because they brought us not only high quality photography but also interesting concepts or ideas behind their photography. So putting your thinking cap on before you take out your camera can a very useful exercise.