06 Apr Rocco Commissio, Portraits for Forbes Magazine
So when I got the call for this assignment I was excited, it was to be a possible cover story and not only that but its was in my backyard. Well Orange County anyway. The subject was Rocco Commissio the CEO of MediaCom, the 5th largest cable TV provider in the US. You would be forgiven if you have not heard of them as their market is primarily in the midwest. The shoot started with a phone call with myself the Forbes’ writer Noah Kirsh, and Rocco and his Communication Director. I wish I had a recording of this call, it went from funny to dramatic and back again in short form. Rocco had been photographed in the recent past and really did not like the job that was done. He felt that the photographer had done a very unflattering job on him. So my job on this call was to really assure Rocco that we were there to make him look good, to flatter him, as we did not have any other agenda. Noah, the story’s writer, also worked to calm Rocco down who was at this point needing to control the shoot in a way that would basically stop the shoot from happening. Most magazines unless they are photographing a star who is so big that they demand refusal rights on the images will not allow the subjects to steer the conversation both written and in photography. This is done to maintain some editorial control and to present in the manner they are designed to do. After hearing Rocco’s concerns I told him that we were shooting tethered to a computer and I would allow him to preview the shots and if he hated them we would shoot something else. I did tell him that I could not allow him to yay or nay the shoot though, that was the magazines job and even I as the photographer did not have a say in what images were going be selected. Eventually he relented and we set a shoot date.
Day of the shoot we showed up at 8:30 am and pulled up in front of a tremendous glass and steel modern building standing in the middle of nowhere. We met with the communications contact and were given a quick tour. After scouting much of the space we set up for the cover image first. These shots are usually done to a formatted look so not a lot to think about technically except making someone feel comfortable in a completely foreign land. Piece of cake, lol! The direction is the hard part here, due the way the cover image gets cropped. A fair amount of space above the subject is needed for the Forbes logo. So what happens is that if hands are down on the side of the subject you tend to lose them and not only lose them but they get oddly cut at the wrist, not so nice. So pretty much every photographer who shoots covers for Forbes has to convince the subject to bring their hands up into the image area. This is a struggle as most people have a hard time using their hands in a conversational manner, so a lot of time and effort goes into this aspect alone, at least for me. Once we had this image done Rocco looked over what we had shot and was somewhat surprised by what he saw. The images looked good and his personality and energy was apparent in the still captures. This was the toughest shot, as not only was it the first set up, but Rocco was still very apprehensive about the whole shoot, but now that we had jumped that hurdle I felt confident about the rest of the day.
We proceeded to set up on the second floor balcony area of the buildings lobby area. A fantastic display of Italian engineering, steel and natural stone work done to perfection. Rocco’s pride in this building which he had made was apparent and was a wonderful setting to create his portrait. This shot was very quick to set up, a couple of lights bounced into the wall behind the camera balanced with an ambient exposure created a fairly natural look and it took hardly any post work to make perfect. We then moved in to his office. Rocco wanted some shots with his desk but I was not feeling it. A previous photographer had photographed him there and the results were far from good. I mentioned this to him and he agreed that he did not like what he had seen before so he allowed me to position him onto his marble conference table. He looked great sitting there with a view of the land surrounding the property as a background. Again a quick light setup, 2 heads bounced into the ceiling and wall with attention to reflections in all the windows. A powerful portrait of a successful man. The third shot was to satisfy the magazines need for more literal imagery. An image of Rocco within something that illustrates his business, which in this case is cable TV. So we found the one room in the building that offered some clue as to what they do. The data center, this is where the agents respond to customers calls and can dispatch field techs for service. Here we went very low tech, I had my assistant hold a small speedlight bouncing into a column that happened to be right behind the camera. I dragged the shutter a little to get a working exposure on the large screens behind Rocco. He was sensitive to the fact that we were among all the employees and he didn’t want a big spectacle. So we shot 20-30 frames and moved on. At this point I knew we had the story photographically. Throughout the day with Rocco we saw examples of his love for soccer and came to find out he is major stakeholder in the NY Cosmos Soccer team. So I asked if he would be comfortable playing a little soccer in this very cool hallway lined in bright yellow frosted glass walls. I asked him to take his jacket and tie off.. He was totally into it and kicked the ball around for 10 minutes, we managed to get this lit with the same small speed light again, very fast and no fuss.
In the end Forbes ran the story but not as a cover, very disappointing, we worked very hard to convince Rocco to relax and let go and let us photograph him. I have not talked to him since the shoot so I do not know what his reaction was, but I was bummed. This has happened before, stories get moved around and current events can mess up the best laid plans.
In the end though I’m very happy with the portraits that we did and very happy that Rocco placed his trust in me. Grazie Rocco.
Some other Forbes Shoots you might want to take a peek at.