Serena Williams, Ellen DeGeneres, Hillary Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, Selena Gomez, Ava DuVernay and Aretha Franklin are part of Time's "Firsts" special project, dedicated to influential women from all walks of life who are changing the world today: they are all pioneers who revolutionized their field.
To shoot the covers of the magazine, director of photography Kira Pollack asked 28-year-old photographer Luisa Dörr to take a portrait of the 46 high profile women. What makes this assignment so special is that she did the job using an iPhone. Not only the 12 covers, but also all the portraits that accompany each article.
"There’s no noise, gadgets, tools or plugs—just the subject and myself."
The photographer began shooting with her iPhone 5, then she used an iPhone 6, 6S Plus and 7. She shot systematically in square format mode and sometimes used the HDR option to get more details on the faces. Kira Pollack, who spotted Luisa Dörr on Instagram, writes about her collaboration:
"Last summer, I came across the work of a young Brazilian photographer named Luisa Dörr while I was browsing Instgram. I had never heard of her, but with all great photographs, it’s the image that captivates me, not the name of the photographer.
I was instantly lured down the magical scroll of @luisadorr's feed. There were countless images of women of all ages against ethereal yet raw landscapes. Natural light, lovely tone, each one a studied composition.
The pictures were incredibly consistent. In her bio line she had written "All photos made with the iPhone." I tracked her down immediately.
The work I saw in Luisa’s Instagram feed synced with the vision [of the Firsts Concept I was working on]. I knew from the cohesive feel of her feed—and her interest in women as subjects—that she could thread a portfolio.
What I couldn't know was how well she would use her iPhone in unimaginably small windows of time—sometimes just five minutes to capture cover portraits of some of the most important women in the world.
Last September, Luisa arrived in New York City with no more than a tiny suitcase and a tinier iPhone. [...]
Many of the women Luisa photographed [...] have been photographed throughout their careers by some of the greatest photographers in the world. And most photo shoots involve a photographer with multiple lighting assistants, production assistants and crews of helpers.
She concludes by saying that the smartphone has become so ubiquitous in our culture, so essential in the way we communicate, that these top women were surprised at first that something as basic and obvious was being used to snap a portrait that will be distributed by a media as prestigious as Time.
Time is not the first magazine to have integrated a mobile phone to its photographic practice: a cover for Elle Australia was shot using an iPhone earlier this year; same thing with Sports Illustrated and National Geographic.
Of course, it's not the tool you use that counts, but what you do with it, in this case it's the way Luisa Dörr sees her models that's crucial. Kira Pollack adds that; "it enabled the shoots to be much more about the “act” of portrait-making—the gestures, the eyes, what even the most subtle body language can reveal about a person."
"I went from carrying a camera only when I was on assignment, to carrying a camera on my pocket every single day"
For Luisa, who crisscrossed the USA for three weeks for the project, it was a great experience. In this interview, she says that she bought her first iPhone in 2012 and at the time it was only to complement her more professional gear.
Today, it's the opposite and now she can take picture anytime she wants, anywhere, without being encumbered with an expensive setup. She also talks about her shots:
"For me it is difficult to be inspired by a portrait of someone who seems unreachable. For Firsts, the pictures are made with natural light, using only a reflector when necessary. I like the simplicity of how these pictures are made. But the best part is that as a photographer, you feel extremely light and free. It is almost as if I can make pictures with my hand.
Photographing people on the street and my friends with the iPhone is one thing. Photographing powerful, famous women is quite another. At first, it was difficult. The subjects were surprised to see someone like me. I felt like they were expecting to see someone older and more senior, with a few assistants and many cameras and lighting setups
Usually we didn’t have very much time with the subjects [...] so the photographs had to be taken quickly. [...] The shortest shoot was two minutes and the longest shoot was 20 minutes, but most shoots were around five to 10 minutes."
She adds that she tried to imagine these portraits as being more like paintings: "I’m fascinated by the landscapes and topographies from women’s faces, their stories and context. I’m interested in the way life and time is writing on all of them—not just with physical marks but also with more spiritual traces."
She admits that she was a bit intimidated by Aretha Franklin, the first woman to make it to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame : "I grew up listening her music in my village in the south of Brazil. I was very nervous." It really doesn't show, though.
Check out the rest of her work on Instagram.