For Park Slope-based photographer Jesse Dittmar, 30, coming across celebrities has become part of a routine.
After graduating from NYU in 2008, Dittmar had assisted world-renowned photographers for five years, including Annie Leibovitz and Martin Schoeller, before securing his first celebrity assignment in late 2013, photographing Sharon Jones.
In Dittmar’s latest creation, “Two,” celebrity portraits come to life. The minimalistic approach of the book is complemented by personal embellishments Dittmar mentions, such as his love of music and its impact on his subjects. (One fun tidbit from the book: It seems safe to say John Oliver is a big AC/DC fan).
Like music, Dittmar’s collection of works has the ability to bridge fans to celebrities who, too, are people.
amNewYork spoke with Dittmar about his work.
In the introduction, you talk about your love of music. How important is music for you?
It’s one of the most important things, as important as my camera. You build an atmosphere. You build a space someone walks into that hopefully feels comfortable to them. And just make it feel like they’re having a conversation. I feel like if you get them engaged in what’s happening to them, you’re going to get an interesting representation of who they are.
You say you have to forget about being a fan on shoots.
Someone like Tom Hanks or Mike Myers — those are the first people that you know of that are famous. One of the first movies I remember is “Forrest Gump.” The primary focus of the work is the interaction between me and the subjects. I want to be on a person-person relationship, so I try to treat them like people. Certainly, I’m not best friends with any of the people in the book. It’s very much a business transaction.
Any fun or interesting interactions with celebrities on shoots?
I put on Stevie Wonder and [Gloria Estefan, Lea Salonga, and Jennifer Hudson] started singing “Superstition” in harmony together. Definitely, we [on the shoot] were the only people to see them cover Stevie Wonder together. It was awesome.
What kind of challenges did you have to overcome?
The whole process from day one, has been a challenge — since before day one. It’s a really difficult industry. I worked so hard just to get my first assignment and worked even harder to get more and more. Every assignment is a challenge in its own right, and every portrait provides its own sets of challenges that are unique and individual. The whole thing has been really exciting, but also really hard.
You were in Lady Gaga’s band when you attended NYU. What was that like?
I haven’t spoken to Stefani since about 2005 or 2006. I’m happy for her success and it’s surreal to see someone you knew rocket to such fame. I hope we get a chance to make a portrait at some point.
“Two” is available at
twothebook.com for $45.