Peggy Sirota

Master Photographers on Their Art.

Mos Def, Culver City, California, 8 March 2004. Miley Cyrus, Hollywood, California, 31 January 2009. Chapurin Image, Los Angeles, California, 15 December 2008.

I was working at a clothing store, living in Los Angeles – no training or involvement with photography at the time. I was complaining about the money I was making to a friend of mine, who said, “You should buy a camera and take pictures of your friends. I am sure all your friends want to be actors, just shoot head shots of them.” I was good at art, so I bought a camera and did what he said. I started shooting pictures of people in my back yard. I built a portfolio and then I happened to befriend a photojournalist who looked at my pictures and said I should go into fashion. I loved clothing, I got the bug, and I went for it. I went to the clothing mart in LA and – well, it wasn’t easy, but once you get one client they start to roll in.


My style: I studied dance, and the gestural element in my work comes from that. I am generally silly, or I like silly things, or childlike. I love when people break out of what is expected of them. I was always the kid in class who was cracking up and getting into trouble. That element has stayed with me and it has worked out just fine.


I think it takes a good ten years or so to really develop a style for most artists. There was a thread that was part of me that started to weave its way into all that I do today. It wasn’t in the forefront of my mind – “This is where I am going to go, how I am going to get things out of people.” But it was what I was comfortable doing, and at some point it became my style.


I try to communicate with the people I photograph that I want images that are real. If they are feeling sad, or angry, if they are feeling happy – that’s what we want to get to. I want thatgenuine feeling and I will help them get there and I won’t settle for less. Generally people step up to the plate when you have a point of view and communicate it and are kind about it. It is about being genuine, not always about being happy. I don’t just shoot people laughing. I also love it when I can communicate that people are sad, introspective or soulful. I want them to put across something real and it is not easy to achieve this in a short amount of time. It is a beautiful day for me when you hit a few different notes with someone.


I don’t care whether I am shooting in studio or on location; I like both. It is more about the content, what the people are doing and how they feel in front of the camera. Where we are doesn’t really matter.


I like light that looks natural: in general I want the light to look believable. I like to catch people doing real things in a light that doesn’t look overly contrived. I want it to be a perfect moment that just happened!


Working with celebrities now is way different from how it used to be. People would come in and be very malleable, like clay, as if they were saying, “You are the artist and I am a tool for you.” It was very respectful then, but nowadays it is different. Their publicist may want to stand behind the camera, control what they are wearing, will say they don’t look good from some angle. It is like the trust for the photographer is diminishing minute by minute. Those of us who have worked when this wasn’t the case find it really disturbing to work like we have to do now. I might be exaggerating a little, but it is getting much worse. Even in fashion, the publicists stand in the fitting room chiming in when they think their people look good or not. It’s a weird process and not as much fun as it used to be.


I get my fun from unexpected places and it is based on the people I am shooting. They are either really wacky, emotional, putting it all out there – or not. Sometimes when you think somebody is going to be amazing they turn out to be real duds. They can be beautiful, but nothing else. And then out of the blue comes someone who you never expected to be wildly fun, but is absolutely electric.


I have a big family and I am constantly shooting pictures of them. To me that is my biggest project. It’s a lifelong project.


Working with kids can be extremely frustrating sometimes, other times amazing. They don’t have an edit button, they are who they are. They are either really out there, wild and funny; and then other times they can’t pay attention, don’t want to be there, want to move on.


I am always looking at pictures wishing I would have taken them. People left and right inspire me, all the time. I look at everything, always soaking up the visuals.


I would like to direct a movie. I have shot commercials and, for me, there is a lot of connection between the still and moving image. Photography has an impact that is powerful from being a frozen moment, while live action hits a different note. Photography will not be replaced easily.