The TIME Magazine 'Women Who Are Changing The World' covers were shot on an iPhone

Brazilian photographer Luisa Dorr on her latest shoot for TIME Magazine

October 06, 2017 06:12 pm | Updated October 07, 2017 07:38 am IST

A lush hedge of pink chrysanthemums stood aloof and lifeless, eating away at the former US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s time. “You have two minutes,” beamed a voice, instructing the photographer to “wrap it up.”

The photographer positioned herself, her hands shakily holding on to the slick stainless surface of her iPhone, and pressed the screen. Two, three, maybe 10 times. No shutter sound, no blinding lights. She had just one chance to get it right.

Back to basics

According to FACES by Steven Biver and Paul Fuqua (the singular reference literature for portrait photographers), the most important concept in portraiture is: “It’s what you do with what you’ve got.” And Luisa Dorr, the 26-year-old photographer at the shoot, did just that.

Clinton was a little perturbed to see a young woman with no equipment, beyond a phone and a light blocker. In fact, so were tennis star Serena Williams, economist Janet Yellen, TV star and actress Oprah Winfrey and 43 other women. Dorr’s kind of photography was a first, and nothing felt more appropriate than for her to shoot TIME magazine’s ‘FIRSTS: Women Who Are Changing The World’ series.

Dorr grew up in Lajeado, a small village in the south of Brazil with a German history, where many of her friends worked as models. Surrounded by the conventional notions of beauty and poise that each Brazilian woman is almost required to have, Dorr chose another path. “I didn’t want to be them, I wanted to capture them,” she says.

A happy accident

TIME ’s director of photography and visual enterprise, Kira Pollack, came across her work on Instagram “by accident” — for all the photos on her feed, she uses an iPhone camera, Snapseed (a free photo-editing app from Google), and shoots in the square format.

On location

Photographs for the FIRSTS series relied solely on natural lighting, for which Dorr used the automatic HDR and a reflector when necessary. “It is almost as if I can make pictures with my hand. There’s no noise, gadgets, tools or plugs — just the subject and myself,” she says.

She recalls the morning of a shoot: oceanographer Sylvia Earle turned up in her diving gear, complete with flippers and goggles, without any notice. The schedules went awry, the setting shifted, but Dorr was enchanted. “Imagine photographing a woman who does what she loves with no care in the world. For the first time, I found myself wanting to not just shoot my subject, but to be my subject,” she shares.

The debate around technicalities, Dorr feels, keeps the viewer away from the real experience. There will always be two kinds of people: one fantasising about the good old times when everybody was shooting daguerreotypes, the other enjoying the ride with whatever tool is available.

Racist overtones

Dorr’s work has also shown her some ugly realities. She recalls a project that, to her, sums up the deep rooted racism in Brazil. Maysa, a seven-year-old girl auditioning for Miss Little Brazil, asked Dorr to shoot her portfolio. Though she couldn’t pay her, Dorr obliged. Six months later, Maysa won the state title of Young Miss São Paulo, under the category ‘Black Beauty’.

“Racism is, unfortunately, very common in Brazil even though most of our people are a mix of several different ethnicities. It’s not common to see many black entrants in beauty contests. But this project helped me stay aware of the dark reality of my country; the racism, sexism, social exclusion, and the struggle to survive,” she says.

Dorr’s work is reminiscent of veteran photographer Annie Leibovitz’s first few portraits when she started out. Leibovitz’s mantra, according to an interview with fotopeta magazine, is, “You can never get everything right.”

What’s Dorr’s mantra? “We never know who is watching us. And maybe one day, you are going to have an opportunity to finally prove that you can do it. It’s always about having a chance. One chance,” she says, “courtesy Instagram.”

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