Serena Williams is a Superhero for Douglas Friedman
Serena Williams is coming off of a mixed summer. She had wins and losses, but one thing is for sure: her status as the apogee of sport remains cemented. It’s going to take a lot more than a single loss here or there (regardless of the prominence of the game) to change that. When Douglas Friedman caught up with her for a feature in Harper's Bazaar it was like butting up against someone who goes beyond pedestrian humanity. “You’re literally in the presence of a superhero,” Douglas says. “Of course it’s inspiring. She’s the most beautiful creature you’ve ever seen. It’s really incredible to work with her.” She has reached basically as high as anyone can be in her sport, effectively competing only with herself, but her grace never falters whether she’s on the court or on set.
“Who she is transcends those normal boundaries of what defines regular people,” explains Douglas. “She’s Serena Williams. But then the big surprise, what makes her so special… She’s so kind. She’s so warm. She’s so smart. She’s so giving and generous with her time and her spirit. She’s so larger than life but she’s so unbelievably accessible when you’re with her.” That accessibility was crucial for getting the shot that Harper’s Bazaar wanted. And from the beginning, Douglas knew it might not be an easy get.
It can be tricky to approach a star like Serena Williams with a high concept shoot. In every project, you want the images to stand out against the library of pictures of these people. Thousands, if not millions, of photographs exist of Serena Williams so it’s up to Harper’s Bazaar and Douglas to make something unique. When Douglas caught up with her, it truly could have gone either way. He was on assignment to get an energetic and fun photograph and couldn’t be sure how Serena was going to react. “I’m tasked with a rather interesting and challenging concept given by the magazine. Air guitar on the street with a tennis racket on the street, Serena,” says Douglas. “An interesting concept to approach someone with and it could have gone either way. I was kind of expecting her to be like “What? Really?” But you ask her and she delivers. That’s how she approaches everything and there’s no holding back. It was so much fun to work with her.” Serena’s willingness to play along made for an expedient shoot, capturing exactly what they needed in a way that set everyone up for success.