• 10.14.09

    Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes - Jamie Chung Sees and Photographs it All

    I sat down yesterday evening to converse with Jamie Chung about his recent sojourn across America for ESPN magazine's October issue, "The Body." As I'm talking to Chung, he's in the middle of building a cityscape out of cellular phones. Keep in mind, he has just returned from a two-month trek across the nation the capturing the stresses, injuries, and strengths incurred on athletes' bodies. It's clear that Chung never rests and that his work is in demand.

    From August through the end of September Chung traveled back and forth from New York to Iowa, Florida, Washington, Nevada, Colorado, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and California photographing athletes' hands, feet, ears, lips, jaws, heels, and more. He was in athletes' homes, training centers, and even a Nascar pit, which Chung adds, "was not made for humans."

    ESPN photo editor Amy McNulty on why she chose Chung for this arduous project: "We decided to go with Jamie because we loved his portfolio for it is whimsy, creativity and intelligence. He was exactly what we were looking for... And since he is a so young, we had a feeling he could handle the breakneck travel schedule."

    Click here to view the ESPN online gallery.

    More images and full interview with Jamie Chung after the link:

    I hear you've been traveling a lot.
    You've heard right. It was really great to get out of the studio. I had no idea how much fun traveling was. There were times where we were traveling and traveling and I was really super exhausted but we would still make a point to go out and explore. My assistants are really curious as well. We'd always try to do something fun and meet the locals, just make the most out of the trip because we're in NY in the studio a lot.

    What were some of your favorite places?
    America is crazy; it's so different everywhere you go. Colorado was incredible, it had pristine beauty.

    In Georgia we stopped at this hotel that was being occupied by a roller disco party. They have roller disco parties all throughout America, and this was the biggest one of the year. They go out at 8pm to roller disco and don't come back until the morning. That is pure love.

    How did the athletes respond to being models when you're photographing some of their body parts that have undergone a lot of stress?
    Most of them were really into it. They have to do a lot of press, all these athletes. I made a point of trying to talk to each one of them about the project and having samples to show them of final retouched stuff so that they would see that it's an artistic project.

    Amy McNulty comments, "He went beyond our expectations by completely immersing himself into the project. He really got to know his subjects. He interviewed them extensively about their bodies before the shoots to make sure he got the best angles and shots."

    Did you find yourself forming a bond with the athletes?
    A lot of these people only have 15 minutes and we're trying to get them on board with the right lighting. Others like Cheryl Hayworth, an Olympic lifter, we ended up going to eat fried seafood with her and she invited us to go crabbing. The shot putter (Adam Nelson) was the coolest, most amazing guy. He made us laugh so hard and his wife and kid were so sweet. They were a real pleasure.

    With so much traveling and a hectic schedule, you must have found yourself running into some minor challenges.
    We shot the surfer (Laird Hamilton) in a house in Malibu. All of our grip gear didn't arrive for that, so we had to clamp lights on palm trees in this little cabana bar that they had. We used a pull-up bar to hang the backdrop. It was hard because I'm so used to having all the gear I need. It was kind of almost freeing to do things all make-shift; it forces you to be more creative.

    Jamie's creativity is clearly evident in the final photographs of the athletes. The cracked heels, broken fingers, hard-earned calluses, and battle-worn scars are indicative of the intense training that the athletes put their bodies through in the quest for performance and strength. McNulty's final thoughts on the project are that "...in the end, it hit a raw, honest yet beautiful look at the body which was just what we were hoping to capture."

    -Helen Shih

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