Joey L Gets Real for Lifetime
“I don’t care what it is, I always like working with her no matter what,” photographer Joey L. says about Ilene Block, the Creative Director at Lifetime Television who recently asked Joey to shoot their campaign for UnREAL's second season. The TV drama lifts the curtain that covers the inner workings of reality television. Rather than focusing on the antics in front of the cameras it dissects how reality TV shows are put together, replete with the manipulations and machinations that make the on screen chemistry burn. Good television requires drama and when the drama doesn’t show up naturally it has to be inspired. The two main character of UnREAL, as producers of their own reality show, must make the drama happen whether it’s authentic or of their own creation.
Two portraits support the main image that Joey captured, one each of the main characters. In the set up of taking these photographs, Joey has created more than just a portrait; he has built multiple layers. Joey usually sits with his subjects and draws out of them authentic moments that he captures on film. This time he sat with real people and drew out their characters. It’s a unique creative challenge that he struck with some masterful lighting. “We balanced the lights to match the light that was emanating off the TV. On their set they were shooting with constant light so flashes balance that daylight,” he explains. The two colors - the blue from the TV and the yellower natural light - show the conflicts these women face as they strike their own balances between real lives and the ones they manufacture for television.
As its core, reality TV is a feint at reality. Even in the rawest form of drama, documentary, production has a real effect on the results and that’s something that Joey knows very well. When he’s not shooting commercial work he often takes the role of a documentarian, like on his recent trips to Kurdistan and the Omo Valley. As a photographer he gets as close as possible to showing life as it is, but there’s always going to be some change purely because of his presence. “No matter what you do whenever you bring a camera somewhere to document it you’re changing the reality because you are documenting it,” he says. “The very act of taking a photo and not doing anything to it is implying something in itself.” He’s describing The Observer Effect - when a subject feels a camera on them, their behavior will change, however subtly. In documentary, like what Joey does, they lessen the effect as much as possible. But in reality TV, and in UnREAL, the directors and producers use that effect to their greatest benefit. It’s the heart of their drama, and for UnREAL that’s attracted acclaim and a Peabody Award. It’s an examination of this cultural phenomenon and a recontextualization how we think about our own displays of “reality.”