Chuk Nowak Photographs Kristen Roupenian for The Guardian
British newspaper, The Guardian, recently commissioned Detroit-based photographer Chuk Nowak to shoot a story that, as it turns out, made the cover of their Weekend magazine supplement. For this feature, Chuk was asked to create a series of portraits of author Kristen Roupenian, whose short story "Cat Person" became a viral sensation after its publication in the New Yorker in 2017.
"Cat Person" is a fictional, failed love story of 20-year-old Margot and 34-year-old Robert that garnered millions of shares due to its parallel themes with the #MeToo movement, which was prominent in the media that year. Kristen, initially oblivious to the fact that her story had gone viral, would soon revel in shock: it became the most-read piece of online fiction the New Yorker had ever published, with 4.5 million views.
The article, titled "Boys who love girls who love girls who hate boys who hate girls who get their revenge", speaks to Roupenian’s unexpected success, how her short story has affected her personal life, and was also timed with the release of her first collection of short stories. The forthcoming, "You Know You Want This," won Kristen a $1.2 million advance and is currently being adapted into an HBO series.
The Guardian photo editors Kate Edwards and Caroline Hunter were looking for a very specific mood for the photos, which was to parallel the tone of Kristen's work: isolation, and a lingering sense of unease. They asked Chuk to work outdoors, so the team elected to shoot near Kristen’s home in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Come the day of the shoot, a steady, persistent rain forced the team to make adjustments. Although this became a logistical challenge, the dreary weather was the perfect backdrop for the look and feel they had hoped to accomplish.
“Still wanting to align with the client’s direction, we found a great covered spot near the city's Amtrak station that lent itself perfectly to the brief. Despite the fact that it was a cold and wet Michigan day in December, Kristen was gracious and agreeable to eventually set up a few shots in the rain. We were able to explore freely and make portraits we felt fit the bill.”
Did you have a sense of the client’s goals for this project?
“They provided me with many samples of previous covers to get a sense of the type of photography that defines their visual voice. Although we had many conversations about bringing the tone of Kristen's work into the portraits, I knew that because of the very wide range of their readership, it wouldn't be appropriate to take things in too dark a direction.”
What was your vision for this project?
“I knew I wanted to channel a cinematic look, and I carried some specific scenes from Hitchcock films in the back of my mind while shooting. I like to keep my portrait work clean and well lit, even in moodier situations, to create a sense of separation from the environment.”
What was your favorite part of this project?
“Finding out this feature would be the cover AFTER the shoot majorly relieved the pressure I would have felt If I had known this going into it.
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