Tom Hanks, 2014; Patti Smith, 2014 (Jesse Dittmar)

Lily Tomlin, 2014: Of his shoot with Tomlin, Dittmar writes on his blog: “What a treat that was. She was sassy, intelligent, sweet and bought us lunch.” (Jesse Dittmar)

Last summer, New York photographer Jesse Dittmar published his first book. It is a collection of 62 black and white portraits of actors, musicians, athletes, politicians and the like, taken with a medium format camera between 2013 and 2015. Its title, “Two,” refers to the pairings he creates in this square-shaped, beautifully printed book. He considers the book to be a “showcase of the beginning of the life I want to lead.”

Dittmar, who grew up in western Connecticut and attended New York University, began shooting notable people while on assignment for The Washington Post in 2013. He has shot more than 100 famous people since, usually using his trusty Hasselblad. He likes that his subjects notice the camera and ask questions about it. Dittmar adds: “It changes the mood of the shoot and elevates it to something special.”

In his blog, he writes: “You have to forget you’re a fan. After you do that, you can learn a lot, like Tom Hanks is a doting grandfather who collects typewriters, Patti Smith hand writes thank you notes … ” In the book, Dittmar pairs the two because their forms “create a visual leaning together, a new, interesting overall shape.” He also likes that their personalities and cultural significance play off each other. He pairs two very different portraits of Lily Tomlin, showing the “range of her personality in both an amazing stare and a genuine laugh.”


Courtney Love, 2014; Jimmy Page, 2014: “Courtney Love is one of those ‘pinch yourself’ subjects.” He pairs her with Jimmy Page and says in his blog: “We had a perfect setting at the Bowery Hotel. … It is where a rock legend should stay and I was lucky to have it as a backdrop. Jimmy Page is rock history. I was humbled.” (Jesse Dittmar)

As a teenager, Dittmar immersed himself in the books of famous portrait photographers like Annie Leibowitz, Martin Schoeller and Richard Avedon, while visiting his local Barnes & Noble. Then, like many budding photographers, he worked as a photographer’s assistant after college. Not many, however, get the chance to do so for some of their idols, as Dittmar did.


Martina Arroyo, 2013; Lupita Nyong’o, 2015 (Jesse Dittmar)

Dittmar shot portraits of Martina Arroyo for The Washington Post in 2013, and he describes her as “the quintessential word of diva in her own day. She was a famous opera singer, significant in pop culture, and now an elegant retired woman, who is still so vibrant and beautiful, and I felt like Lupita [Nyong’o] might be going along a similar path.”


Dave Grohl, 2015: “Dave delivered on his reputation for being one of the nicest guys in Rock ‘n Roll. We had an amazingly wide-ranging chat talking about everything from his daughter’s new obsession with ponies (that he joked was going to bankrupt him) through our mutual respect for the metal kings, Slayer.” (Jesse Dittmar)

Dittmar listens to music during shoots as a way to connect to his subjects and control the atmosphere. In the book, he refers to music as a common denominator and writes: “I bring music to every shoot. … Not everyone loves the same music, but everyone loves music. It’s a human thing, and I’m interested in humans. I love asking questions. I love shaking hands, looking someone in the eye, and getting a sense of what they’re all about.”


Sting, 2014: “Sting came by while we were preparing our sets and lighting and I was surprised by his calm and open presence in the theater. … He lit up when we spoke about chess and the time he played a game against infamous grandmaster Garry Kasparov.” (Jesse Dittmar)

As the opening image of “two,” this portrait of Sting is one of Dittmar’s favorites. He says, “His music is so intertwined with, so fused to my life … it was a just a mountain to put aside [to be able to focus on shooting].”


James Earl Jones, 2014; Al Green, 2014: “It was odd to hear the iconic voice of Darth Vader telling grandpa jokes. He had a great story about getting a private training session from Arnold Schwarzenegger during the filming of ‘Conan the Barbarian.’ ” (Jesse Dittmar)

Dittmar often plays Al Green’s music during shoots. He writes: “Occasionally I get nervous that Al’s lyrics can get a little too smooth for someone I’ve never met. Then “Love and Happiness” plays and that song is too good to worry about excessive smoothness. When we photographed [him] in Memphis, I got him singing and had a hard time getting him to stop.”


Billy Joel, 2013; Vanessa Hudgens, 2014: Hudgens “was full of energy on stage … cute and charming. By the end, we were doing our best Audrey Hepburn impression, which is what this is truly all about.” (Jesse Dittmar)

Dittmar pairs portraits of Billy Joel and Vanessa Hudgens, who played the title role in the revival of “Gigi” on Broadway, to suggest a juxtaposition of types of musical theater — old and new New York.


Aziz Ansari, 2015 (Jesse Dittmar)

Of Aziz Ansari, Dittmar says: “I just saw him at Madison Square Garden. … That happens to me all the time, where I’ll see someone [performing] somewhere and then I’ll get the call. … I really love photographing people, then seeing their stuff because I get a sense for what they’re all about — and then I get to see how they’re different from their work. That was certainly the case with him.”


Mika Brzezinski, 2015; Serena Williams, 2015 (Jesse Dittmar)

He pairs Mika Brezenzinski’s portrait with that of Serena Williams as “two strong feminist beings. … They’re so different, but strong individuals that had a powerful presence.”


Cuba Gooding Jr., 2015; Michelle Dockery, 2015 (Jesse Dittmar)

Paired for their similar gestures, the portraits of Cuba Gooding Jr. and Michelle Dockery were shot most recently and the last grouping in the book. Ending the book with these portraits seemed to Dittmar like the “perfect punctuation mark.”

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