Being the fly whose job it is to perch on the wall of a tele- vision set is inherently cool. But when you’re the fly who’s photographing stills for Netflix, SHOW TIME and HBO for shows like Orange Is the New Black, Homeland and Girls, it’s pretty much a photographer’s dream job.
JoJo Whilden is a photographer in a small, much-coveted circle in New
York City who is called on to shoot promotional and behind-the-scenes
photos on film and television sets. But before joining that circle, she
was trained in varying fields: She got her start as a photojournalist
at local newspapers in her hometown of San Francisco; then earned
an MFA in photography and new media from International Center of
Photography and New York University while working as a photo editor
at SABA (now Redux).
In 1998, her friend, director Lisa Cholodenko—then a film studies
graduate student at Columbia—asked Whilden to document the mak-
ing of her small, independent film High Art, starring Ally Sheedy. “The
film did really well and went to Cannes, and they used my photos for
publicity,” Whilden says. “I started getting calls [to do other films].”
Whilden resisted at first, citing an unease in giving big studios the
rights to her images. “You have to give up a certain level of control,”
jobs—and became more comfortable on sets—she found she liked the
work, a mix of photojournalism, commercial and fine-art photography.
Plus, unlike many photography gigs, positions in the film and televi-
sion industry are unionized—a huge benefit for those with families to
support. “We’re independent contractors, but covered by the union,
so we get healthcare and a pension plan that the producers pay into,”
says Whilden, who has two children. That being said, “I still have to
hustle for my own jobs and build a reputation; the union doesn’t help
find us work and it’s competitive like any other photography job.”
Another component of film sets is the physical work, which isn’t
easy. Whilden, who manages her own schedule, sometimes has a night
shoot on one show, and a day shoot on the next. “We work 12-to-14-
hour days on sets, so the work can be rough,” she says. Whilden’s go-
to cameras are a Nikon D810 and DF, and she switches between her
AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED and AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G
ED VR II lenses. She also affixes a sound blimp to silence the shutter,
adding 6-8 pounds to her equipment.
On set, Whilden says her biggest challenge is being aware—and not
getting in the way—of crew members while still getting the shots she
HOW JOJO WHILDEN BECAME A GO-TO PHOTOGRAPHER
FOR YOUR FAVORITE TV SHOWS.
By JESSICA GORDON