Jesse Dittmar is a celebrity portrait photographer and 2008 Gallatin grad. Publications featuring his work include Rolling Stone Magazine, The New York Times, New York Magazine, Elle, Vanity Fair, Esquire, Vogue, Time Magazine, The Washington Post, and The Los Angeles Times. Some of his favorite portraits sessions to-date include Tom Hanks, Patti Smith, John Oliver, Dave Grohl, Steve Martin, and Aziz Ansari.
I bring music to every shoot. James Brown is best. I don’t think it is possible to dislike some James Brown. He can bring you up; he can quiet you down. Mostly he just makes people want to dance.
Sometimes I’ll play AC/DC. It’s a bold play because AC/DC is not background music. John Oliver walked onto set while “Back in Black” was playing and said “Yeah! Who the hell doesn’t like AC/ DC?!” Exactly. Who doesn’t like AC/DC?
I also love to play Al Green. 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 in Memphis, I got him singing and had a hard time getting him to stop.
I’m a big fan of Stevie Wonder on the playlist. He is great to sing along to. It can be difficult to ask someone to sing on a photo shoot, but my favorite pictures can be just after someone has stopped singing. There’s a cathartic release and then some calm. I like that calm a lot.
Everyone loves music. 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.
The people I grew up watching and listening to are the ones that make me sweat most on a shoot. You have one-way relationships with these people for years before you could ever know you will photograph them. Suddenly you have to let all of that go. 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 handwrites thank you notes, talking about chess makes Sting smile, and Mike Myers cares most about being a new dad.
Anne Farrar hired me to take my first celebrity portrait a little over two years ago. Since then I’ve been asked by many wonderful people to do it again. This is a selection of some of my favorite portraits in my first two years. -Jesse Dittmar