Hatching a plan to cover Lady Gaga’s egg
I’ve covered all of the big Los Angeles based award shows and multiple Grammy Award shows, but I’ve never seen something like this. Was Babylon 5 making a comeback? Nope – just Gaga being Gaga.
I started to set up my equipment at my assigned spot on the 53rd annual Grammy Awards red carpet around 10:15am. My assignment was to cover red carpet arrivals with Lucy Nicholson photographing the show and Mario Anzuoni backstage photographing winners with their awards. Arrivals began at 12pm and lasted until 5pm. At about 10:45am we had a visit from an organizer saying that 1pm would be a bad time for a bathroom break. We started to ask questions and the answers were vague such as variations of “believe me you will want to be here, trust me.” We began to deduct through cryptic messages that it was regarding Lady Gaga’s arrival as that was everyone’s best guess and it made sense after covering her in the past.
As more photographers started to show up, the word circulated about the 1pm slot and we were told that the red carpet would be cleared for “something”. Words with question marks floating around included a vessel, a cocoon, a carriage, an enclosure. Eventually the cryptic Lady Gaga talk ceased and all of us photographers were told that her enclosure would stop in the center of the backdrop, she would be inside and she would not come out of it to pose for photos. Would we even be able to see her? What is it? How large is it? We weren’t sure. Photographers were trying to come up with ideas of what was possible. Would she walk with a transparent cage around her? Would she be encased in a glass dome? Was it something attached to her? People were asking everyone to try to gather a clue on what to expect. For some reason I started to envision her inside a huge hamster ball or some sort of plastic balloon like how some gift basket companies package stuffed animal gifts.
My main concern was not really what it would be, but how big it would be so that I could be prepared with the correct lens. The enclosure would be about 10 feet from us and if it was large I had to be ready with a wide angle lens. I was asking if it was vertical, was it horizontal, was she standing, was it about her height, was it larger than the backdrop, etc, but I couldn’t get a concrete answer. We weren’t allowed to walk around to get different angles, which is standard at award shows and other red carpet events. Only those with red carpet roaming access can move around on the carpet, which is usually reserved for the event’s official photographers. I had to shoot from my fixed position and I needed to be as creative as I could be from that position – as prepared as I could be to adapt to wherever something happened on the red carpet. What I could see from my position was all the opportunity I would get to capture a strong image.
I was using three cameras. Two Canon Mark IV bodies one with a 24-105mm f/4 and another with a 70-200mm f/2.8. The third body was a Canon 5d Mark II with a 17-35mm f/2.8 which I mounted on a magic arm clamped right in front of me. With a pocket wizard that camera could be triggered wirelessly when I used another one of my cameras to get two shots from two different lenses at the same time. Since I was unsure about what would happen with Lady Gaga, I made sure my remote camera lens was set very wide in case this cocoon/enclosure was bigger than expected and since the 5d Mark II is a full frame camera (The Mark IV has a 1.3x crop factor) it utilized the full wide ability of the lens.
12:55pm came, we were all set. But where was she? 1pm passed, and still no Gaga. 1:15pm – no Gaga. 1:30pm – no Gaga. On various occasions the red carpet area was cleared and musicians and talent stopped posing to keep the area clear. Each time after what appeared to be a false alarm, they resumed posing. Then finally around 1:45pm, we received the official word that she was on her way down the carpet. I turned on the transmitter attached to the camera with the 24-105mm on it. We leaned out from our spots to see an egg-like object surrounded by a crowd seeming to float down the carpet above the heads. All the photographers were trying to lean over the wooden wall in front of us to get an angle, with each blocking the next behind them. I leaned out and was able to get a glimpse of the egg object with my 70-200mm and shoot some frames of it way down the carpet.
As it approached closer I changed to the body with the 24-105mm. There it was, the egg was being carried by four men and a woman holding the side of the egg. The carpet was full of people shooing other people out of the way to make a clearing. Photographers that were allowed to roam on the red carpet were all backpedaling and shooting. One photographer on the carpet was even holding up his camera like at the end of the super bowl trying to get a shot from a higher angle. The contraption moved past the photographers and it was in front of the backdrop from 1:48:21pm until 1:48:29pm for us to photograph it. Yep, eight seconds, all while moving at a steady pace as it was carried past. But then it stopped after it passed us.
I switched to my 70-200mm and tried to zoom in and see through the egg object, but it was very difficult and almost impossible to see inside. I saw something moving and it seemed to be pressing their hands up to the side of the egg object. I hadn’t noticed anything inside until this point. After stopping for a short time the contraption was brought back in front of the photographers to pose some more.
I’m not sure why it came back, perhaps it was because of the screams from the photographers or perhaps it was supposed to stop and it didn’t. It was so large, that I took my 5d Mark II off the clamp mount in front of me and shot with it hand held with the wide angle lens. I then switched back to my 70-200mm and tried to zoom in to see Lady Gaga through the egg again. Here I got some shots where you can see a face wearing sunglasses and she pressed her lips to the side of the egg appearing to kiss.
They walked away and that was it. About 1 minute and 40 seconds of my Grammy day.
“COME OUT!”, “WE CAN’T SEE YOUR FACE!”, “OPEN THE EGG!”, “SHOW US YOUR FACE!”, “OPEN THE TOP!” were some of the things photographers were yelling. We couldn’t see Lady Gaga inside and that was frustrating. All I could see was some sort of movement inside including hands pressing against the side of the egg-shaped vessel and sometimes a face. The four men and the woman with the vessel didn’t speak and stayed very calm as if drone-like. Nobody seemed to respond to all of the outrageous yelling coming from the photographers. We asked a roaming photographer if he was able to get a shot of her getting inside as he was able to walk all the way to the front of the red carpet area, but he said no. One onlooker even mentioned that he saw the whole contraption being carried down the street outside before it even got to the red carpet area and how odd it was to see that.
Photographers were looking at their photos on the back of their cameras trying to see if they got a shot of her face. We didn’t know if maybe we were supposed to see her face but it got all fogged up due to her being inside. People were asking how she was breathing. There appeared to be a fan in the egg and later reports stated that she had an oxygen tank which was also one photographers’ discussion point after it was all over. I heard a couple of people even have a conversation about a possible stunt double, but I think they were just making that up and poking fun at the situation. We were all trying to figure out what we just saw.
The Egg was gone, but the job wasn’t. I immediately removed the card from my camera and downloaded it to my computer using Reuters’ remote editing software. With Sam Mircovich editing and Herman Beals and Rick Wilking processing the photos the pictures where able to reach clients worldwide extremely fast. One of the photos was used right away on the front of MSNBC.com.
I got an email later on that evening, with an attachment from my Dad with a photo of his TV screen. “Your photo of Lady Gaga’s entrance was used on NBC Nightly News…the national news…tonight. I saw the photo and froze the TV frame, matched the angle, foot positions, fingers, expressions and such with your photo and sure enough it was YOUR picture.” Thanks to my #1 Fan!