Photographer Interviews

Delivering on Challenging Assignments: Matt Salacuse’s Conceptual Shoot with Migos for NME

September 20, 2018

By Conor Risch

Matthew Salacuse is known for being able to deliver interesting, fun portraits under time constraints and suboptimal circumstances. Salacuse says his roots in documentary photography have helped him learn “to take what is given to you.” His easygoing, adaptable demeanor also helps him “collaborate with the sitter and find out what they want from the photo, and then work that in to my vision and try to figure out a way together to create something memorable.”

On a recent assignment for music magazine NME, Salacuse was tasked with photographing the popular Atlanta rap trio Migos: Takeoff, Quavo and Offset. A longtime client, NME art director Simon Freeborough usually asks for “one planned shot for the cover and then he says, ‘Do what you do,’” says Salacuse.

He generally approaches a shoot with two or three concepts in mind. In the case of the Migos shoot, he “saw the tight-knit rap trio as one.” He envisioned them as a three-headed creature—an idea based on the “Three-Headed Giant” character from the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail—wearing a Gucci shirt, and asked his stylist to make the costume. “She resourcefully went to Canal Street here in lower Manhattan and bought three knock-off Gucci scarves and diligently went to cutting them up to my specifications,” Salacuse recalls.

© Matthew Salacuse

For the Migos shoot, Salacuse wanted to create a visual pun paying homage to The Three Amigos, a comedy with Steve Martin, Chevy Chase and Martin Short, which meant photographing the rappers in sombreros. © Matthew Salacuse

He hit a snag, though, when the rappers’ PR reps initially nixed another of Salacuse’s concepts. He wanted to create a visual pun based on the Steve Martin, Chevy Chase and Martin Short comedy The Three Amigos, which meant photographing the rappers in sombreros. After that idea was shot down, Salacuse figured the three-headed shirt idea would suffer the same fate. So he didn’t ask. He just layed the “beautiful piece of three-headed art” that his stylist had already made on a table near Migos’s dressing room. “When they walked in it was all they wanted to talk about, and it was indeed the first shot they wanted to do, and it made the cover!” NME even used the famous Gucci pattern for their cover logo and type treatment.

Salacuse says he’ll often “give PR my second- or third-favorite idea up front because I know they are going to kill it. Then I try to loop the artist into the discussion,” he says. “Being straightforward with your subject is paramount” in making a good portrait, Salacuse believes. “It is awkward sitting in front of a camera with a person you just met behind it. Part of being direct is listening to the subject’s needs and putting them at ease with the concept.” Involving the subject allows them to “work freely within the parameters” of the shoot, as it was in the case of the Migos shoot. Not only did Salacuse talk the “world’s three biggest rappers” into his favorite concept, he also got the sombrero shot the PR reps had vetoed.

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