Photographer Molly Cranna
Molly Cranna is a bicoastal photographer specializing in fashion, portraits, and still life with an emphasis on interesting people and interesting things. She enjoys problem solving with color and is partial to straight lines. She likes hotdogs and Johnny Walker Black.
SS // Okay, so what’s your story. You transferred from studying film production in college to visual production in fashion photography - what caused the transition? How did it happen?
MC // It’s a little different than that. I got my bachelors in film production from USC, but when I graduated, I was a bit at sea. I didn’t want to be a director or DP, but I knew I wanted to work on set, so I went to makeup school and started working as a makeup artist. That instantly felt like the wrong fit, but I was able to work consistently (I wasn’t great, but I knew a lot of people who could hire me). During this time, I picked up a camera again (I had done a lot of darkroom photography in high school) and started shooting in my spare time. I got to a point where I was ready to make the transition to photography, but still had a lot to learn about strobes, so I did a summer course at SVA in fashion photography.
SS // What was the moment when you decided you were going to shoot for a living? What was the “aha” that made you go, ok, I can do this… and only this. That takes courage, no?
MC // I can’t pinpoint an exact moment, but during the time that I was working as both a makeup artist and getting some photo gigs, it was clear that one thing was working and one thing was not.
SS // What was your first big break?
MC // Not long after I signed with my rep, I got awarded a pretty huge job with Samsung. This was, like, a $500k production and I had never even worked with assistants before. To this day, I’m still wondering if they maybe meant to hire someone else and didn’t realize it until it was too late? To be fair, I faked it ’til I made it and the work was absolutely passable and everyone was happy. Even though it felt like a fluke, I learned so much and started getting lots of ad work after that.
SS // The people you select to photograph are not your typical beauty - they are so much more interesting. What do you look for when choosing your models?
MC // I like non-traditional faces - that’s what interests me in images. I like the challenge of finding diamonds in the rough - especially in LA where everyone looks like a Pac Sun model. It’s also very very important to me to cast diversely. It always has been.
SS // How does your approach to photographing models differ from objects? Do the two routes have different end goals?
MC // To me, it’s all about interesting shapes and moments. Creating an unexpected moment, whether there’s a human involved or not.
SS // There seems to be a strong element of control in your work. Is there something that attracts you to styling everything top to bottom as opposed to photographing people and objects in their ordinary nature? What is your intention behind your styled work?
MC // Honestly, I’m just a control freak. It’s most satisfying to me if everything is perfect. Sometimes I try to purposefully skew lines just to see if I can break myself out of the parallel and perpendicular world, but it always feels awful.
SS // Is there a specific feeling that you're trying to create with the items in your images? To many, a modern minimalist can come off as empty, but how do you give it meaning? When your body of work comes up in conversation, what do you hope people say or feel?
MC // This is a real work in progress for me. I’m really visually oriented, but not so much narratively. It’s part of [the reason] why I couldn’t figure out where I fit in the motion world after film school - stories don’t interest me as much as visuals. That said, I like for things to feel beautiful with a hint of strange. For moments with people, I always want them to feel authentic… But when it comes to meaning, that’s still a work in progress.
SS // Are there recurring challenges you face when photographing obscure objects?
MC // Sure - sometimes an object is great in form, but the shadows it casts are bulky and distracting. There are also things you discover the more you shoot still life. Shoes are generally pretty easy, but sunglasses and backpacks are super tricky. Watches with gears or batteries are annoying because you constantly have to keep resetting the time. Just little things like that.
"Look at LOTS of work but examine everything as a skeptic. Don’t become obsessed with other peoples’ work."
SS// How do you come up with the vision for your heavily art directed studio shots? Do you collect items ahead of time and anticipate their styling….?
MC // Some of it comes from trips to Goodwill and lucky finds. Other things are ongoing fixations, like teeth and orthodontia. The broken phone [photo I took] was honestly just my phone after a really bad accident.
SS // In 2016 you shot some epic portraits of our US Summer Olympians. Who is on the bucket list for dream subject to shoot?
MC // Ahhhh this is hard. Barack Obama, Tilda Swinton, Lil’ Wayne, Timothee Chalamet, Zoe Kravitz
SS // You’ve shot for Beats by Dre, Adidas, GQ, Playboy and many more… Whats been your favourite editorial shoot to date? Explain the shoot and why.
MC // The US Olympians for People Magazine. I hadn’t photographed athletes before and I was so taken by how comfortable they were in their skin. They were easy subjects and I was given full creative control, so it was really a dream shoot.
SS // What would the ideal way be for people to see your work? Blown up on a wall? Hung in an eclectic gold frame?
MC // On a billboard in Times Square.
SS // Do you collect/enjoy other forms of art besides photography?
MC // I’m super into furniture as art. My boyfriend and I just bought a house and I’m excited to get some new pieces.
SS // What’s the #1 piece of advice you’d like to give to a young, aspiring creative who’s trying to get into the business?
MC // Look at LOTS of work but examine everything as a skeptic. Don’t become obsessed with other peoples’ work. Let it influence you, but don’t copy it. Don’t spend too much time on Pinterest. Spend time outdoors or in interesting buildings and with interesting people. Try to come up with your own ideas that you’re excited about.
SS // Obviously, trends ebb and flow. You are known for your pastel hues. What do you think is the hottest color pallet to be shooting with this year?
MC // It’s a tie between primaries and nudes. I have a lot of respect for both.