The Story Behind the Shot

Photographer Liz Clayman gives us the scoop behind the Nitehawk Cinema shoot.

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My assignment was to capture an iconic shot of Matthew Viragh, the man behind Nitehawk Cinemas. Since the story profiles Matthew’s successful motion to overturn the New York State law forbidding “the consumption of alcohol in a motion picture theater” it seemed clear we needed to shoot him in the motion picture theater, consuming alcohol.

So we had the Nitehawk beverage director make us a beautiful (and, importantly, translucent, since it would be back lit) mocktail for Matthew to sip, and cranked the projector on to illuminate the otherwise pitch-black theater. I began shooting with a trailer playing on the screen, but the colors projected onto his face were giving it a weird glow, so we switched to a pure white light. Even then, it was pretty dark in the space; I shot on a tripod at a slow one-sixth of a second and Matthew did a top-notch job of staying still as a statue. As I shot, the Nitehawk staff lovingly heckled him from the sidelines. I’m not sure we would’ve gotten such a genuine smile if they hadn’t been there (thanks, guys!).

One of my favorite parts of being a photographer is exploring places the public doesn’t typically get to see. This shoot was one such experience — instead of a theater full of people, I got the pleasure of the quiet, empty space before cocktail hour even began.

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Liz Clayman

Liz Clayman is a freelance food and lifestyle photographer based in New York City. Originally from the coast of Maine, she moved to the city a decade ago and has been photographing food, drink, friends and families ever since. There is nothing that makes her happier than good bread and cheese.