How the iPhone accelerated the career of an unknown photographer


iPhone photos
Little league pitcher Mone Davis, one of the subjects Luisa Dörr photographed for TIME
Photo: Luisa Dörr

We post our iPhone photos on Instagram and are often content if an image gets a few dozen likes. Luisa Dörr’s iPhone pictures got her a gig at TIME magazine. With the assignment, she landed the magazine’s cover — 12 of them to be precise.

The resulting work featuring some of the world’s most powerful women was published late last year and accelerated the career of the young unknown photographer from a small village in Brazil.

TIME won Documentary Project of the Year for the story in the prestigious Pictures of the Year international last month and Dörr has since received more high-profile assignments.

The imaging software company Adobe chose to feature Dörr in honor of International Women’s Day for the Adobe Blog. Cult of Mac recently caught up with Dörr to talk about her career-changing assignment.

TIME’s director of photography and visual enterprise, Kira Pollack, was beginning to formulate a multimedia strategy for an upcoming story on women who broke the glass ceiling in their fields. By chance, she was scrolling through Instagram when she came across the feed of young Brazilian photographer with soulful portraits of girls and women. Pollack had never heard of Dörr but that didn’t matter.

iPhone photos
Dörr photographed 40 women for the special issue and TIME created 12 different covers.
Photo: Luisa Dörr/TIME

“I was instantly lured down the magical scroll of @luisadorr’s feed,” Pollack wrote in a blog post for TIME’s website. “There were countless images of women of all ages against ethereal yet raw landscapes. Natural light, lovely tone, each one a studied composition. In her bio line she had written ‘All photos made with the iPhone.’ I tracked her down immediately.”

In September 2017, Dörr arrived in New York City, her first trip to the U.S. She came with a small suitcase and her iPhone. Soon, she was flying to portrait sessions across the country. These FIRSTS – the title of the cover story that references Dörr’s pioneering subjects – included Hilary Clinton, Serena Williams, Janet Yellen and Aretha Franklin.

iPhone photographs
Luisa Dorr
Photo: Luisa Dörr

Many of her subjects, used to photo sessions that involve lights, stylists, lighting assistants and large cameras, were disarmed by Dorr’s equipment, an iPhone and a reflector for directing sunlight on faces.

Some of her subjects left her just a few minutes to work, but Pollack said Dörr was able to quickly gain trust from her subjects and work creatively. In all, Dörr photographed 40 women and TIME published the story with 12 different covers.

“Some were surprised to see TIME magazine making a project with a smartphone,” Dörr told Cult of Mac. “Others didn’t care. (For) the ones with doubts, there was always someone from the project next to me ready to explain the peculiarities of the project…and justify the use of the smartphone.

“Most difficult subject: Aretha Franklin. Plenty of rules, but it was worth it. She ended up singing for us.”

Dörr is grateful Pollack would take a chance on an unknown and “risk so much for the sake of risking.” Pollack’s confidence in her gave her the confidence to work for a magazine and subjects with global significance.

iPhone photographs
Tennis great Serena Williams.
Photo: Luisa Dörr

“It has been a great pump for my career,” she said. “Also, on a personal level (it was) a great experience. The USA market knows I exist and I’m getting emails from time to time with interesting offers, mainly portraits.”

From the village of Bahia in Brazil, Dörr exists like a majority of freelance photographers, experiencing dry spells in assignments, waiting for checks to arrive and shooting what she can to “collect some extra cash.”

Dörr grew up wanting to be a designer, but a photographer relative used to bring her along on shoots and in the studio and darkroom, where she said she began to play around with the tools of the trade.

She went onto to study photography at a Lutheran university in Brazil and soon began shooting weddings and other celebrations.

Dörr bought her first iPhone in 2012 and it quickly became the camera she picked up the most.

“Gear (can) keep you away from the moment,” she said. “In my field, portrait photography is more about not being aggressive or intimidating with the tools. With a smartphone, I look quite harmless to the model. That helps to get a more relaxed atmosphere.”