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Veteran photographer Jeffery A. Salter was on vacation in Venice, Italy, when he found out he would be shooting Serena Williams for the cover of the 2019 Fashionable 50 Issue. Salter was dealing with spotty Wi-Fi issues as he quickly began contacting crew members in London—where the shoot was to take place—to figure out how to properly stage one of the most dominant athletes in history.
Salter says ultimately it was important for him to not only capture Williams’s athleticism but also her royalty and sense of high fashion. It wasn’t going to be easy. The shoot took place only days before Wimbledon, and Williams was forced to show up hours late that day because of a back injury suffered during practice, which required a trip to the doctor. (Williams would make the tournament final anyway, finishing second before battling back issues throughout the rest of the year.) Fortunately for Salter, he was able to break the ice with Williams by recalling a previous time he had photographed her in her closet for a separate magazine.
“Photography is not only about the lights or the camera,” Salter says. “It’s about trying to make a connection with the athlete.”
For the cover, Salter ordered six different columns of varying heights to ensure Williams would be staged in the most flattering manner. In the photographer’s mind, the look captured both Williams’s dynamism as an athlete as well as a sense of freeness. And even with her injured back, Williams quickly reminded everyone why she’s one of the best athletes in the world, no matter the sport.
“While I was doing the testing, everybody in the crew at one point had their leg up on a column, and it was not easy,” Salter recalls. “When Serena came, she did it on high heels. And she was on the tallest column. And it was no problem for her.”
As for how he helped motivate Williams to power through despite not being at 100%, Salter mentions how he involved Williams in the process by having her offer input on the photos as they were taken.
“She’s the top tennis player in the world, and I’m a photographer whose claim to fame is kayaking off the coast of Miami Beach,” Salter says. “It’s really about trust, and you have to build a trust no matter who it is. That’s the key ingredient to a great shoot.“
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