Lady Gaga : Photographing The Diva

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Riding in the limo with Lady Gaga & Space Cowboy on route to a venue in Montreal for another performance on The Fame, Canadian tour. It must have been midnight and we’re leaving the hotel for a show somewhere in downtown Montreal. The life of a pop star..hard to keep up…I filmed her Video Tour Diaries trying to maintain her hectic schedule of travel and red eye flights. Snapped this photo in character as we arrived at the venue. That was a wild night.

It all started a week before when I got a call from the Universal Records office in Toronto. I have worked with them on a number of successful album cover photography assignments and Canadian Hip Hop music videos that I’ve directed for Kardinal Offishall. I get a frantic call one morning asking me if I can take this last minute job following Lady Gaga with a video camera on her Canadian tour. I didn’t know much about her or the job but it sounded exciting enough and I accepted. “Where do I go?” I asked. The label’s marketing director replied. “Pack up a bag and your gear and meet her and her road manager David at a hotel in Niagara Falls tonight. Leave now if you can.”

It was all a bit sudden but as Hunter S. Thompson would say ‘I bought the ticket so I have to take the ride.’

“I’ll be out the door in 20 minutes.” I answered. I packed my Nikon D3, a 105mm lens, and my 17-35mm zoom lens and my HD Video Camera kit and my passport. Kissed my wife goodbye and left. I didn’t know what I was in for.

I lived in Toronto in Kensington Market neighborhood so getting down to Niagara falls was a quick 90 minute ride. I get to the Hilton hotel on the strip by the falls and locate David, Lady Gaga’s road manager. We get acquainted and I ask a few preliminaries. When working with a celebrity I like to know what I’m dealing with cause some egos can be sensitive and quite demanding. I like to be on the good side of them at all times, makes for a great celebrity photography and video session.

“Does Stefani like to be called by her first name or should I call her Lady Gaga?” I asked David. “Call her Gaga please” He answered. Alright, phew… Good thing I asked. Next I asked “How’s she feeling is everything going well?” I needed to know where her headspace is at. Is she in a good mood? I don’t want to tick her off. As a celebrity music photographer I have been around a variety of recording artists and Hollywood actors and have seen my share of great personalities and a few oddballs that you need to be weary of. So I’m just checking at this point.

Don’t get me wrong we was sweet as pie the whole time we were traveling on Gaga’s The Fame tour together. I didn’t know what I was in for and I needed to make sure she wasn’t another Maria Carey. Just joking, although there were many stories circulating in the industry about her difficult divaish behavior.

Once I got a feeling for the vibe around the troupe I got my gear out, locked and loaded. I started with my HD Video camera in my hand. I put on a wide angle lens and a shotgun microphone. Tape is rolling, lets go! I started filming the dancers hanging out in the lobby and Nick Dresti, who is Lady Gaga’s traveling DJ, DJ Space Cowboy, was mixing the night’s music on his Laptop. I was warming up my video camera.

Lady Gaga was in her room upstairs getting ready for the show that was to begin in an hour. I made a comment about Space Cowboy’s supercool tie and he started telling me about how Lady Gaga had made it by hand for him the week before by destroying a disco ball. It was a regular old black tie that she took the small square pieces of glass off a disco ball and glued them to the tie , it was so cool. That’s how she is, Nick said, she makes all her own outfits and props as well as the troupes’ clothes. Everything from the Gaga vision Ipod glasses, where she took out the glass screen from two Ipods and wired them electrically together and glued them to her sun glasses to make Gaga vision. How wild is that. There are also the Gaga crystal canes, she even had them in special travel cases that were oversize and required a personal carrier. Not just a pretty face this girl is.

About a half hour goes by and I’m pretty much acquainted with the whole gang and down comes Gaga. She looks me up and down and David introduces me to her and off we go walking across the street to the venue where she is to perform. We exchanged a few words on the way mainly about the rowdy fans that yelling to her from across the road and have a little laugh about it. We get into the Dragonfly nightclub operated by Ink Entertainment which is owned by Charles Khabouth the king of clubs. With over a dozen successful venues in Toronto like Guvernment, Koolhaus, Westlodge and many more premium venues, this one is cream of the crop. Its a gorgeous, large venue with an amazing sound system and great lighting, still to dim for my HD camera so I crank the night vision on. The green overlay of night vision will be converted to black anyway, because Lady Gaga’s Tour Diaries are black and white episodes.

We are in the green room getting ready for the show. The dancers are stretching Gaga is dressing and David is testing the props, and I’m hovering like a shadow all around them filming everything in sight. Lady Gaga is testing the Gaga Vision glasses, this is the first I’ve seen of them. She took apart the two screens from the glasses frame and showed me how she constructed it. Dang, I think to my self this girl is not just a pretty face. An next she takes out her canes which were stored in a heavy duty, transport case. Now it must of been five feet long and help three crystal canes that she also made by hand, and one of them lit up too. Gaga was making last minutes adjustments and we were gluing back a couple of pieces of crystal back to the cane before the show, must have fallen off since the last show. There’s quite a lot of gear she brings along no wonder we need a road manager.

At this point the club is pretty happening and the MC is riling the crowd up in anticipation for her arrival on the stage, crow is cheering pretty much going crazy, its loud, real loud. This was my first time with Lady Gaga and the gang, It was also the first I heard her music, and to see it live to be part of her entourage was supercool. She got on stage with her custom designed outfit and rocked the house. Man this girl can sing, there’s no lip-syncing with Gaga, she’s for real, and she’s dancing none stop too. The cowed was in for a treat and they were eating it up. I shot a lot of video that night going up on stage with Gaga, and at times hiding in the crowd to get their visual perspective, the energy was high, it was a great night.

After the show we had a few drinks at the club and walked back to the hotel on the strip, that was the end of day one. I drove back to Toronto late that night supercharged about going on thins adventure with Lady Gaga.

I met up wit the Gaga and the gang at the Much Music TV studio downtown Toronto on Queen st. I get all access pass at the television studio and go back stage where Gaga is dressing. I have the camera ready and rolling as I follow the dancers getting ready. Gaga is telling about her experience last night at the club performance and she looks like she’s a little nervous now about this TV performance of Lets Dance.

There’s a growing loud crowd of fans outside the large glass windows of the TV studio as they open it up to the public. It’s my first time in the studio behind the talent looking out into the crowd. This is cool I think to myself, usually it would be the other way around, you would be on the other side with the fans looking in and now here you are with the pop star on her crew looking out into the crowd of fans. “So this is what it looks like to be on the star side, exciting.”

The performance was rehearsed a couple of times, there was an issue with the sound apparently although I couldn’t’ tell but Gaga wasn’t happy with and she had them make some changes the sound and on we went for the real deal performance for the show. The cloud loved it, I had to hide from the TV cameras yet still film the behind the scenes action. It was a challenge I was up to. Fun.

The end of the performance we went outside to speak with some fans and do a little interview for Much Music, it was a great success. We walked back to the green room and made out way to the Hilton Hotel on Queen St. by Toronto City Hall where they were all staying. It was prime time now to get our gear, luggage and get on to YYZ, Toronto International Airport.

We have a 2 hour flight to Winnipeg, Manitoba the birth place of Winnie the pooh, then straight the hotel to change and travel to the venue, another show on tonight. No time to eat, we all buy a sandwich at the airport to eat on the plane. I take a breath and go for another ride. We fly air Canada, domestic, here I am at YYZ rolling onto an airplane with lady gaga and crew, thinking “I can get used to this”.

We land in Winnipeg and a limo picks us up and takes us to the hotel where we have about an hour to unwind before getting wound up for another event. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Winnipeg but I gotta tell you its an interesting town, not much to do around there, aint exactly a metropolis. A lot of venues double up and pose at two, kind of like a general store being a convenience store on steroids – food, cloths, medicine and hardware all in one shop. And so, a strip bar will also be a pub, a club hangout for girls, and a restaurant not like Toronto where a club is a place to dance and a restaurant is a place to eat. But in Winnipeg they do things different. Well, this place we were at wasn’t exactly like we expected. It was a regular bar that doubled as a club and a concert hall all packaged into one venue. So this was going to be an up close an intimate show. I have to admin though they know how to have fun, it was packed with guys and girls all cheering and just about going out of their minds going gaga over Gaga.

Here we all got to party with Gaga, the dancers and Space Cowboy, the fans were real great and we stayed after the show and had some fun before retiring to the green room to collect our stuff. The room was a dingy upstairs office type space. Messy and spread out but there were lots of goodies, like food and drinks, and even a whack load of double A batteries that I needed for my video light. We chilled here for a bit the owners of the venue came to say goodnight and we took off to the hotel room.

Its now around 2 in the morning and we’re hanging out in Gaga’s room, jumping on the bed and laughing about the days journey. Gaga shared with me some of her stories about Kate Perry and how she’s always copying her style. Like just last week Kate Perry busted out the Red glove vibe that Gaga has been sporting for a while. I got to hear the juicy gossip about other musicians and rivaling pop stars it was a little surreal. Kinda like celebrity kindergarten. At one point, real late in the night, and remember we have an early morning flight; we’re headed to Montreal the next morning. I had the camera rolling the whole time. I mean, those were my instructions, be Gaga’s video shadow, tape everything and tape everything I did.

Anyway, I helped her pack and next thing I know Lady Gaga is getting changed, with camera rolling in hand it took me a second to realize she was naked, though I did turn away at the clutch moment and didn’t get it on video, I think. Stefani gave me as a gift an 8×10” publicity print of her and autographed with her lip stick “Richie, thanks for shooting… me in my panties, good eye!”

One thing led to another I don’t remember much of this must have been another blackout moment, all I know we are picked up a stretch Navigator truck Limousine at the Montreal airport and are driven to a hotel in Montreal’s downtown. I love this city, it’s a cool place if you’ve ever been there you know what I’m talking about. The bars, the nightlife and the overall fun vibe on the streets, it has a very European vibe to it.

This was it, one last show before we say good bye later tonight. We spent the day traveling from one radio station to another literally back to back for what seemed like all day. Not much eating going on, this girl goes hard and goes all day, I had to keep up with the likes of a pop star and I was getting tired. No retreat no surrender. Gaga did every radio interview spot on, like a machine she had it down, she was confident, quick on her feet had all the answers and enthusiasm to carry the day.

It was quite an experience watching her work it. It aint easy doing 7 interviews back to back being asked similar questions yet being fresh and excited for everyone. It was as if it was her first interview every time, full of energy and life. And like clock work at the end of every radio interview she would be asked to do a few radio shootouts like “This is Lady Gaga on Montreal’ hit station FM 98.1” and she would do around 7-8 versions of that and then repeat it at every station. It’s a lot of work promoting your album.

This was it our final night together. Four cities in 3 days, planes trains and automobiles, literally. Montreal is where I busted out my stills camera and shot all the images of Lady Gaga. In the Navigator limo was the most popular shot of gaga and space cowboy. I photographed them in my usual spontaneous way. Whipping out the camera and snap a few before anyone knows what’s going on then I add some swagger, “give me some attitude” I yell at Lady Gaga in a teasing tone, “have fun with it!” and being the pro that she is, she goes buck wild, sticking her tongue out and making faces and wild expressions.

We get to the venue she’s to perform at. We unload and go in to setup. I catch her in the dressing room walking a round with a Walkman in her hands playing a cassette tape, and I’m thinki9ng dang I haven’t seen one of those in a long time. This girl is old school, with headphone in her ears singing along la la la la la la la la la in escalating tones, then she goes down a note and repeats and this goes on, for a while. She was stretching her vocal chords as she does before every performance. When she was done warming up her voice I called her over to the back room where I found a cool mirror in a grungy storage room and we shoot a few shots if her looking in the mirror.

Always up for shooting, Lady Gaga is a cool chic. We shot a few rolls and experimented with some dirty locations in the back room of the club. It was fun, on we went to the stage for the final show on the Canadian tour. As the night was coming to a close I was a little sad, the experience was coming to an end. Its been a slice, next rest for the wicked. I’ll probably go home eat and go sleep for a week I thought. Lady Gaga, Space cowboy and the entourage including David the road manager had a late night flight to Los Angeles, or was it an early morning flight. Dunno, we were at the lobby of the hotel until 3am when we said our goodbyes; shook hands, got hugs and on they when into the Navigator truck, airport bound.

I couldn’t sleep that night, all jacked up on adrenaline. I ended up walking the streets of downtown Montreal all night till the train station opened and I bought myself a one way ticket to Toronto, sat in my window seat and gazed out the window for the 5 hour train ride home.