Still Life With Craigslist

November 20th, 2006 by Steve Giralt

Still Life With Craigslist

Photographs by Steve Giralt

Photography, one might argue, is the art of noticing and capturing what’s hidden, or fleeting, or merely often ignored. At least in part, it’s about seeing what other people don’t.

Take Craigslist. Most people would look at the site and see nothing but a sea of classified ads and a collection of discussion forums. But Steve Giralt saw something more there: a community of real people, all of them with stories. Indeed, the New York City-based photographer has relied on Craigslist in almost every aspect of his work—to find models and exhibition spaces, to promote his shows, and, as he puts it, to generally “entertain myself.”

Giralt’s idea was a simple one. Not long ago, he posted an ad on Craigslist seeking people who wished to have their portraits taken. He laid down one rule: The prospective model had to have seen the ad on Craigslist (or else needed to be brought to the studio by someone who had). “I didn’t turn anyone away,” says the 28-year-old Giralt, who hails from Miami and was recently named one of Photo District News magazine’s 30 emerging photographers to watch. “People could come dressed as they wished; my job was to try to capture their personality on film.”

Among those who answered the ad were college roommates, teachers, expectant couples, students, musicians, graphic designers, dancers, Cher impersonators, actors, and professional models. “Each and every person arrived with a story to tell, often one about Craigslist,” says Giralt. “One woman told me a tale about how she found her job, apartment, boyfriend, and furniture on the site.” In exchange for allowing Giralt to take the photographs, each person receives a free print of his or her choice.

“It’s amazing, really,” Giralt marvels. “I post an ad and then usually start receiving responses within 30 minutes. Most times, I have to take down the ad within 24 hours because I have more responses than I can handle. I’m intrigued by how this one corner of the Web has become such a huge part of so many different lives. Craigslist is a world unto itself, and I love photographing it.”

Jessica Jean Turner
Turner says she has “done pretty much everything on Craigslist.” She’s found jobs, apartments, her TV, friends, and “a few weirdos.” When Turner met Giralt earlier this year, she was living in Manhattan’s Lower East Side and “pretty confused on what I wanted to do in New York.” While she says she’s still uncertain about her future, experience in Giralt’s studio has made her less nervous about pursuing a career in face modeling. “I am having a marvelous time in the on the journey to figuring it out,” she says. “And Craigslist has just been absolutely terrific for me! I just don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have that and MySpace.”

Jacob J. King
A 20-year-old student at Pace University, King works at the Banana Republic in the World Financial Center and is pursuing modeling jobs on the side. He uses Craigslist to find paid modeling work and photo shoots that will help him build up his portfolio.

Carmen Shamwell
The oddest thing she’s found through Craiglist? A part-time gig scooping gelato at a maternity store in the summer of 2004. “Don’t ask,” says the 25-year-old Bronx resident. Shamwell wanted to have a nice photo to give to her boyfriend. “And she was very proud of her stomach,” says Giralt, “so she showed it to me for a few frames.”

A week after the shoot, she sent Giralt this email:
Please let me know if you ever need a muse, seriously. It is rare that I take a good picture, and you made me look so pretty. I’ve always wanted to get into modeling, but I just don’t have enough material to go on…with the pictures you just did, though, I am off to a good start! By just posting that ad on CL and asking people for your project, you don’t know how much you’ve done for me.

Jay Lafond and Stacey Alexander
Lafond and Alexander met on Craigslist, and they decided their first face-to-face meeting would be at Giralt’s studio, where they’d have their picture taken. “They were fun, and weren’t afraid to have fun in front of the camera,” says Giralt. “I’m waiting to hear if anything has happened with them since they met.”

Richard Wilson
Wilson is a 56-year-old photographer who began his career shooting babies in department stores, and is now pursuing his lifelong dream of acting in and directing films. “Ritchie was an interesting guy,” says Giralt. “He looks on Craigslist for opportunities to be photographed.”

Racheline Maltese
Maltese is an actor, writer, and media analyst living in Spanish Harlem with one roomie and two cats. She has used Craigslist for auditions; freelance writing jobs; telling people wondering if X, Y, or Z is an acting/modeling scam that it usually is; finding an apartment; buying and selling tickets to concerts and film festivals; trying (and failing) to find lodging in Sydney. She says she sends Giralt’s photos of her to casting agencies to show the range of both her look and her wardrobe. “Everyone says it makes her look like the boy Oscar Wilde wanted to be,” Giralt says, “which charms her to no end.”

Kim Domke
Domke wrote this note to Giralt after seeing the ad: “I’m interested in learning more about/participating in your project. I’m a 23 yr old female, 5′7″, blonde, who used to work in management consulting and recently has delved into sales, promotional ‘modeling’, and conventions. I’ve always been comfortable in front of the camera, but rarely worked w/pros. I’m also a dancer and used to direct a jazz&hiphop company.”

Christine Rubino
A dancer, choreographer, fitness professional, massage therapist, model, and designer, Rubino says she uses Craigslist to find jobs in all these areas of her professional life. Giralt was looking for an Elvis impersonator, and she wrote to him: “I don’t look like Elvis, but I am looking for someone to photograph me as a Cher impersonator. Interested?”

Shabbat Ruscioelli and Joel
Shabbat was seven months pregnant with twins when she and Joel answered the ad. They soon found themselves trudging through a record 26.9 inches of snow to get to the studio. A few months later, Giralt received this note (with photos, of course):

They came out on Easter at 12:40 & 1:10 p.m.
I had a beautiful drug free birth….
and they were absolutely huge!!
He (Theo) weighed 7lb 4oz.
She (Violet) weighed 6lb 8oz.
They were both the size and length
of full term singles!!! -Totally Amazing!