While it would be tempting to draw a canine-centric conclusion—to say that Diana has a thing about dogs, it would be untrue. In reality, Diana has a thing about color. The palette is the first thing that drives a Koenigsberg image. “My inspiration begins with color,” Diana says. “Color always sets the mood, and I like to work with the emotionality of color. I suppose I like to make my photographs be happy. When preparing my images in post, I do go in for saturating the colors. I try to bring the image back to what I saw when I shot it—if the grass was green, I make it really green.”
For SmartMoney magazine, Koenigsberg shot a series of barbecues for a story about backyard living and in typical style, she let color lead the way. For the electric grill, she chose blue; for gas—orange; for charcoal—red. The series of three features the same talent in each shot and has a whimsical, summery feel. Each assigned color theme plays out sumptuously, often with a different hue, to pop a product or face. But besides the color study, there’s a story in each shot, as well.
The housewife with the electric grill, clad in a June Cleaverish dress, apron and pumps, seems worried and we the viewer wonder what she’s thinking. In a principally blue palette, Koenigsberg chose yellow to complement the hues. Lemons stray off a tree onto the ground, going off into the distance and creating a natural, seamless depth of vision that evokes the illusion of being there.
In the gas shot, the talent wears a sexier version of a housewife dress in orange and her blonde hair is caught up in a classy French twist. In this one, she’s positively gleeful about whatever she’s just barbecued. And for the charcoal grill, which is situated in the backyard of a manicured estate, an upscale housewife looks to the camera, distressed or at least highly surprised, as if to say, “What the hell are you doing here?” We feel like the uninvited guest or worse, a persona non grata. Thanks to meticulous layer upon layer of set design, casting, wardrobe and styling, we the viewers feel we are indeed the guests at each barbecue.
“Diana’s work is like looking at a set to a play,” says Gretchen Smelter, design director at Brides magazine. Formerly at SmartMoney magazine, Smelter worked with Diana on the grill series. She continues, “Her work is very theatrical, in the way that she conceptualizes a story.”
Located in Los Angeles, Diana shares a two-floor studio loft with her husband, photographer William Howard—she down-stairs, he upstairs. Their space is housed in a large, boxy cement building adjacent to the Los Angeles River—think dried-out riverbed next to a freeway, not flowing waters, unless heavy rains fill it. But surprisingly, the riverbed is beautiful and natural, evoking an old Los Angeles feel in the center of an industrial compound. The back of the building, which faces the river, looks out on a meticulously designed cacti garden with chaise lounges and end tables.
Diana, who was raised in the Mid-Wilshire district of Los Angeles—the fabled Miracle Mile—attended the Academy of Art and the Art Institute in San Francisco. She then returned to Southern California to attend Art Center College of Design from 1992 until 1995. “Art Center was the opposite of where I was coming from, which was a fine art background,” Diana says. “I thought—‘this is so disgusting; there are instructors here who’ve never shown in a gallery. It’s so commercial.’ What I got was a really good design education. They taught design no matter what your discipline.”
After Art Center, Diana looked for work as a photographer’s assistant. “I was a really bad assistant,” she freely offers. “I was bad at following directions, I was not very technical, I had a hard time focusing and I didn’t make much money at it so it helped keep me desperate. And from the few people who hired me, I learned a lot.” A three or four-day stint with photographer Victoria Pearson stands out in her mind. “She was so nice to her assistants. She went out of her way to be nice,” Diana remembers. “She taught me you don’t have to be a jerk.”
Although she is represented by an agency for commercial and editorial work, Diana believes in putting her own time in to generate business. “I still make phone calls. I still connect with people,” she says. “I think that’s how you get work.” Diana also credits her mother, who owns a silkscreening business called Ellen’s Silkscreening, for any business sense she possesses. Of her mother, Diana says, “She’ll always be eighteen, but she’s very smart, business-wise.” And Diana feels that having an agency rep her has been helpful. She says, “I needed that support to break into the business in a more serious way.”
Koenigsberg looks for projects that have a solid campaign goal in mind going in, but still leave plenty of room for ideas. “I like it when there’s leeway for the images to develop and there’s a collaboration with the art director and photo editor,” she says. “You’re more likely to create images that are original and you walk away with a feeling that you created something.”
Diana also looks for crew people she can depend on to help her execute her complex shoots. “The people I like to work with are from film. They work incredibly hard,” she says. Whenever possible, Diana meticulously pulls color samples and style sheets to act as a guide for wardrobe, makeup and set design. Attention to detail, while sometimes a clichéd catch phrase, is the underpinning of her work.
For Target’s in-house design group, Diana shot an advertising campaign for Club Wedd, the nationwide chain’s wedding gift registry service. Sara Nelson, creative manager at Target, says, “We were setting out to completely re-do this part of our business—we were noticing that we were in the top one or two of couples’ wedding gift registry lists so we wanted to leverage that and market it.”
In a series of color ads (of course), the campaign puts several couples in everyday, but highly stylized, outdoor situations. “We had been doing very, very branded couples in bullseye clothing. This time, we wanted to talk to the emotional side of getting married,” says Nelson. “When I saw Diana’s book, I found her style simple yet graphic, with some humor. Her work captured the moment and captured the talent very well. We also landed on her because of her breadth of work. And even talking with her on the phone, she was really collaborative and gave us a great outsider’s perspective.”
This time Diana had a dictated palette—Club Wedd’s signature colors are a shade of pale blue and white. Nelson says, “I was impressed with how she took that and ran with it. She complements the colors, even in the wardrobe she chose. The talent was still in Targetesque clothing, but it was playful. It’s like Diana herself—there’s a refined preppiness about her, but playful, too. The campaign worked really well. There was a lot of energy around it and people kept asking who the photographer was.”
The brides-with-dogs spreads, shot for Brides magazine, pairs canines with talent and bridal wear using common visual traits and themes. “Diana did so much preproduction to make sure that each dog and every color were thematically tied to the talent—the Shar-Pei was shot with a dress that was tightly gathered in the back and the furniture was Asian,” Gretchen Smelter says. “On the shoot day, we had all these dogs and dog trainers and so many personalities. We had photos of not just one dog, but sometimes multiple dogs in one shot. The model had to look great, the dog had to be perfect—she really pulled it off. And she took it all in stride, even when a dog would run off the set. A lot of photographers couldn’t have handled it. But because everything was so well-scripted, I knew that I was going to have a great shot.”
For a “Flowers and Color” edition of Brides magazine, the assignment incorporated a particular love of Diana’s: gardening. Shot in Pasadena’s gorgeous, lush Huntington Botanical Gardens, the location was not the famed rose gardens or flowery landscapes; Diana chose the Cacti section, evoking California’s desert heritage. She carefully placed the talent in cacti scenes, and brought even more greenery and flora in from a local florist to be fashioned into accessories and jewelry. She was working in familiar territory. About five years ago, Diana took a break from working exclusively in photography and took a weekend job at a nursery for six months. She uses that experience and her natural love of plants frequently.
“We knew we wanted to shoot outside,” Smelter remembers. “She presented the garden idea. It was great. She captured each color so well, the way the dress works in each environment. There’s a depth to the garden. There are cacti but then there are beautiful flowers flowing down a wall. She really looked at the dress and figured out how to tie it in. Each shot is carefully constructed visually and when the reader looks at it, it works.”
Her clients seem to particularly enjoy the actual shoot days with Diana, which in other cases can be stressful and uptight. Smelter says, “Diana’s funny and relaxed. She’s like how you would think she would be from her pictures—light and sparkly. She shoots really well under pressure. She’s a true artist and a pleasure to work with.”
Nelson agrees, saying, “The Club Wedd shoot was actually my first experience at a location. I liked her approach of getting all her ducks in a row. She’s got a really organic way of working. She’s got an amazing crew that knows her and how she works. Some photographers are much more rigid, but she makes you feel at ease. She doesn’t want to step on your toes, but she does want you to know what she’s thinking about.”
Koenigsberg explains it this way: “I think after a while you learn how to be a pain in the ass, if necessary, and make it work.” ca