CP Photo: Lisa Cunningham
Behind-the-scenes of this week's College Issue cover: CP graphic designer Maya Puskaric behind the camera
The following is a paraphrased account of what our Creative Director and Managing Editor, Lisa Cunningham, said to me one sleepy afternoon last week: “We are doing a college nihilism theme. I am looking to really embody the essence of a college student here. I was thinking ... a cover ... like a teen fashion magazine! All bright and peppy but WAY more depressing. We need someone innocent and youthful and then we need to corrupt that. The model needs to look like they are trying their best but is also in a constant state of complete emotional destruction. Also let’s make it cute.”
Okay. I could work with that. After all, stylish yet full of unrelenting existential terror is kind of my daily look.
For portrait shoots, there needs to be a good vibe between the photographer and the subject. To successfully pull off such a specific prompt, I knew I would need to shoot someone who I could resonate well with. I needed someone who I knew could simultaneously display two opposing emotions with their facial muscles alone. I needed someone I knew inside and out. I needed someone I could make laugh and cry in the same sentence. With these variables in mind, it took me exactly three seconds to conjure up the idea to contact my old college roommate.
Who is better to pose as a cute, hopeless college student than someone who I spent my hopeless college years with? Besides, we met on neopets.com and that is probably the closest form of friendship achievable by humanity.
With the model chosen, the next step was to solidify a look. This part of the process was easy. It just took a few hours of throwing clothes all around my apartment and talking to my cat like she has sentience and a fashion sense. At some point amidst this chaos, I ended up selecting a pastel coordinate full of summer energy and sparkly goodness. In short, it was the kind of look equal to wearing a sign reading, “I’m a cheery freshman that still has hopes and dreams — please hurt me.”
When I was a newer, more naïve photographer, I had this grand idea that portrait shoots were a high energy affair, always taking place in luxurious studios full of creative pandemonium. I pictured tables of mini water bottles and fruit trays. I imagined fancy, high-tech lighting and backdrops. Now that I have been at this for some time, I can confirm my speculations were 100 percent true. Except the room is never luxurious and there are no tables of refreshments. Also, the high-tech equipment tends to involve some level of artistic MacGyver-ing random objects around the room. But, hey, at least the spirit of creative pandemonium holds true.
With our model dressed and styled (shout out to my own personal makeup collection for the copious amount of face glitter), it was time to bring out her inner sad college student. I took a couple of test shots and sent a prayer to the lighting gods that the quickly waning natural light from the window would stay consistent for the next hour. Seeing those first images, I almost felt bad for what I was about to do. She looked so cute and innocent in her bubbly, pastel outfit and cutesy makeup. But, I had a prompt to fulfill, and happiness is simply an unrealistic trait to possess in college. It was time to cry.
Based on Lisa’s suggestion, I achieved the teary eyed look by absolutely destroying my poor model’s face with excessive liquid eyeliner and an absurd amount of contact lens solution. She was a trooper. Once her makeup was comfortably in the range between ‘seeing how much textbooks will cost this semester’ and ‘coming home from the bar at 2 a.m. on a Tuesday,’ I started adjusting her poses.
CP cover photo: Maya Puskaric
The finished product
After giving her a few tips and tricks for posing how they do on teen fashion magazines, she picked it up almost immediately. I helped her refine the look by shouting some phrases of encouragement as we went, “You’re waiting for a 61A. Four buses approach. They are all 61Ds,” or, “You walk into your exam. There are calculators everywhere. You are here for an English test.” The mixture of laugh-crying that was spawned from these statements was the pinnacle of what we were there to accomplish. It was the true college student essence.
So, in the end, what does it take to emulate this trendy style of the season? First, you need about $10 worth of second-hand Forever 21 clothes from Goodwill. Second, you need some adorable makeup and the willpower to wreck it entirely. Third, you need a hefty dose of sarcastic despair. Mix those together and you will be looking good always, from moments of college crisis to the casual, everyday existential dread you will have to experience unendingly for the rest of your stressful life.