PIER 59 STUDIOS ISN’T JUST THE LOCATION FOR SOME OF THE MOST ICONIC SHOOTS EVER TO APPEAR IN V, IT’S ALSO LEADING PHOTOGRAPHY’S NEXT DIGITAL REVOLUTION, AND CHANGING THE VERY WAY FASHION IMAGERY IS MADE.
In 1993, when Federico Pignatelli first laid eyes on Pier59, one of the dozens of docks that line the Hudson River in Manhattan from Battery Park City to 59th Street, it was nothing more than the rusty remains of a bygone era—a former cruise ship terminal that had deteriorated into a cavernous ruin. But Pignatelli, a businessman with a passion for photography, saw something else. He had long dreamed of building “the largest photography center in the world.” And he’d just found its address. In December of the following year, an unrecognizably sleek, ultramodern Pier59 Studios opened its door for an opening night gala. The event, which took over the entire one hundred thousand-square-foot space, including all eleven studios (one of those being the largest sound stage Manhattan has to offer), drew an equally enormous crowd made up of the most influential names in photography and fashion. And they kept coming back even after the party had ended: “One after another, we drew all the big photographers,” Pignatelli recalls. “Patrick Demarchelier was the first to shoot here. Then Steven Meisel, and Annie Leibovitz… And because we’ve always encouraged the assistants to develop their own work by allowing them to use our space for free, we’ve also been lucky enough to witness the birth of some of today’s biggest photographers.” The proof: everything from ad campaigns (for Prada, Calvin Klein, Louis Vuitton) and magazine editorial shoots (by the likes of Inez van Lamsweerde & Vinoodh Matadin and Mario Sorrenti for V) to music videos (Lady Gaga’s “Alejandro” was shot at its Santa Monica sister studio, Pier59 West by Steven Klein) and feature films (Pier59 was the workplace for Julia Roberts’s character in Stepmom, and it was also the only studio to get a mention in The Devil Wears Prada). As Pignatelli explains, “The studio is magic because the space is magic.”
But Pier59 hasn’t drawn such an impressive crowd based on majestic design alone. “From the start, the idea was not just photography, but a one-stop shop for talent,” Pignatelli explains. “A creative hub where the clients, the photographers, the models, and the producers are able to create, edit, and distribute complete content.” And these days, Pignatelli’s original vision has never been more complete, thanks to Gloss59. This unique collaboration (the result of a partnership between Pignatelli and Gloss Studio’s Raja Sethuraman and Magnus Andersson) is a one-stop-shop for images in a digital age. Now, clients can shoot (on hi-tech RED cameras), capture, color grade, and edit still, motion, and slow-motion photography in a single space.
But with technology moving at breakneck speed, this is only the beginning. “We’ve grown so much over the past fifteen years, so I cannot predict exactly where we’ll be in the next fifteen,” Pignatelli admits. “What we do know is that we will be continuously challenged by technology—and we will meet those challenges by advancing production to the highest level possible.” Yet while the wave of the future might be the current status quo, Pier59 hasn’t forgotten its roots. “What’s most important to us—the reason why we’ve made, and will continue to make, these types of advancements—is to support the client. When we invest in technology, we’re really investing in people.”