I researched Philip-Lorca DiCorcia’s method of working while doing Context and Narrative (posting can be seen here) so I will only be adding a few points here that I may have missed back then.
As DiCorcia explains in his short video below, when making his Heads oevre, he made use of scaffolding on a sidewalk in Times Square. He mounted two flash guns on the scaffolding which he triggered wirelessly. He used a telephoto lens on his camera and did not particularly conceal himself. Having set up his “stage” he would then wait for an interesting character to walk into the lighting zone where his flashes were set up and make his photograph. He took over 3,000 images to obtain the 17 that makes up the body of work. At no time did he ask permission from any of his subjects. He did not converse with them at all. Years later he was taken to court by one of the subjects who stated misuse for commercial and advertising gains, but the judge ruled in DiCorcia’s favour stating that one could not expect any level of privacy in a public place (especially nowadays with all the surveillance cameras that abound).
As seen on the video DiCorcia’s subjects all appear to be emerging from darkness into the light – beautiful chiaroscuro so reminiscent of the Renaissance painters like Carvaggio and Gerrit van Honthorst (see below). The subjects are caught up in their own thoughts, flickers of various emotions crossing their faces. Not much can be gleaned from the background. We now know that the photos were ‘staged’ inside a scaffolding tunnel and as such can hunt for further clues to collaborate this and we do find a few: the out of focus strip neon lighting overhead in a few of the photos; the condensed crush of bodies in others and of course the all encompassing darkness in all of the frames. Any one of the subjects that passed through DiCorcia’s zone of light could be one of us. Recognition is triggered by looking at their expressions.
Tate Modern (2010). Philip-Lorca diCorcia – “Heads” (2010) [user-generated content online]. Tate Modern. 15 September, 2010. 4 mins 41 secs. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bpawWn1nXJo [Accessed 23 July, 2016]
Gerard van Honthorst – Unknown, Public Domain. Available at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=403558 [Accessed 23 July, 2016]