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Photographing a House of Cards

Times photographer Kirk McKoy on assignment

The first thing I did after being assigned to photograph Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright for the Times Envelope section was to binge watch all 13 episodes of their Netflix show “House of Cards.” I decided the use the name of the show as my overall theme and so purchased four decks of cards — two red decks for Republicans and two blue for Democrats.  Because I had only 30 minutes for the shoot, the house of cards had to be ready to go well before the shoot.

poseI normally like to sketch out a concept with my subjects before I start shooting. In this case, I wanted the main cover photo to show the pair as a Washington, D.C., power couple; I needed Spacey to be the distinguish gentlemen senator from South Carolina and Wright to be the equally strong supportive wife.

For the secondary photo, shown above, I decided to use the house of cards. For the shot to work as planned, I needed the subjects to play with the house of cards and then smash it in the end. For this reason, I glued the first two layers of cards together with rubber cement and then had the actors build the third and final layer as I photographed them. But, for fun, I decided to build the card house on a slant, making it difficult for the third layer to form. My thinking was that I would get better facial expressions as the subjects tried and failed to finish the card house.

It’s always difficult to come up with an idea that will pique the actors’ interests and to get them to play along, but in this case both Spacey and Wright had a good laugh at the concept. At the very end of the shoot, I had the actors throw cards, the king and queen of hearts, at the camera for an additional and different shot. Thanks to two great actors playing along with the shoot, the concept worked well!

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