FX’s Pose entered its second season last June, and it’s hard to put simply how much this show means to the queer community. Season two followed the cast in diverse situations. A tribute to a character passing. An escape to the beach. Queer folks finding their way in and out of the ball scene. The ground-breaking series’ second season expanded its world in creative and thrilling ways.
I had the privilege to speak with Andrei Bowden-Schwartz who shot 9 episodes for season two for Pose. The cinematography in Pose stands out in many ways. The show is set in the late 80s/90s New York City, and the feel of the city at that time frame was different. Pose transports you to this place.
The way Pose frames its characters is also incredibly special. Film and television have struggled with the way they have shot folks of color and queer bodies. Pose emphasize the strength and power of the characters. The very nature of the cinematography itself sets the series apart from other television. One shot that from season two that will remain with me forever: Pray Tell (Billy Porter) holding Ricky (Dyllon Burnside) after their first sexual encounter. Watching two black queer bodies framed in this scene was truly an iconic television moment.
Here is my conversation with Andrei about shooting Pose.
Awards Daily: What was it like to work on Pose? What has working on this show meant to you?
Andrei Bowden-Schwartz: It’s really an incredible experience, and the kind of experience most cinematographers look for in their career. You could spend your whole career looking for an experience like this. This is the kind of job that becomes more than a job, and it informs how you see the world, when you work on a show like this.
Seeing this show opened my eyes to the lived world of many people. It’s not like I lived under a rock, but the depth of experience is something I am very grateful for. Making this show with people like Steven Canals (the show runner) Janet Mock, and Ryan Murphy who know what they are writing about. My job is to see through the eyes of the director as much as possible. It really inspires you to bring these words on the page to life. There is a profound sense of inspiration. In this context, it has a more deep and fundamental meaning. This type of work does change how you see a shot, but takes your work to the next level.
AD: What films or TV shows inspired the way you shot the show?
ABS: There are always some obvious references, Midnight Cowboy, Desperately Seeking Susan. I pulled much more from photographers Joel Sternfeld, Larry Clarke Joel Meyerwitz, and old NYC photographers.
I always had a difficult time with references from film and TV. There are no other television shows or movies that resemble our show and the personal experience we convey. Robbie Muller (Paris, Texas) did influence me from an aesthetic point of view too. The characters themselves are more the inspiration. The things we make on the show from the costumes, to the music, and the dance moves all become a lived experience and reference.
I am from NYC, and I was alive during this time but did not live in this space. I wanted this show to be shot with honesty and memory to the time period. The show brings a feeling and emotion that is so important.
I also looked to non-NYC films like Boyz in the Hood. It has an open framing, emphasis on wide angles. Another great reference I had for this was Belly because of the movie’s desire to get under the skin of these supposed gangsters. That movie is asking you to see people you think you know but see them in a spiritual and emotional way that is different than you expect.
AD: What was it like taking Pose into a different location in the episode “Life’s a Beach?”
ABS: We had a lot of fun shooting this episode. The episode was directed by Gweneth Horder-Payton and written by Janet Mock and Our Lady J, and shooting this episode was really a collaboration. This episode was the culmination of a beautiful and great arc. The episode had some beautiful emotional scenes. The story was coming out of a dark place, and it was great getting to really go out into the sun and play, and something these characters deserved. Life does not always live in the shadows, but many of these characters are skirting this. The writers are trying to show all the different sides of life, and I worked with them in order to highlight the way these stories come to life.
There is also a lot of tension in the episodes because it was not a place they would normally be. You get a sense of their relief, and joy in the moments when they are able to see themselves outside. It was very difficult to shoot that episode. Being outside in the day and public and creating interesting frames that have that feel of the era. I worked with the production team and knew that would be difficult, and they were very generous with making this possible. I wanted to make sure the sunshine was there on the skin, and making sure this was highlighted.
Shooting this show and being a part of this experience is one of the most important career experiences I have had and I am glad I get to be involved in bringing these stories to light.