Amid the luminosity of a camera’s flash, we focus on the worlds of two powerhouse talents: “Jennifer Hudson” and “Naomi Watts,” as captured by Tatijana Shoan‘s masterful lens – which earned her an illustrious Photography 2023 Gold award for AS IF Magazine. Hudson’s journey, defined by meteoric rises, unyielding determination, and luminous moments of both personal and professional brilliance, contrasts with Watts’ radiant yet chameleonic presence on screen. The story blends the playful exuberance of pop art with the evocative depths of figurative painting. The photographs stand as a tribute to the legacies of Hudson and Watts and to the evolving symbiotic dance between celebrity, fashion, and the ever-insightful eye of the camera.
By: Tatijana Shoan
Chicago-born Jennifer Hudson’s life story embodies the American Dream: if you work hard and dream big you can achieve your dreams no matter who you are or where you’re from—the caveat being you need to have talent, and lots of it. Hudson is the cream that steadily rose to the top starting in 2004 when she was a contestant on American Idol. Though she didn’t win the prize, she went on to garner a slew of greater awards that cast a Mount Everest shadow over winning the top spot on a reality show.
Hudson quickly earned the attention of the Hollywood producers of Dreamgirls (2006) for which she earned an Oscar for her emotional and powerful performance as Effie White. In 2008 unthinkable tragedy struck when her mother, brother, and nephew were killed in a shooting. The following year Hudson resumed her public life and performed the national anthem at the Super Bowl, then went on to win a Grammy for her debut album, Jennifer Hudson. In 2010 she performed at The White House, in 2013 she received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and in 2015 she made her Broadway debut in The Color Purple, which also earned her a Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album. And, she is one of the most beloved judges on The Voice, both in the US and across the pond in the UK. Fans can now see Hudson on the silver screen in the film adaptation of the musical CATS in the coveted role of Grizabella. Even those who have not seen the musical know Grizabella’s iconic song, “Memory”.
Jennifer Hudson has secured her rightful place in the zeitgeist as one of America’s brightest stars. To have the honor of working with her for our 16th issue meant we had the responsibility to elevate this cover feature into a joyous celebration that ultimately captures her essence. We knew we had to solicit the work of an artist whose message is fun, celebratory, colorful, and uncompromising. The artist we all ultimately wanted to work with was Ashley Longshore. Longshore’s recognizable style of unapologetic, bawdy, and whimsical eye-catching portraits take a variety of public figures from today and yesteryears, such as Mother Teresa, Frida Kahlo, George Washington, Audrey Hepburn, and Lil Wayne, and imbues them with a pop art stamp. A colorful bejeweled painting of Ruth Bader Ginsburg has her wearing a T-shirt that reads, “I Wish A Bitch Would”. She takes everyday objects, both mundane and extravagant, and presents them through a democratic and tongue-in-cheek lens. Oversized paintings featuring bottles of champagne with the words “Bottle Fed”, or a canvas full of flowers with the words “Major Pootang Does Not Fly Commercial” demystify our insatiable appetite for wealth, fame, and media culture. Longshore’s work is hopeful and inspires viewers to dream big. The ideas on display in her paintings presented exciting possibilities when paired with a performer who symbolizes the American Dream. With CATS as our inspiration, Longshore cleverly painted looks from our favorite designers who used cat patterns on the runway and dressed Hudson ala, paper doll. We then used a mélange of cat prints and other motifs found in Longshore’s paintings to create the pop world Hudson inhabits on the pages.
Naomi Watts has lit up the screen since her infamous break-out role in the David 2001 hit, Mulholland Drive. She has that rare quality all actors desire—a bankable brand synonymous with both beauty and excellence. Yet Watts knows how to conceal her 10,000-watt persona behind every acting role she undertakes. Her boundless acting range indeed demonstrates she can command any role in any genre. It’s a magical combination that directors and producers always want in their stars. Indeed, one of Watts’ secrets to success is her remarkable ability to be both movie star and girl next door, in other words, both approachable and incomparable. Whatever the project, critics are quick to praise this Oscar-nominated actor who transports her audiences to the world she is inhabiting.
Watts proved her fortitude as a struggling vaudeville actress against a mighty gorilla god in the blockbuster hit, King Kong and a journalist investigating a virulent videotape in the nail-biting thriller, The Ring. She then survived the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami in the true-life disaster drama, The Impossible, played a grief-stricken mother in the crime drama, 21 Grams, and a beauty queen with an identity crisis in the self-described “existential comedy,” I Heart Huckabees.
Watts has also graced the small screen in several series, including Showtime’s The Loudest Voice, where she played Gretchen Carlson, the former Fox broadcast journalist who was the first to file a lawsuit against then Fox News Chairman and CEO, Roger Ailes, for sexual harassment, and Netflix’s Gypsy where she played a psychologist who secretly infiltrates the private lives of her patients. Her latest role in the film, Penguin Bloom, is based on the true story of a woman, wife, and mother who becomes a paraplegic after a devastating fall from a balcony while on vacation in Thailand. She and her family later take in a wounded magpie that gives her the strength to emotionally cope with her changed life.
With over two decades as a superstar, Watts has now set her sights on another passion, ONDA, a clean beauty authority where people can buy and experience natural beauty products that are ethically sourced and wonderfully nurture the body. This move toward environmentally responsible consciousness is a priority for Watts and an extension of who she is.
AS IF wants to celebrate this inimitable actor and her passions in a visual presentation that surpasses the typical magazine editorial and becomes a work of art that tells the deeper story. To do so, we have collaborated with the Italian figurative painter, Max Pellegrini, celebrated for his large-scale compositions that fill a canvas with rich colors and iconography. Pellegrini draws freely from a range of disparate sources, including Old Master paintings, pop culture, contemporary life, music, religious iconography, literature, and fashion. He combines these references in landscapes and narrative scenes, often featuring human figures from different eras and environments, while portraying his female figures as emotional poetic symbols.
Learn more about Tatijana Shoan and AS IF Magazine here.