Although her empire is built on being true to oneself, Oprah herself remains an enigma, even to Marcia Froelke Coburn, who met her a few times between 1985 and 1998, when she interviewed her for an hour. The contrast between then and now—researching this month’s Oprah Unbound—was striking. “It forced me to realize how protected she is from everyone now, how many layers or barriers she’s put up,” Coburn says. Oprah’s celebrity overwhelms any concept of privacy. “She couldn’t even go to jury duty without being mobbed,” Coburn says. “It’s hard to imagine what her life must be like.”
Arriving outside Harpo Studios to photograph people waiting for tickets to see The Oprah Winfrey Show, Anna Knott encountered surprising enthusiasm, given the time—6:30 a.m. “Everybody was so psyched in the wee hours of the morning,” she says. She also found uncommonly well-dressed and willing subjects. “They’re prepared to be on television. What’s a girl with a camera?” From the rainy weather and the tricky, changing morning light emerged the portraits in Standing O.
Last Girl Standing no more, Sarah Preston relaunched her Chicagomag.com nightlife blog in October as Nightspotting 2.0, an extension of the magazine column she has written since 2002. “We’re giving people up-to-the-minute, up-to-date weekly doses of nightlife, and also the celebrity gossip—there’s plenty of that,” she says. Preston’s day job—as an editor at Playboy.com, for which she covers Playboy Mansion bacchanals—and night job haven’t posed any problems for her as a newlywed. “All I can say is I’m on a very long leash,” she says.
In studying graphic design, Josie Jammet made useful contacts—many of her classmates became art directors. “They just keep ringing me up,” says the Londoner, now a painter. Often they ask her for realistic paintings of images that can’t be photographed—“portraits that don’t quite exist,” she says. This month’s cover image of Oprah as a superheroine was more straightforward than some images she’s been assigned. “I just had to put her in a costume,” she says. Jammet’s work has appeared in The New York Times, New York magazine, and Rolling Stone.
“Beyond surreal,” Josh Schollmeyer says of his Charlie Kaufmanesque project in Bagging the Media Queen, where he was digging for information about Kitty Kelley digging for information about Oprah. Schollmeyer, an editor at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, retraced the notorious biographer’s steps (without her help), hearing repeatedly about her charm. But he had no luck cracking the legendarily tightlipped Harpo Studios cabal. “I think [that] is probably impossible,” Schollmeyer says. “That said, never doubt Kitty Kelley.”
Photography: (Coburn) Meghan Schromen, (Knott) Anna Knott, (Schollmeyer) Jonas Siegel