How the SNL Portrait Became Its Own Art Form

Devon Ivie, writing at Vulture, profiled the longtime official photographer of Saturday Night Live, Mary Ellen Matthews. She’s the one who creates the portraits used as bumpers between commercial breaks.

You’d immediately recognize a bumper if you see one. Sandwiched between the end of a commercial break and the start of a sketch or performance, they create brief moments of stillness before the action picks up again and are literally impossible to miss. But more so than a definition, bumpers are feasts for the eyes, whether the final images veer toward surrealist vibrancy or black-and-white classicism. They all tell a story — you just have to figure out what it is.

I kind of think of them as billboards. They pop off the screen,” Matthews, a self-described one-woman circus,” told Vulture in a recent interview. I like to make it as easy as possible for everyone. I don’t want them overthinking this part of the show. It should be super fun and super easy. It’s an open invitation to get kooky.”

I’ve always thought the bumpers were one of the most innovative and signature aspects of SNL. I didn’t know she had an Instagram account. So cool.

April 15, 2019