Art Producers Speak: David Tsay

We emailed Art Buyers and Art Producers around the world asking them to submit names of established photographers who were keeping it fresh and up-and-comers who they are keeping their eye on. If you are an Art Buyer/Producer or an Art Director at an agency and want to submit a photographer anonymously for this column email: Suzanne.sease@verizon.net

Anonymous Art Producer: I nominate David Tsay

 

This image is from a recent test shoot. I used to get overwhelmed and stressed about doing tests, but my agent Kate said to me: Even if you only get one great image out of that test, it’s a success.

I like to set up situations or scenes and just let the people play around in it, and then shoot around them like I'm doing documentary photography.

I didn't shoot interiors until a bit later in my career. We had a big remodeling project of our home and it got me looking at interior spaces more carefully. Interior photography is very similar to fashion in terms of layering colors and textures and can look just as sexy and expensive.

Here's another fun shoot where the models had to jump for like 10 minutes and look like they're doing it for the first time every time.

A lot of my assignments are entertaining stories with tons of production and models and food and décor. But in reality, I hardly do any entertaining in my personal life. These photo shoot ones are more fun for me because my “guests” MUST love it and they HAVE TO have fun, Lol.

One of my favorite photographers is Herbert List. I just love the way he used hard, unfiltered sunlight. I've heard people say, "Don't shoot food in hard sunlight." Hearing that just made me want to do it.

This shot was inspired by David Hockney’s pool paintings from the ‘60s. It wasn’t even anything conscious, I just felt that vibe when I met the family and their home. It’s important to constantly feed your head with images that you emotionally respond to because it improves your on-set instinct. Then when you respond to it, it’s more natural and true to yourself, rather than forced. Also, I think when you ground your work in art history, you automatically create a relatability with your viewers.

Growing up in Southern California, we get mostly blank blue sky or smoggy sky. So, whenever I travel, I always look up to look at the clouds. I take pictures of them thinking one day I'll try and paint them.

I'm after pictures that seem like something that you saw in the corner of your eye, but when you turn your head to look for it, it's gone. They are not always big events--just poetic, sweet little moments like this one.

The objective was to photograph the living room with the amazing pool and view to show indoor-outdoor living. We were working just in the living room, but then I took a few steps back and the shot revealed itself to me.

I did many surf apparel jobs at the beginning of my career. So, even now, when I get an assignment to go back into that world, it's so natural and feels like home--even though I've never surfed in my life.

The sky can be just as perfect as a "seamless" backdrop for a graphic picture.

It's important for me capture a warm, relatable, and believable feel to the homes I photograph no matter how amazing they are.

Doing a shot where everything looks completely gorgeous and "thrown together” without looking fake and set-up-y can take a long time and a lot of people. When I do still lifes I start on the tripod for everyone to compose for their departments. After we are happy with what we’ve got, I come off the tripod and shoot around it as if I’m seeing it for the very first time. Often, those are the ones that turn out the best.

I love photographing food that's messy and real and fresh and sexy. I want my food pictures to make me want to dive right in and eat it all up! The funny part about this picture is out of the frame-- the assistant holding up the reflector behind the models really really hates seafood, I think he was gagging the whole time.

How many years have you been in business?

About 15 years now.

Are you self-taught or photography school taught?

Photography school taught. I prefer structure and discipline when I am learning things. “Know the rules well, so you can break them effectively”. So true.

Who was your greatest influence that inspired you to get into this business?

A lot of my influences were from writers and artists: Jean Genet’s work is so dreamy and atmospheric, Robert Longo’s juxtaposition of imagery, Eric Fischl’s paintings of odd lifestyle moments with amazing light and composition, and Jack Stauffaucher’s graphic experimental letterpress work. I wanted to be a writer but suck at it so badly. I was lucky to find photography as a way for me to tell stories.

How do you find your inspiration to be so fresh, push the envelope, stay true to yourself so that creative folks are noticing you and hiring you?

Staying true to yourself is important, but also be aware of what’s going on and don’t get stuck recycling your own best shots. Trust your instinct so you’ll always find your sweet spot in any difficult situation. I also have a great, honest, support system from my agency. They really keep me grounded and keep me focused.

It’s important to balance catalog and adverting work with editorial shoots and tests. Getting editorial assignments is a good reminder that what you are doing is current.

Do you find that some creatives love your work but the client holds you back?

I’m sure most creative people in any field feels that way. But I work well with rules. It’s like, if you tell me how big my sandbox is and how much sand I get and in what colors, it becomes a fun challenge to see what crazy amazing sand castles I can make out of it. The challenges and limitations make it like a game.

What are you doing to get your vision out to the buying audience?

I was doing email promos but didn’t get the results I wanted. So just recently I went old-school and sent out a snail-mail promo. I am getting really great, positive feedback (http://pdnpromoswekept.tumblr.com/post/42025738335/this-promo-i-received-from-photographer-david-tsay).

I have a portfolio website, and I just started some social media things too–a Tumblr page where I blog, Instagram, a Twitter account. I used to be shy about involving my business in social media, but now I really enjoy it.

What is your advice for those who are showing what they think the buyers want to see?

Don’t do it. I did that and it didn’t work. At some point years ago I started shooting and showing work in response to jobs that I didn’t get–therefore showing work that I thought buyers wanted to see. It really ended up hurting me and setting me back. When you are not inspired with your own work, it shows. I always say to shoot what you love and are passionate about, and other people will love it too. It sounds so corny and naive, but it’s so true.

Are you shooting for yourself and creating new work to keep your artistic talent true to you?

I started shooting jobs while still in school. After I graduated, I really wasn’t shooting personal work and just focused on jobs. But about a year into my relationship with my current agency, Kate told me she really needed to see personal work from me to know what I’m passionate about and what jobs to go after for me. I used to think testing is for photographers that weren’t working, but I’ve since learned that you need to do those to stay creatively fit–like how an athlete would in between games.

How often are you shooting new work?

For personal projects? I go thru phases… Having said what I said above, some months I’m more inspired/motivated than others. But for me, it doesn’t have to be a shoot. I’ll make my collages or artwork and it might spark an inspiration for a shoot.

My family moved to the U.S. when I was 9 years old and raised me in the suburbs of Pasadena, California. I first picked up a camera as an Psychology undergrad at UCSB and then transferred and studied photography at Art Center in Pasadena. I am now based in Los Angeles and represented by Kate Ryan Inc.

David Tsay:  www.davidtsay.com

Kate Ryan Represents:  www.kateryaninc.com/ 212-929-5399

APE contributor Suzanne Sease currently works as a consultant for photographers and illustrators around the world. She has been involved in the photography and illustration industry since the mid 80s, after founding the art buying department at The Martin Agency then working for Kaplan-Thaler, Capital One, Best Buy and numerous smaller agencies and companies. She has a new Twitter fed with helpful marketing information.  Follow her@SuzanneSease.

Suzanne Sease

There Are 1 Comment On This Article.