Art Producers Speak: Aaron Richter

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 Aaron Richter. “I was recently introduced to his work and I really dig it”

I photographed Patrick Wimberly and Caroline Polachek of the Brooklyn band Chairlift for Spin at a house they were renting in Austin, Texas, during SXSW 2012.

This is Florence Welch, of Florence + the Machine, who I photographed backstage at Bonnaroo in 2011 for Spin. You can’t tell in this image, but I pulled Florence, who was teetering about on super-tall platforms, over to a fairly dirty marsh-like area of the backstage to get away from the crowds, which all worked out pretty great for this image.

I shot the actress and Burberry model Gabriella Wilde at my apartment for Nylon. Her legs are real long.

This is another image shot for Nylon—actress Alexia Fast. This is my bed; it’s super comfortable.

I went suit shopping at Manhattan’s SuitSupply with Detroit rapper Danny Brown for a Spin feature in the magazine’s final issue. This was Danny’s first suit ever.

I photographed British singer Emeli Sandé for Nylon. She had some fun soaking me in Windex.

This is actor Domhnall Gleeson, son of actor Brendan Gleeson. We shot at Acme, a prop-filled studio in Brooklyn and one of my favorite places to work.

I took this photo of Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (aka Game of Thrones badass Jaime Lannister) just a couple hours after the previous image of Domhnall Gleeson at the same studio, and of course, because Acme is stuffed with props, there was a motorcycle just sitting at the edge of our cyc. We thought it a waste not to jump on for a few shots.

I photographed rapper Action Bronson for the cover of Australia’s Acclaim magazine. He got super stoned, and we went to hang out at the shop where a couple of his BMWs were being worked on.

I shot designer Zac Posen with model Betina Holte for Glamour. The camera loves Zac, and he unashamedly poses more than any model I’ve ever worked with.

How many years have you been in business?
I’ve been taking pictures since February 2009, and by industry standards, I’ve probably been considered a “professional” for the past two years.

Are you self-taught or photography school taught?
I’m self-taught. When I first moved to New York in 2006, I worked as the copy chief for an urban-entertainment magazine called GIANT. When the magazine, which doesn’t exist anymore, started shedding staffers, I was laid off and—inspired by the magazine’s stellar art department of former creatives from The Face, DV, Trace and America—spent my severance on a camera and taught myself how to take pictures. At the time, I was also working (and still work) as the art director for a digital music magazine I helped launch with friends called self-titled (www.self-titledmag.com), and since part of my job involves commissioning all photography in the magazine, I found myself shooting bands and musicians quite a bit. This led to art directors and photo editors noticing my work, and assignments started coming my way.

Who was your greatest influence that inspired you to get into this business?
Absolutely my buddy Ruvan (www.ruvan.com), who takes the most amazing photos. Ruvan was the photographer on the first story that I ever wrote for GIANT (an “In the Studio” piece with the Bravery). Shooting primarily on film, Ruvan takes beautiful photos with such ease and little fuss; watching him work and learn and develop his skills helped me realize that changing my career path was a realistic goal and not just a longshot empty dream—in other words, his development showed me that photography was something I could learn and teach myself with the right motivation and critical eye. Ruvan also frequently throws gallery shows with his work, in which he encourages attendees to take home images that he’s arranged on the walls. His shows always have such a great vibe—a fantastic meeting of friends. For me, photography is a social experience—whereas writing always felt incredibly solitary—and Ruvan’s events always showed me how important the people around us are to truly enjoying what we do.

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?
I moved to New York to be a writer and an editor at magazines. And I did that for three years, and it was not fun for me. I really disliked doing the work at a time when magazine content was shifting more toward blog posts and quantity over quality. Photography gave me the opportunity to create projects for myself, and everything I shot was fun, because I was learning, and getting better and better with every shoot and every time I pushed myself to try something new. As I’ve started working more and shooting projects for myself less, I still look to maintain that sense of fun—in other words, work never really feels like work when I’m taking photos—and I always hold that as the best inspiration.

Do you find that some creatives love your work but the client holds you back?
I’ve never really had a situation like this. Each assignment or job that I get, I always consider it a collaboration between myself and the entire team—rather than specifically my photos. For example, I love smiling, both smiling myself and making my subjects smile. Love it, love it, love it. I love my photos infinitely more where I’ve been able to connect with my subjects in a manner where they have a genuine smile on their faces in the images. But obviously, not every job is going to call for the subjects to be smiling—particularly shooting fashion and moody musicians. Avoiding smiles on a job where the client wants a more serious tone isn’t holding back my vision for the work I want to produce; it’s just a necessary element of collaboration.

What are you doing to get your vision out to the buying audience?
The only thing I know to do is just shoot as much as possible. When paying work dies down for a week or two, as it always will in the freelance life, I fill those days as much as possible with days shooting for myself, whether it’s spending a day with a new model shooting some fashion or catching up with a band that’s in town and taking pictures for my music magazine, self-titled. I also produce an online fashion magazine called Joey (www.joeyzine.com), which I shoot for a bit and commission lots of my photographer friends for. I’ve done five issues over the past two years, but as I’ve gotten busier, it’s become difficult to put out issues on a regular basis. But Joey is great exposure, both for myself and for my contributors. Joey gives me better excuses to shoot whatever I want and present it in a way that’s easily digestible and engaging for anyone online. I, along with pretty much every working photographer that I know, also keep a readily updated Tumblr (aaronrichter.tumblr.com) of new work, whenever it’s published, which seems to have become just as essential as maintaining a portfolio site.

What is your advice for those who are showing what they think the buyers want to see?
If they enjoy shooting the work, then awesome. To me, that’s really all that’s important. If they’re shooting something they don’t enjoy because they want to book a campaign and make money, then that’s kind of a total bummer. But there’s obviously a middle ground here—shooting what you think buyers want to see but doing it in a way that’s enriching for you. Like, I know a lot of photographers that might think “lifestyle” photography can be kinda corny but are able to approach it, because they know they need more of it in their book, in a commercially valid way that isn’t just BBQs and riding bikes. Ultimately, shoot what you like shooting. If you’re good and share your work, someone will see it and dig it.

Are you shooting for yourself and creating new work to keep your artistic talent true to you?
As much as I can, yeah. But really, as I’ve sort of already said, I’m just happy whenever I’m taking pictures, no matter if it’s something more in line with what I personally want to produce or collaborating on a job for a client. I like to think: Would I rather be transcribing interview tapes? Would I rather be blogging about YouTube videos? Would I rather be struggling to figure out how to write a profile of some upcoming singer in 100 words? Would I rather be fretting about commas and verb tense? No way—not for me. Every day I’m taking photos, I’m happy to have a relief from what I used to do for a living.

How often are you shooting new work?
Every week. I love it.
Aaron Richter grew up in the Midwest but now calls Brooklyn home. A displaced writer and magazine editor, he has seen his photos appear in the pages of such titles as GQ, Men’s Health, Spin, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Glamour and Nylon. He’s also produced images for brands including Urban Outfitters, Doo.Ri, Puma, Copperwheat, Casio, Clarks and bebe, and exhibited his backstage portraits from Bonnaroo 2011 at the W Hotel in Times Square. In his spare time, Aaron steers the art direction for self-titled, an iPad- and Web-based publication he helped launch in 2008, and served previously as the editor of MusicMusicMusic, a short-lived magazine that tanked a ton of money but made a few hip people very happy. Aaron enjoys reading Norman Mailer, rewatching the movie DiG!, and metally deliberating about which is the best of the generally bad Rolling Stones albums.

You can contact me directly for anything at studio@aaronrichter.com.

I’m also represented in the US by the awesome JP at Fresh Artist Management (jp@freshartistmgmt.com).

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.

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