Mark Seliger has a his own TV Show on YouTube called Capture (here). Looks very cool.
Gregory Heisler has spent the last quarter century photographing covers for magazines like Time, Sports Illustrated, and Life. In 1994, he was famously blacklisted from the White House press corps for shooting a double exposure of President George H.W. Bush (“The Two Faces of Bush”) for Time’s Person of the Year cover. Since then, Heisler, now 58, has seen photography shift from film to digital and magazines switch from staff shooters to freelancers. Since 2009, he’s been teaching portraiture at the Hallmark Institute of Photography, in Massachusetts. September 30 through October 5, he’ll be teaching a course at the Santa Fe workshops called The Evocative Portrait. —Grayson Schaffer
Grayson: You’re a professor now?
Gregory: It’s like camera school—vocational school. It’s for people who really want to take pictures for a living. They wouldn’t be there to become a curator. It’s very hands on.
Grayson: Like you’ll be doing at the Santa Fe Workshops.
Gregory: At the workshops there’d be a little more theory and a little more emphasis on the philosophy of it. The classes that I teach are that but the emphasis is more on craft.
Grayson: In your workshop, what kinds of skills will you be working on.
Gregory: It’s kind of a color week, the emphasis is on color, so we’re going to be looking at color from the subjective point of view as opposed to the objective. Not looking for correct color or accurate color, we’re going for color that’s more about feeling. So I would say, a lot of our time is going to be spent looking at ways to express ourselves, particularly in the context of portraiture. To express oneself creatively using color and light.
Grayson: What do you mean by color? Lighting, post production, or just subject matter?
Gregory: The emphasis is more on working with light in ways that are expressive. Not big deal lighting stuff with huge strobes. It could be ways of manipulating ambient light, it could be very simple. There’s sort of a whole spectrum of ways to do that.
Grayson: Where are you in your own work, are you still producing editorial pictures?
Gregory: Yes. Less frequently because I’m doing the teaching gig, but because I’m an artist in residence, I’ve still been able to accept commercial jobs, and what I’ll do is I’ll make little videos on the side that I then bring back to the school and show the students the next day. I did a cover for Sports Illustrated about three or four weeks ago of Lebron James. They called Friday for a shoot on Saturday, and the magazine was on stands by Wednesday. I had videos to show the class on Tuesday. It’s very timely. And the two things really dovetail well together.
Grayson: How has your work evolved over the years. You used to have that iconic, TIME magazine, medium- and large-format format film look. Is that still how you’re producing pictures?
Gregory: I was shooting lots of large format portraits then but I’ve since changed to digital, where you have so much more control. There are millions of things you can do with digital; you can be more spontaneous, and you’re more in control of your color palette. Also, sort of counter-intuitively, I’m now working more simply because of digital. I’m working less with strobes and more with continuous lighting—LED’s, Tungsten, etc. and working to make very simple images. I did a series of images for the National Arts Club in New York, of different authors, and writers, and those are some of my favorite pictures I’ve done in the last several years. They’re very simple, all done on black backgrounds, very quiet. But they’re really beautiful. It’s just a different kind of portrait for me.
Grayson: Interesting, so this Lebron cover, did you shoot that with a 5D or a digitial Hasselblad?
Gregory: That was actually shot with a Hasselblad and strobes, which contradicts everything I just said.
Grayson: It does seem like as you see people using smaller and smaller kits. That Hasselblad is used more for magazine covers than anything else.
Gregory: That’s probably true. It’s such a funky camera. They designed it from the ground up but they designed it in landscape view. It’s a landscape camera. And basically 99 percent of people use it vertically, and it absolutely sucks to use vertically. It doesn’t have a vertical shutter release, the viewfinder’s on its side, and the camera hangs off the tripod. If they were designing a camera from scratch they could have designed a vertical camera, or a revolving back, but they didn’t, which is kind of shocking. I’m sure somebody will come up with something like that sooner or later.
Grayson: When I look through your older work, it seems like people would hire you to do all kinds of images. I can’t point to one specific style and say that it was you who shot it. But these days it seems like art directors are hiring for a really specific look—a schtick. Is that something that’s changed over time?
Gregory: That’s a very accurate perception. These days it might be someone like Platon who might have a very specific look or style for the pictures that he takes and that’s something that people want. Twenty years ago it might have been William Coupon, who was doing things in a very specific way, on a painted background, and all his pictures were the same. That’s always been surprising to me because… well, actually, it’s not surprising. Art directors want a sure thing.
Grayson: Is it as simple as that? Art directors want to play it safe?
Gregory: Yeah, it is. I hate to say it because I think people are risk averse these days more than ever. Before they even pick up the phone, they know what the picture’s going to be. So there’s a certain comfort in that, a certain security that they can lay out the cover of the magazine and kind of know what it’s going to be. They can put one of his other photographs in its place and have an idea what it’s going to be, and they can sell that to their editor. The last thing people want is a surprise, these days. The weirdest thing to me is that magazines would never do this for their writers. They would never hire a writer who writes for another magazine; they want to have their own stable of writers. Newsweek would never hire a TIME writer, and TIME would never hire a Newsweek writer—but they would both hire the same photographer to shoot a cover for them. In fact they want to be in the club in a way. These magazines don’t have enough confidence to have their own style, so they use a borrowed style. That is shocking to me, but your perception is very accurate. It’s a way to be more commercially viable, but to me, that’s not having a style, that’s having a schtick. To me, style is like your fingerprint. Nobody else has it. A schtick is like gloves. You can buy them and put them on. Technique is like that. Anyone can set up their lights in the same way these folks do and come up with largely the same results. Not the same pictures, but largely the same result.
Grayson: When you come to a picture, it’s got to be more difficult if you don’t know, for example, that you’re going to put somebody in a chair and shoot them from ankle level. How did you figure out that you’re going to shoot Lebron over plexiglass in your recent SI shoot.
Gregory: You kind of figure out every picture from scratch, which is not to say I never do pictures that I’ve done before—but I really try not to. Whenever I get an assignment I try to think how to shoot this person for this story in this magazine at this point in time.
Grayson: Do you have a series of questions that you ask yourself? Ways you think about it?
Gregory: Those would be them. If you’re shooting Bruce Springsteen for Rolling Stone, it would be a different picture than shooting Bruce Springsteen for TIME or Fortune. There’s no reason those pictures should all be the same. One story might be talking about his latest release, another might be about his fortune, another might be about how he stays fit. Those are all different images, and that to me is what makes it interesting—trying to figure out how to tailor the image specifically for that person. There’s no reason you’d shoot Mother Theresa and Newt Gingrich the same way.
Grayson: How long does it take you to think of these things?
Gregory: Sometimes day, sometimes not until you’re walking into the room. And even then, sometimes it all goes out the window. A lot of the challenge and the reason for the success of those one-shot photographers is that their pictures almost have to be subject proof. Because you usually only have a few minutes with the person. You never know who’s going to walk into the room—whether they’re going to be friendly, grumpy, sick of photographers, or between meetings.
Grayson: On the opposite side of the spectrum from being subject-proof, do you have photo shoots that fail from time to time?
Gregory: I think they all suck. The picture I was hoping for is never the picture I get, but yeah, I think they fail all the time. Fortunately my clients don’t think they do, so I can continue to have a career. But I just look at them and think, ugh.
Grayson: You’ve had some fairly well known people work for you. Who were some of them?
Gregory: Dan Winters worked with me for awhile about 20 years ago. There’s a guy named Gregor Halenda. We used to joke that he hadn’t earned the “y” yet. He just relocated from Manhattan to Portland. He’s terrific. He does a lot of stuff with still life and motorcycles. There’s a guy named Monte Isom who just worked with me freelance, and he’s doing well. It’s interesting because it takes so much to be a good photographer. Some of it is the industry, some of it’s your personality. People aren’t hiring just a picture, they’re hiring someone they can work with. That plays a big role .
Grayson: Do you ever feel threatened by the success of your former assistants?
Gregory: No I think it’s gratifying. It’s awesome!
Grayson: It’s interesting, because you definitely meet both kinds of photographers—the proprietary kind and the generous kind—but it seems like the guys who are really at the top of their field recognize that they’re doing something that can’t be easily replicated and are willing to share what they know.
Gregory: My brother used to say some people have an “inferiority simplex.” It’s not that they’re under the delusion that they’re inferior; they actually are inferior and they secretly know it. I think that’s what those photographers are like. They’re very jealous.
Grayson: What about your work flow?
Gregory: It varies with the client. For SI, they’re on a very tight deadline, and they want raw send-offs. So they want files FTPd right from the shoot. That stuff goes off, and at that point let go of it. Later, I’ll send them processed jpegs with what I think it should look like, but it’s up to them whether they abide by that or not. In the case of Lebron, it pretty much looked the way it was supposed to look.
Grayson: So when you send them jpegs, you’re monkeying around in Lightroom or Photoshop, burning and dodging to get it where you want?
Gregory: Well yeah, in the case of Lebron, it was kind of done. We had five or ten minutes with him, but we’d spent the better part of the day messing with lighting, so as soon as he walked in it was good to go. We did a global correction with a digital tech on set and then sent them off. Normally I do all my own post work. It’s not that I do it better than anyone else, I just do it my way. I make decisions. People who print at labs are probably far better printers, but they won’t make my decisions mid-process. I don’t want to be out of the loop. I want to be a photographer and do all of it.
Grayson: On Lebron, what were you using?
Gregory: That’s a funny one. The picture was actually set up to photograph him with the NBA trophy, which ended up not getting used. The trophy is a highly polished golden globe—so I wanted a good reflection, which is more like a still life than a portrait. It’s difficult to cast the light. Even an octabank would leave a spot. So I got a 12-foot roll of white seamless paper and pounded the light through it. It’s very diffused soft light, but it’s incredibly inefficient. The light off him was like f4. But on the other side of the seamless it was like 90. The seamless is opaque for all intents and purposes. I don’t remember using gels.
Grayson: Were you an early adopter of digital?
Gregory: No. I went along kicking and screaming. Digital held no romance for me at all. I hated it. I miss my big cameras. The working process, I miss it.
Grayson: But you figured out how to do it?
Gregory: Yeah, I pretty much put a clothespin on my nose and took a plunge. It’s amazing, but it’s weird to be on the far side of a learning curve. And it’s always like that. If you learn how to use a Deardorff, you’ll always know how to use every 8×10 camera. You’re good to go. But if you learn how to use the 5D and then the 5DMKII, each one is a little bit different. They have different focus points. If you want to switch from Aperture to Lightroom, you have to learn how to do all that stuff. It’s a constant learning curve which I hadn’t signed on for. I wanted to grow in terms of making pictures, not adapting to new software and technology. But that’s the game now.
Grayson: Any look, any style, any era, all available at the touch of a button, now.
Gregory: Yeah, there are a lot of decisions to make, creatively. Now, with digital, you can really be the author of your own work. From the beginning to the end of the process, you control everything.
Note: We’ve partnered with Santa Fe Photographic Workshops to interview several of their instructors for upcoming workshops that we find interesting. If you want to join Gregory in Santa Fe for “The Evocative Portrait” go (here).
APE Ed Note: I’ve worked with Jeff quite a bit in the past, so when I heard about the inspiring lecture he gave at Chris Orwig’s class I asked if he would conduct an interview for us. He’s an amazing person to work with, so I know you will enjoy his perspective on the industry.
Learning photography is easy – there are so many articles, books, blogs, videos, workshops, and schools. Yet, becoming a photographer is a completely different story; it’s a journey that doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a pursuit that requires a mixture of knowledge and experience. And one of the best ways to bolster your own skills is to spend time with those whose have forged their own path.
At the photography school where I teach, we take this concept seriously and therefore work hard to bring in photographers of all stripes to give guest lectures and presentations in order to inform and inspire. The guest lecture roster for our school includes a huge range of legendary photographers from people like Yousuf Karsh to Steve McCurry – you get the idea. One of the more enlivening of these lectures was recently given by Jeff Lipsky. Jeff is a highly accomplished photographer, and his images are authentic, down-to-earth, and full of life. A few of the students who heard Jeff speak said it was life changing. So after the talk, I decided to spend a few minutes with Jeff and asked him the questions below in order to try to capture a bit of what he shared.
CO – Take us back to the days of living in the mountains in Colorado, fly-fishing and snowboarding. How did you go from there to here?
It all started with a road trip. After graduating from college (Boston University), I strapped my skis on top of the car and didn’t stop until I reached Telluride. I wanted to ski for a season but ended up staying for 10 years. It was one of the best times of my life. Snowboarding had just been opened up on the mountains, so there were all these amazing ascents that hadn’t been snowboarded before. I snowboarded 200 days a year, and my biggest worry was whether to wear goggles or sunglasses. I was a free rider, and I wanted to float in the trees. The camaraderie and friendships were amazing. Along the way, I picked up fly-fishing, and became a guide met some fascinating people and became exposed to photography.
In the later years of my time in Telluride, I became more and more interested in photography. I was shooting landscapes and some portraits. I was inspired by a bunch of photographers; one was Ace Kvale. One day, Ace gave me his F4, which opened some new doors. I started spending 8-9 hours in the darkroom. I became obsessed. I decided that I wanted to become a photographer, which led me to working for the Telluride newspaper for a year where I became acquainted with the environmental portrait. I loved it. Then I made the leap and decided to move to Los Angeles.
CO – How did a ski bum from Telluride break into the LA photo scene?
I went to LA knowing that it was how I was going to learn photography. Instead of going to school, I worked in a grip room at Smashbox Studios. There, I was able to be a fly on the wall and see how it all worked. I saw how some photographers shot a huge campaign with a truck full of lights, while others didn’t use any lights at all. Eventually, I started assisting. At first, I didn’t know what roll film was, and the first photographer I assisted gave me his camera and said, ”Learn how to load it.” I was hooked.
I started assisting for all of these amazing photographers, working on everything from editorial to fashion. But I was also constantly shooting pictures. I’d ask for the left-over film after a shoot and then ask the assistant stylist and assistant makeup artist if they would help out. I photographed everyone I knew and friends of friends. I tested almost every girl and boy on the Ford model agency board at one time. I paid my dues testing so many models. I was crazy. Once, Ford sent me to Chicago and got me an apartment, and I tested 4-5 people a day for a week. I rocked it out. I tested nonstop. I was always shooting. I was trying to take photos that I like to look at. I was always trying to find my vision.
CO – How did you eventually find or clarify your vision?
As I progressed, I discovered that my vision was tied to who I am. What I mean is that I always wanted to do darker, moodier portraits like Paolo Roversi or Nadav Kander, but that’s not who I am. I like my photos to have more of an upbeat feeling… Something organic, natural and maybe whimsical. But at first, I didn’t have the words for it. Then I put together my first book and shared it with a few people. Someone told me what my style was before I knew what it was. Sometimes it takes an outsider to say it like it is.
CO- With that in mind, what is it that you’re striving for in your pictures?
I like to portray people in the best way for who they are, and I’m always searching for the real moment. I like people to be really laughing at a real joke. I like real emotion. Sometimes it doesn’t happen. Like recently, I wasn’t connecting with the subject until her boyfriend walked in and her eyes lit up! I had the boyfriend come next to me and talk to his girlfriend. If I don’t get it, I find other people to help out. Often, finding the real moments means looking for the break in between the frames when the subject isn’t staring into the camera but has emotion coming through. I keep shooting until I see that moment. Then I move on.
CO – Let’s get back to how you started out. After all that assisting and shooting, what was your first big break?
While I was assisting on a shoot, I happened to be talking with a magazine editor and we realized that we had a mutual friend. She said, “If you’re ever in New York, come by. I’d love to see your work.” I had to beg, borrow and steal, but that next week I went to New York and “happened to be there.” I called her up, and she graciously looked through my book and said it was good. She also said to feel free to send her my work. I sent them a package every week. Eventually, this connection led to a few others, which led to the big break.
Premiere magazine asked me to do their Sundance portfolio. Man, that was it! I went go to Sundance and found an abandoned office. In that space, I built a makeshift studio with floors and walls. There was a big window, and I had a few light sources. Then the talent came through, and I got to spend 15 minutes with each. It was unreal— Francis Ford Coppola, Jessica Lange, Bob Dylan, Al Pacino and so many others. From that point on, I was established. I began shooting more commercial and editorial work.
CO – For who?
For commercial, I worked for clients like Eddie Bauer, Haagen Daz Showtime, JBrand, 20th Century Fox. On the editorial side, I picked up work for magazines like Men’s Journal, Outside, Esquire, Glamour, Woman’s Health and Vogue. It’s been a pretty good ride.
CO – At our school, our students often discuss the business/money in shooting editorial versus commercial. What are your thoughts?
First, you should never be in photography for the money. Be in it for the passion of shooting. And sometimes the less money you have, the better it is. It gives you more drive when every shot you take has meaning to it. It makes you strive and set goals.
For me, editorial is my driving force, my lifeblood. I love the creative freedom of shooting editorially. It is an amazing outlet for creativity, and it helps me hone my advertising skills.
When you take something down to the bare minimum, it is better. In commercial work, there can be so much production. And in those situations, you have to shelter the subject from all of that. They don’t need to know that there are 5 trucks full of lights. If I’m shooting a big celebrity, a lot goes into making them comfortable. I’ll shoot at a beach house, even though I don’t need the beach. It’s the setting that helps to get them unguarded. Editorial shooting helps you to learn how to do that.
On the other hand, commercial work is more of collaboration. It’s important to be able to get the creative task done efficiently and in a way that the client is happy, that I’m happy and that some beautiful work has been created. So in a sense, for me commercial and editorial work go hand in hand. And there has to be some sort of balance. If you only shoot commercial work your work looks too commercial – same thing with editorial. The two balance each other out.
You also have to diversify within commercial and editorial. If your just one type of photography you’ll die. I do music, food, travel, celebrity, lifestyle… and in doing a lot you still have to keep your style. That’s one of the most important things you can do.
CO — What are you working on now?
I’m always working on something – that’s what keeps in interesting. I just shot an ESPN cover of Sharon Stone, which was really cool. And I just finished a great a great portrait series for an outdoor client of famous mountaineering families. It was with some of the most inspiring people you could ever meet – people who have been on top of Everest 5 or 6 times with out oxygen.
CO — It seems like you shoot such an interesting mix of things, what else have you been doing?
Well, a few weeks back, I finished up some album packaging for Lady Antellebum and Keith Irving. And I’ve done some recent covers for Outside Magazine, a few covers for Woman’s Health. I created portraits of Ohau North Shore Lifeguards for Men’s Health. And most recently, I just finished up shooting the cast of the Real L Word for Showtime. Next week I’m off to Mexico for another shoot. It is an interesting mix and that is one of the things that keeps me motivated and inspired.
CO – Any last advice advice to the aspiring student?
Target who you want to work for and go out and meet people in person. It is the single most important thing for getting work. And use every resource that you can to learn. Assist for as many other photographers as you can as a way to learn the business. And constantly shooting while you are assisting. I’ve always felt that it boils down to timing, tenacity and talent. You have to be at the right place in the right time. There’s a reason why I moved to Los Angeles. You need to be where it is happening. Tenacity – constantly produce work and get it in front of the right people. If someone doesn’t like your work, that’s ok. Have the self-confidence in what you do and press on. Talent – it comes from learning from your own mistakes. Go to photo editors and other photographers and ask them for input. Listen to their advice, yet stay true to what you want.
“I tend not to spend a lot of time with the sitter beforehand.”
“When I meet them it’s when they sit down or stand up in front of the camera and I let it go from there.”
“I’ve always chosen some lighting that I think is appropriate for the way that I want to see that person, but I’m often wrong.”
“Very often what I thought would be appropriate really isn’t and I rethink it. That’s when it gets interesting.”
Nadav Kander’s website is (here).
Michael Wolf was not happy about a move to Paris that he had to make with his wife who had a job offer there in 2008. He felt that a city that had been photographed as much as Paris and was full of clichés had nothing to offer him as a photographer.
He started exploring the city using google street view, one thing led to the next and he started photographing the scenes he saw on the monitor. It turned out to be a totally different way of looking at the city.
He’s been asked many times “when does a google street view picture become a Michael Wolf picture” and he says “as soon as I determine how I crop the image.”
Find out more about Michael Wolf and his process in this fascinating profile by Foam:
More can be found on Foam For You.
Foam For You is an online resource which features professional photographers providing inspiration and advice for amateurs looking to improve their own work. At the core of Foam For You’s content is a series of extended films about the work of three internationally renowned artists: Michael Wolf (USA), Jessica Backhaus (GER) and Melanie Bonajo (NL). They have given Foam exclusive access to their working practice in three fifteen minute documentaries. They explain the thinking behind their work and, in particular, how it relates to themes taken from different issues of Foam Magazine, in which their work appeared.
Photojournalist and Academy Award Nominated filmmaker (Hell and Back Again) Danfung Dennis and his fledgling immersive video company Condition One just received half a million in seed capitol from tech visionary Mark Cuban. As was first reported on GigaOm in a story titled “Is Condition One the future of video? Mark Cuban thinks so” Danfung just graduated from TechStars’ New York class last Thursday and is “embarking on a pilot program with Mercedes, Discovery Communications, XL Recordings, The Guardian and Popular Science.”
You can download an app showcasing the technology in the itunes store (here). It’s exciting to see a photographer pushing the limits of technology for storytelling.
Dennis believes this video can be used in a number of settings, from live music and sporting events to more traditional documentaries. He said creating video with Condition One results in a much more transparent portrayal of an event or story because it doesn’t involve traditional editing and framing techniques.
“There is less control and less ability to filter and it’s harder to construct a narrative,” Dennis said. “We’re taking the power of a still image and the narrative of film and marrying it with virtual reality to make a new experience that’s highly interactive.”
Known for his humor and pitch-perfect execution, Chris Buck is go-to photographer for any magazine that’s trying to illustrate an abstract concept. Ahead of Buck’s Santa Fe workshop, the first week of July, Grayson Schaffer interviewed the 48-year-old New York–based photographer on the subject of creativity and, specifically, how Buck has so damn much of it.
Grayson Schaffer: What are you working on right now?
Chris Buck: We’ll I’m actually not sure how to answer that question. I’ve got a couple of editorial things. Just finished shooting and now I’m preparing for another. One for GQ, and I’m trying to shoot for The Guardian weekend magazine. I’ve got a book coming out in the fall so I’m prepping for the release of that.
GS: Is that top secret?
CB: No, it’s a series of portraits of celebrities in which they’re not visible. Environmental portraits. The celebrities are hiding in the environment.
GS: Very cool. You’re sort of known for having a never ending stream of original concepts in addition to great lighting and execution. How do you come up with this stuff?
CB: You know, I guess I always have my eyes open. To some extent anyone who does interesting work it feels like there are interesting things that could be done or should be done that aren’t. Eighty percent of our culture out there is either not interesting or annoying to you. The other 20 is actually kind of interesting. But even within that you always feel like there are interesting things that aren’t being done. I think creative people kind of feel like they want to fill that void.
GS: So your creativity comes from noticing absences?
CB: Just trying to makes things more interesting where they may be underachieved. I’m sure people look at my work and feel that way. Sometimes they achieve great things with my work and other times they don’t. But the story still needs to run. What I’m striving for is to do something that’s a little new and exciting and maybe a little magical.
GS: But you also have a sort of humorous, highly irreverent sort of thing going on too—the Ken dolls for instance. Are you naturally irreverent?
CB: You know I never really intended to make pictures that would be perceived as being funny. I’m the kind of person where if I see a joke, I can’t help but put it in there. The humor ends up being subtle because they aren’t gag photos. Recently a person described my work as dead serious but totally funny at the same time. The work is clearly serious in intent and visually ’m trying to execute in a way that tells the story and is visual at the same time but it’s almost sort of like when you’re a young man and you’re not athletic, you sort of have to be funny if you want someone to pay attention to you. I’m just translating my juvenile class clown thing into my photograph. It was never intentional, I just can’t resist putting in a little humor.
GS: When most people try and execute a humorous photo, it’s usually too obvious and over the top and, as a result, fails. You seem to hit the right balance every time.
CB: Well thanks. I think it’s probably because humor isn’t the first aim. To make something a little odd and interesting. If humor can be slipped in, than it works. But many of my photos, I don’t feel like there’s humor in them at all. Like the series of hidden portraits, people are going to think those are really funny. It’s great, it’s certainly the most subtle humor ever. It’s like when a comedian comes on stage and people start laughing because they associate them with their previous work.
GS: For people who are going to come to your workshop, I would argue that you can’t teach that sort of spontaneity and creativity. What do you think?
CB: It is a portrait class, that’s the area I’m most interested in. And it’s called “The Surprising Portrait,” but my definition of surprising is not as narrow as one might imagine. I’m not looking for people to shoot more like me. The aim is to help them make portraits that will be surprising for their audience in whatever way that might be. It’s still looking to nudge them a bit and do something a little more adventurous. To engage with their subject. I’m very much about the finished picture and not about the process. Interacting with your subject is important but only insofar as it leads to better portraits. Different people do that in different ways. I’ve met great photographers who deal with their subjects by shooting them very differently than I do and they get great portraits. But there are certain things that lead to better portraits fairly consistently.
GS: Are you one of those light, funny, chatty guys?
CB: I think I vary it up. Sometimes I’m chatty, sometimes I’m quiet. But they’re all going to the same end. I’m looking to set my subject up in a way that gets the reaction I want or need from that particular session. Sometimes it’s relaxed and comfortable, sometimes it’s bossy and manipulative. Sometimes I want them to be uncomfortable. It depends on what it is. Sometimes I’m looking to establish that this is my shoot and I’m in charge. When I was initially shooting, as a young photographer, I was doing that, but it was less self-conscious. I have an end goal of this kind of picture and I’ll do whatever I have to to get there. It was sort of instinctual. But now I think it’s a little more self-conscious, though there is certainly still an intuitive aspect. The subjects are largely ready to go on the ride. I had my portrait taken yesterday by a former intern, and I recognize the fact that it’s their job to put me in the place they need to get the shot they want. Particularly with celebrities I think people often look the the celebrity to direct the shoot and that’s a very difficult road to go down. Most of them just want to be told what to do. They’re the passenger and as a photographer, you’re the driver.
GS: In your class, will you cover any of the technical side?
CB: I’m really focused on the aim of the picture. For me, I do a lot of post work, but the look is still natural. Sometimes I’ll shoot with natural light and do detailed plates and put the plates together in post, so the picture will look photojournalistic, but it will actually have been put together with a number of plates. The experience I want for the audience is largely pretty traditional and natural, but I’m not shy about using technology in the execution or in post to achieve the experience for my audience as I want it. The same thing for many of the photographers taking my class. I don’t have any pretense that the way I do it is “the way.” As long as the finished work is engaging for the audience. I never want the technical to upstage the work. For instance, Cindy Sherman’s work is very technical but it doesn’t get in the way of the work.
GS: Who should take your class?
CB: People who know they’re on to a good thing but are having a hard time closing the deal. It’s for people who have that vision and they want that vision on the page through their images.
To join Chris at Santa Fe Photographic Workshops for “The Surprising Portrait” go (here).
Note: We’ve partnered with Santa Fe Photographic Workshops to interview several of their instructors for upcoming workshops that we find interesting.
Montana-based photographer Kurt Markus has spent the last half-century photographing for magazines like Vanity Fair, GQ, and Outside. Though he’s shot fashion, sports, and celebrities, he’s probably best known for his iconic black-and-white photos of Cowboys and scenes from the American West. He’ll be teaching a course at the Santa Fe workshops, starting June 24, called The Portrait: Finding Your Voice. He spoke with Grayson Schaffer from the set of a Vogue Hommes shoot in Georgia.
Grayson Schaffer: What are you shooting today?
Kurt Markus: A cool young guy named Sean O’pry. I guess you could call him the current face of the moment. The idea of the shoot is to come back to his hometown, sort of like when Dennis Stock went to James Dean’s hometown’ in Indiana. I’m photographing him in the place where he grew up— a little town about 15 miles outside of Atlanta.
GS: All natural light?
KM: I bring lights every once in a while and do my best never to open the case. I consider it a retreat, the last card you want to put on the table. I just feel so much more inspired by the light that’s out there, if you just look and if you’re flexible enough to move around. I’m going to be shooting in this house tomorrow. I’ve got a little set up that I call the ACME lighting kit. It’s something straight out of a Road Runner cartoon. It’s like a hardware floodlight with a daylight bulb and a stand. That’s my idea of lighting.
GS: You can get away with that?
KM: I’ve paid my dues. Believe it or not, when people ask me to do pictures for them, I think they just assume that’s what I do. It’s kind of great. I’ve entered into a zone that I think probably some photographers wouldn’t mind being in. And since I’ve got this pass, I’m using it.
GS: People assume you need 2.1 gigawatts of electricity and a room full of octobanks. In my mind, you’re an exception to the rule. A lot of the better known people use a lot of toys.
KM: There’s been a trend there, really, since Annie Leibovitz brought in auxiliary light during the daytime. Her look became so popular that it became the thing to chase if you were a photographer. I think at a certain point that sort of lighting took over and if you couldn’t do it, you weren’t going to get hired. Now, it’s a difficult situation to retreat from if you want pizzaz because that kind of light made color beautiful.
GS: No matter what the natural light was doing, you had a sure thing.
KM: It just made color beautiful because of the photographer’s control of the light. You could push it into a certain tonal range. And the warmth of the light no matter what the natural light was like at your location. But that’s never been my kind of idea of a portrait, so I was never tempted to do it. I feel like I’ve kind of ridden out the storm. And now I’m doing the best work of my life. Something happens over time that you can’t exchange for the moment. And that’s just loving the person that you’re photographing—not spiritually, but you have to really be into that person because the act of doing a portrait is truly collaborative. And that collaboration may be very subtle, but it’s there. There was a time when I never wanted to do a workshop again. It exhausted me. The digital age was really kicking in, and I didn’t feel like I had anything to offer a beginning photographer because everyone wanted to know about histograms and pixels and I had no language, no experience for that. So I said, let’s not do this again. But I got talked into it again last year. What I found was that no one in the workshop really cared if it was digital or not, and figured “OK, I can do this. I’ve got something to say and it’s worth saying.” I’m believer in workshops. It’s a very energizing and valuable experience that you can’t really get any other way. You go home and sift through the wreckage of the week and pick and choose. And it’s good to know there are others out there trying to be the best photographers they can be.
GS: Your work really is more so about the interaction and the moments and the gestures, rather than the technology. Do you think that sort of knowledge is transferable?
KM: Well again, I don’t want to psychoanalyze this whole thing, but if you think that you can make every picture just based on the technique, like “I want to be Irving Penn so if I do everything just based on Irving Penn’s technique I can do Irving Penn’s pictures,” you’re badly mistaken. It’s a lesson to learn, because you see where he uses light, you know what kind of film he uses and you think you can crack the nut by cracking his nut, but it never really works. That may be frustrating but for some people it’s a revelation that “hey, I’m unique, I do my own pictures.” That’s a difficult lesson to swallow, and I think most of us chase other people’s pictures.
GS: Is that something you did early on? I know you’re self taught. Did you start by trying to emulate other people and over time find your own thing?
KM: I think it’s unavoidable. You, as a writer, are influenced by what you’ve read, in certain cadences and word choices. You may pick up the energy from Hemingway or Cormac MccArthy (if you want to drop some punctuation). And photography is like that too. You get some juice from somebody by, for me, Andre Kertesz, a Hungarian photographer who’s not that well known, but he did these really light, lyrical pictures that were very inspiring to me. Just the idea of being lighthanded that I get from Kertesz that I can actually use. I can’t think of setting up a person to pose for Satiric Dancer, which is one of his photos. I would never want to duplicate that. The title of the workshop I’m doing is “Finding Your Voice,” but it’s actually “finding yourself” and learning to express yourself through your work. Trying to figure out what that is.
GS: What actually is going on in terms of how you run your workshops and how you teach ?
KM: The digital era has really helped to make a teaching process out of it. The first workshop I did, they had film. We had to process it, look at contact sheets, it was labor intensive and by the time you were done, you’d kind of missed the moment. My approach to “Finding Your Voice” is to break down the portrait into subcategories. For instance, the Environmental Portrait. I like the idea that you always have a backstop, something to fall back on. Let’s say you’re photographing artists. Someone like Arnold Newman, who photographed artists, is a really good person to look at. His photographs are very architectural, they’re about shape and design and that’s they key. It’s not about a moment, it’s about a moment made. Arnold Newman organizing a photo to make a very strong statement. There’s that sort of picture making and then there’s picture making in a studio environment where you have to light it yourself. So I’ve got examples of different photographers and how they approach the portrait. Alfred Stieglitz and Georgia O’Keeffe which is an intimate relationship, and that’s going to affect the portrait too. And then we have assignments like “make an environmental portrait.” It can be hard to move people off center because we can’t help ourselves. We get in a groove and fall back on what we think works. I really try to limber someone up to take chances. A portrait is an extension of every kind of picture ever made, because in a way, even a landscape is a portrait. It’s a portrait of the photographer.
GS: What about the technical side and process? are you still shooting film, are you shooting digital? What’s your process look like?
KM: I shoot film. I don’t think I could do work that I really believe in with the feel and the look that I want if I was shooting digitally. There’s a certain resistance that I’ve got. But the light coming through a 6×7 Pentax lens hitting on film, is something digital can’t duplicate—and I love the look of it. Then I’ll scan the negative and send the file to someone, they can use it in a publication. It’s pretty rare that I try and make prints anymore because they seem to get in the way. But for I picture that I really love, there’s really no substitute for going into a darkroom.
GS: And you do some of your own printing?
KM: I do all my own printing. At one point I had people helping me, but when I go into a darkroom, it’s my print. I don’t really want people helping me. I don’t retouch. I don’t try and manipulate the image into something I like afterward. 6×7 is a very forgiving medium. Black and white film, these lenses, a slow shutter speed. I’ll photograph women and a lot of time they look flawless, but real. When you’ve had a great experience photographing someone, you don’t want anything to get in the way of someone thinking that’s great looking person.
GS: So if someone brings a film camera to your workshop, is there a way to accommodate that?
KM: Oh I’m sure, but I don’t think that’s an issue, I don’t think anyone is shooting film at a workshop. But I’m teaching portrait making not technique. Everything looks good on a monitor, not everything looks good in print. But if you’re going to live with your photograph it can’t just be a screensaver.
To join Kurt at Santa Fe Photographic Workshops for “The Portrait: Finding Your Voice” go (here).
Note: We’ve partnered with Santa Fe Photographic Workshops to interview several of their instructors for upcoming workshops that we find interesting.
This project isn’t about making actual images, it’s not about creating the worlds largest camera it’s about doing what you love.
I worked with Andrew Southam quite a bit in the past, so when he told me about a personal journey he recently underwent, I asked to publish an account of it on the blog. I think you will find his honest and humble account of what happened to him inspiring.
APE: Briefly tell me about your background in photography, how you came to it and when you found success?
Andrew Southam: I started out in Sydney, Australia in the early 80′s. I was incredibly fortunate to find a job assisting a photographer named Grant Matthews who became my mentor and great friend. I arrived in NYC in 1986 with a decent book and just got on the phone to all the magazines. A lot of people met with me and I dropped my book off everywhere else. I got assigned portraits for Rolling Stone and Vogue, some small fashion pieces for Conde Nast magazines and that began my career in America. A year later Sassy Magazine was started by an Australian publisher and art director I had worked with in Sydney, another piece of incredible luck. I started working solidly for them doing everything from covers and fashion stories to photo essays about teen suicide and a girl on death row in Indiana.
Would you call what happened next a midlife crisis or is it the result of a shitty economy and shrinking photo industry?
When you’re young and new in this industry you have a kind of allure you don’t know you have, I certainly didn’t. I had a lot of success early on which I took for granted. I just assumed it would be all up and up. I went along like that for about 15 years. Of course I had flat spots but I was what you’d call a working photographer with a good reputation. What happened next was really a kind of burn out. I started out taking very personal pictures, shooting very much my own way. This had as much to do with not having the technical skill to do it anyone else’s way as any artistic ideals! But of course over time you learn technique and wind up doing work that you have less personal investment in, money jobs. What happened to me was I lost my sense of ownership of my work, was less invested in it. Inevitably the assignments I was getting reflected this, less exciting work, not being hired to bring any point of view to the job. More being hired as a good technician who could get all the shots finished on time, run a crew, answer a budget, work with talent. All that’s great but I was feeling steadily more unhappy with myself and my career. I can’t blame the economy or changes in the industry. Of course I’ve felt the changes like everyone. But finally I wasn’t feeling inspired and it caught up with me.
What did you do to break out of the funk?
I was feeling pretty desperate. I never cared that much about the money. In the midst of this period I had some good years. But I was really unhappy with the work I was getting and doing. Finally, all credit to my wife who said “just go and stop talking about it!” I went off on a week long road trip from LA to San Francisco. The first day on the road I felt a real panic that I couldn’t take a picture without a client, an assignment, a deadline. I’d spent so many years shooting actresses, models, portraits of people for magazines, I didn’t even see the scenery at first. But after a day I slowed down and started seeing the world and then looking at it through the camera. Then the huge pleasure of just looking through the viewfinder, composing in that rectangle, paying attention to the light returned to me and I got really excited again. It sounds so simple but it really felt like a kind of rebirth at the time.
Tell me more about the dream project you dreamt up?
While I was driving and shooting, I started to see the journey as a road movie. I imagined a man, a woman, a car of a certain kind, motels, restaurants, the road, all the emotional stuff that happens on a long journey. Maybe it starts out romantically, but at some point you’re just so over being in that car and stuck together, you sort it out, you don’t, you have sex, you argue, on and on. So when I returned home, still with that “my life is at stake” energy, and having unplugged for a week from the whole white noise of our lives now, realizing I could do that and just be a photographer and not an e-mailing machine, I buried myself into using the pictures I’d taken as a story board for a series with the man and woman. I worked with a friend who is a great stylist, Kelly Hill formerly at J.Crew. We found two actors, a real life couple, we found a 1968 Cadillac and talked the guy who was selling it into renting it to us for a few days. I wrote a page and a half treatment for my actors describing the trip, this crisis point in their relationship. It was fantastic because then everyone knew what they were feeling, they sort of lived it and I just shot away as if I was making a documentary about them. Because we were together all day, seriously all day, they stopped noticing me which made the whole thing really intimate. I had no crew except my stylist and my tech who like me is great at becoming invisible. My very large edit was then shaped by designer Matt Taylor at Matt Varnish. He helped me refine the narrative, gave the images a treatment to feel like vintage prints left on a car’s dashboard, designed the book, located and supervised the printing, and was really essential to the project being the success it was.
And the job that followed, how did that come about?
My agent at that time had the promo book I made of these pictures at LeBook Connections LA 2011. An Art Buyer from M&C Saatchi, Jenn Sellers picked it up and put it in front of their Creative Director James Bray who was just then looking to solve a problem, how to shoot the men’s Uggs campaign? I was called in to meet with him. I’ve now just shot their second campaign in an on going series.
Is there a lesson here? Did the industry change to be more receptive to this type of thing, did you find different clients, or did you change how you take pictures?
The lesson was pretty profound for me. Clients are out there looking for ideas and photographers with ideas, with a particular way of seeing. There are SO many photographers, so many great technicians and digital has only made this easier. What there are less of is photographers with a distinct point of view. You have to really dive into yourself and find out what you have to say or show that is your own take. My friend June Newton, Helmut’s widow says “shoot your desires, shoot your perversions”. Obviously that served Helmut well! I am not the first photographer to shoot a road trip story but I really made it my own. So when clients saw it, it was exciting to them and they recognized something they could use. So yes, the industry is super receptive to a photographer with a body of work that is their own peculiar, fully expressed take. There is SO much imagery out there now, you can only imagine how they must be scratching their heads in advertising agencies and design companies saying “how do we do this in a different way?!”
I am finding new clients. It’s a process and I feel like I’m just beginning it in lots of ways. Which I’m very grateful for after shooting for 27 years! But I have a handful of great new clients who are asking me very specifically to do my own thing. I couldn’t ask for more than that.
I have changed the way I shoot, or rather I’m evolving. I’m trying to see photographs now in series, like a set of film stills, an unfolding narrative. Rather than trying to get the “perfect moment” I’m trying to be much looser, look for the “mistake” that will make the pictures more exciting. Now I’m arriving prepared with a treatment for the story, a clearer intention of what I want to say.
What does the future look like to you?
It has to come from me. If you look to the industry to see what will come next, it’s too late, it’s already happened. I can’t worry too much about trends, about what other people are doing. I just need to go off alone and think about my take on life and how to express that in photographs. It requires self discipline I have to work on constantly. It’s a muscle you have to develop and that never ends. It’s too easy to sit in my “beautiful cave” as portfolio consultant Beth Taubner calls it, and push around post-its and respond to e-mails. I have to shoot more often for myself and develop that part of my brain and just keep doing it. My advice to anyone in the funk I was in would be: don’t wait to get assigned your “dream job”, it may never happen. Assign yourself and go and do it. I fully appreciate this can expensive but you have to find a way. I am always asking favors of people and seeing how I can cut corners to save money. Some friends will work for you for free. Your excitement is contagious. But clients are unlikely to assign you work if you can’t show them you’ve already done it. The good idea is hugely important in all this.
The other part is get the help and support you need. I’ve recently teamed up with photo rep Sarah Laird, someone I feel really lucky to know. Sarah’s agency is artist driven; the photographer must be absolutely clear on their point of view before she can represent them. She’s into building a career around that, finding the right audience for each photographer’s work. Sarah directed me to Beth Taubner who I’ve worked closely with and I would recommend to anyone looking to reconnect with their work or deepen it. I’ve been working on portfolio and website redesign with Bryan Fisher at Perfect Holiday who is amazing and definitely lifted my presentation. I feel like I’ve surrounded myself with great people who can help me take my work to another level. After already having had a long career I feel really excited and grateful to be doing this.
Congratulations to this years class of 30 photographers to watch:
Meiko Takechi Arquillos
Dominic Bracco II
LaToya Ruby Frazier
Peter Ash Lee
Chloe Dewe Mathews
Paula Lerner, photographer and photography advocate, died on Tuesday from breast cancer at the age of 52. Steve Skoll gathered these comments from those who knew her.
Steve: A collection of thoughts from friends and colleagues on the passing of Paula Lerner.
Manuello Paganelli writes: Folks I just learned the awful news that our friend, dear colleague, talented and award winning still/video photographer and former Editorial Photographer (EP), President passed away.
You all know that she was a strong advocate for photographer’s rights and was always there willing to show her wisdom and vision with the rest. She was also batting for photographers making sure magazines would pay decent day and space rates and less rights grabbing.
Today my heart just dropped out. RIP wonderful Paula…my heart goes to your husband and children.
Brian Smith, President of EP writes: I’m deeply shocked and saddened by the news of Paula Lerner’s death. As the founding Vice President of Editorial Photographers, Paula was instrumental to setting EP’s course. She was directly involved in negotiating the Business Week and Forbes contracts that raised the bar for fair deals for editorial photographers. Paula remained committed to educating and inspiring others and it is extremely sad to lose her just as she was producing the finest work of her career.
Our thoughts and prayers are with her family.
Ed Greenberg writes: It is with unspeakable sadness that we inform you of the untimely death of a great lady, Paula Lerner. Paula possessed the all too rare qualities of both bravery and courage well before the insidious cancer ever invaded her body.
While most of us are content with the safety of our daily lives, Paula was busy risking her life to bring home the intimate stories of the brave women in war torn Afghanistan. Dodging bombs and bullets on five journeys, Paula created the finest collection of photography ever created in or about Afghanistan. Paula won a richly deserved Emmy Award for her work as a photojournalist on “Behind the Veil” an in depth multi media feature which also captured an EPPY Award for Best Web Feature.
Those of us who create prose rather than images, know all to well that there is simply no “appropriate” space limitations when extolling the virtues of Paula whether referencing her work or her character. The fact that both her images and life story will become part of the curriculum at Harvard is testament to an extraordinary life that precious few of us will ever even approach in magnitude. Her images will continue to speak to us and that makes her great photographer. Her character, charity, kindness, curiosity, tenaciousness and bravery made her a great person. Her family, friends, colleagues and clients know that her kind won’t pass this way again.
Michael Grecco writes: Paula was fearless in the pursuit of the things she believed in, whether it was to fight for photographer’s rights, as the first Vice President of Editorial Photographers, or when traveling to the war zone to use her lens and multimedia skills to expose the plight of the women of Afghanistan. I was thrilled when she won an Emmy for her hard work. She was a dear friend and will be missed.
Andrew Buchanan writes: In working with Paula professionally for more than ten years, I knew I was working with someone with passion. Not coming from a photojournalism background myself, I was inspired by someone who found a cause she believed in, then used both her artistic and journalistic abilities to get the story and make a difference.
But in pursuing her passion, Paula never forgot her purpose — to inspire, to share, to lead by example. She was generous with her time, her knowledge, and her inspiration. Knowing her made me a better photographer, but more importantly she made me a better person.
Thank you for that Paula, you’ve left your mark on this world in ways you maybe never even knew. My best thoughts to your family at this very difficult time.
There are threads on APAGroups and Editorial Photographers paying tribute to Paula Lerner.
Heidi Volpe interviews Michael Muller about his Travel Channel shark portraits.
Michael Muller was hooked at age 15 when after a year of shooting snowboarding he was getting published and paid. Now, he is an award wining advertising and editorial photographer represented by top agency Stockland Martel. I got a chance to talk to him about his recent project with the Travel Channel, Shark Shoot Fiji and the lighting equipment he developed for this underwater project: he took the studio and plunged it deep in the Beqa Lagoon.
Heidi: How much testing did you do to develop the system?
Michael: There was a fair amount of R&D that went into the creation of these lights. To start, I had to go through several different fabricators that delivered me products that either did not work or were so unsafe, I would not get into a pool with them, let alone ask someone to join me. I wasted or should I say spent a lot of money getting to the place of almost giving up before I met the guys who I would eventually make the lights with. This was a very difficult path, because continuing forward always meant that I would have to spend more money on faith that the next person would be the one who would be able to make it come true.
Once we got the prototype working light made, they happened to be delivered the day before I embarked to the Galapagos Islands to shoot the Aqua Timer campaign for IWC Watches. They arrived at my house at about 4 or 5 in the afternoon as we were packing all our gear for a 3 week expedition. The trip was also in conjunction with The Charles Darwin Foundation and UNESCO so there was a huge amount of pressure to deliver striking images. I had promised the President of IWC that I would create images like no one had seen before without having the lights in hand. The weeks leading up to the departure were probably some of the most stressed filled days of my career for making these promises and going on faith that the guys would get it and make them in time. When they did arrive that afternoon I was beyond over joyed yet still stressed that they would in fact work. Being so late in the day with an early am departure flight approaching the following day, I put my trunks on and had the guys hook up the lights and jumped in the pool. I was thrilled when the lights fired and that was the extent of testing.
We packed up the lights and headed out to the Galapagos the next morning where we used the lights in open ocean and did all our fine tuning on the job so to speak. I did in fact get IWC mouth watering images like I had promised which felt very good to do. That is how guerrilla type inventing goes when you’re not a huge manufacture of goods, I don’t have the money or man power for major testing so you do what you can do with what you have. I can say that not giving up in the face of failure was the biggest lesson. It is so easy to throw in the towel after so many set backs but to continue on is the biggest challenge and once again I learned that you should never give up if you believe in something, don’t quit right before the miracle happens!
Tell me more about the lights.
The lights were first tested in open ocean in the Galapagos and then further used many days in the pool with Michael Phelps and all the other olympic swimmers for the Speedo campaigns I shot. I have also used the lights for a multitude of other underwater shoots I have done. There isn’t a whole lot of testing that needs to be done since the lights are just a basic strobe head that happens to be waterproof. The main testing is what the light does underwater and how to control it with use of reflectors, grids, etc. Light reacts differently underwater than it does on land. It bounces and spreads out everywhere so it has taken many hours and days underwater with my team to get just where we are today and we still have so much to learn. That is what I love about “light” and photography, I have been doing it for 27 years almost daily and could do it until the day I die and still know just a fraction of what there is to know about light and the use of it, and how to control it. The minute you think you have got this thing called photography “down” is the day you should maybe put the camera down because your being very ignorant, light is something the greatest minds that have ever lived find mysterious and fascinating. Always be an explorer and try to learn something new with each shoot, never rest on your laurels thinking you’ve got it down!
Does light behave differently in salt water?
No only that Saltwater has many more elements in it. Living particles fill every inch of the ocean and all of these things no matter what the size, either reflect or react to the light when it hits them. A filtered pool like the one I have at my studio is the easiest place to control light, there are no waves or surge or current to deal with and the water is much clearer then what you must deal with in the ocean. If I could have a pet great white in my pool that would be amazing, but until now they have not figured out how to do that. Honestly even if they did, I would not capture an animal like that to keep in my pool, but I sure do wish I had my own private ocean in my back yard filled with clear, warm water. That said there would be no challenge or mystery to that, so I would get very bored quickly so the way it is now is just perfect! Wait not perfect, because we are destroying our oceans right now, so if correct that, then it will be perfect!
On Shark Shoot Fiji, you narrated the underwater footage. How did you really communicate underwater, I am assuming that was not live? or was it?
I did in fact navigate underwater using an OTS (Ocean Technology Systems) mask system. They make the best most reliable communication system available on the market today. Until I started using the OTS system it was a nightmare trying to communicate using hand signals with my assistants underwater. Even in a pool we had trouble but when we were in the ocean with 18ft great whites swimming around us all, the ability to talk and direct the lights where I needed them was and is crucial for successful lit subjects! I am so grateful for this system that I believe was developed for the NAVY and Military. There are some, very few benefits to battle, this being one, and one of maybe three things. If there were no wars and I had to use hand signals underwater, then I would trade in this mask system in a heart beat!
What did you learn about the sharks that surprised you.
Every time I swim with sharks I learn something new. I have had so many misconceptions about these creatures and to smash them has been so liberating. I had so much fear surrounding them since I was a child growing up surfing the waves in Northern California home of many large great whites. I was always fascinated with them. Jaws had a huge impact on me as a kid as well like it did most of the planet when it came out. That movie single handedly took the already natural god given fear we all have and injected it with steroids. I though the sharks were coming out of the lights in my pool as a kid, not joking! So having this fear combined with the yearning to learn more about these animals has allowed me to view with my own eyes in person what gentle giants they really are. Watching them on TV is nothing like having them in front of you in person. Sure the TV helps lessen the fear a tiny bit but really until you are in the water with these sharks and your adrenaline is pumping like it always does even to this day with so many dives, it is just not the same.
I always have the blood pumping when I first get in the water but shortly there after my body settles down and I get in the rhythm of these animals. They are like puppy dogs, and I know when you read that it’s hard to believe but it’s true. They do not want us, we are not on their menu. They are more scared of us then I believe we are of them. They shy away from us at all times and only their curiosity similar to ours of them causes them to come in for a closer look. I have been so fortunate to witness behaviors rarely seen by us such as being underwater as a 15ft Great White re-enters the water from a breach. Seeing two great whites going nose to nose to see which one gets the food. Witnessing these behaviors along with many more is just fascinating to me. I study humans when I shoot them here on land, their nuances and personalities to try and bring them out in my portrait sessions and I have had the gamut come in front of my lens and like humans, I am as curious about the sharks as I am the fellows I share this planet with!
You have tremendous range in your work from the past 25 years. How did your previous work lead to this?
I have shot many subjects in my 25+ years of photography and have covered so many different subjects that may be very much the reason it led me underwater. To be honest there are not a whole lot of things left that get me as excited as animals do at this point in my career. I do love shooting people and always will. I do love shooting commercial work but am having a desire to do much larger productions fewer times a month than many small ones which I have been doing for many years. My passion is leading me outdoors again to the wilderness and the vast oceans to turn my lens on our planet and what’s happening to it. Not in a way that focusses on the destruction but more the beauty of it in hopes that it will inspire the destruction to stop. I have always loved and been fascinated with animals as I have been with people. That said, I was not in a place like I am now to go and do what I am doing now which is taking that 25 years experience into the wild and take the skills I learned in the studio and on location, then turning it loose on animals. I want to take photos of things in ways people have never seen before, I want to make people stop and think “how did he do that?” “how did he get that look” only by doing that can you possibly have a chance to get people to stop and think “how can we keep this animal around?” you know? The same approach as I have taken to get people to buy a product or see a movie I am using to try and change perceptions of our planet. I can only try right? Like the road blocks I hit with creating the lights, the challenge is to not give up before the miracle happens!
Was Summit to Summit the start of you adding yet another dimension to your interests as a photographer?
I don’t think it was the start but it certainly is along the lines of what drives me today. To be a part of a movement that educates people about our planet and the lack of clean drinking water around the world is just another example of how I am trying to use my gifts today. I don’t think I was put here to shoot the things I have shot for 25 years and continue shooting them for the next 25 years. I am a student or follower of Darwin’s comment “evolve or die”. I want to evolve as a person, a photographer, husband, and father. I want to challenge myself as an artist and as a human being and what I see happening today on and to our planet does not sit well with me. I am under no illusion that I am going to go out and take a photo that is going to change the world, but at the same time I am not going to sit back and do nothing expecting someone else to fix the problem. I don’t know what my images will do, but that is not my business. My job is to take pictures, give them to the world and what happens, happens. I have to follow my heart and listen to my gut, I always have and it has never been wrong.
Where are you going from here with underwater photography?
I don’t know? I am going where the light leads me I guess. I just want to go out and have fun creating images and documenting this amazing planet we all share. There is just so much to shoot and the subjects are limitless, I just need to show up! I am planning an exhibition to South Africa this year to shoot breaching Great Whites as well as safari all in one trip, so that ought to be a fun. All I can say is that as long as I am drawing a breath and my limbs are all working, I will be out there shooting, both above and below the water. There are a few other ideas I have that I want to try and do underwater that I think will help take underwater photography to anther level, but we will have to wait and see what happens!