Art Producers Speak: Hollis Bennett

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:

Anonymous Art Director: I nominate: Hollis Bennett. Hollis is a well-established and up & coming shooter in Nashville TN. I’d say he’s fresh, but oftentimes he’s straight off the grubby rugby pitch or an international flight from a less than sanitary destination and is a little less–fresh. But Hollis has a no-doubt knack at portraiture that just mesmerizes me.

I have spent quite a bit of time in Alaska living in the Bush and working at everything from a bartender to commercial fisherman to the skipper of a small ferry boat. It was a great time of my life and I learned a lot of things about the world. These images were made on a recent trip back down at the mouth of the Kasilof River where local families gather each year to set net fish and fill their freezers each year. Its a pretty laid back atmosphere and is perfectly Alaskan with its little quirks.

Living in the South we have quite the, um, diversity of characters around and this day was no different. I thought it would be a good idea to run a bunch of moonshine out to a Motorhead concert at a bike rally on an Indian Reservation in North Carolina. This was before the show and I had a chance to wander around and interact with the wildlife.

There is nothing like standing in a river with the freezing rain coming down shooting on a 4x5. Patience is a virtue in both fishing and photography and fortunately I got a solid image this day because the fish were nonexistent.

This image was taken on my first trip to Morocco and this is outside the old Portugese walls of the city of Essaouira on the Atlantic coast. I was moving back to the safety of the breakwater as fast as I could because the tide was coming in and I didn't' feel like swimming and I happened to turn around and see this fellow out there ambling about. It pays to stop and throw a look over your shoulder from time to time.

Back to Africa but this time in Ethiopia. I was on assignment to shoot some development work in the South of the country. I was delayed since my bags went missing so, I hitched a ride with my local contact in the capitol and we headed out to a large pilgrimage in the middle of nowhere and to say I stood out was an understatement. Just goes to show that you always always always carry your cameras on with you instead of checking them.

I have been working on a series of images documenting the oddities and intricacies of the Heavy Metal scene and its culture. This was a shot from the first full day of the first ever heavy metal cruise somewhere between Florida and Mexico. A few days after this, all of the Northern Europeans were beet red from not being used to all the sun. Good times.

This happy fellow was shot here in Nashville on an editorial assignment. Jack Spencer is a fine art photographer and fortunately, I know him quite well. When the editors told me they wanted a jovial, happy image I had to politely inform them of the reality of the situation. Local knowledge and insight can really be an asset with the collaborative process. The magazine loved it and ran it full page.

I was sent back to Morocco this past February to attend an artists residency based in the hills outside of Fez for another religious pilgrimage. Unfortunately, the powers that be would not let me shoot a single frame of that under penalty of arrest and deportation so, had to shift gears and get something. I headed back to Fez and worked with a local cultural heritage group to shoot portraits of as many traditional artisans as possible in the time I had.

This was an interesting situation. I knew going into the assignment that the layout had changed a bit and I was getting more space than originally thought so, we shot a bit longer than planned. This was our last set up of the day and was an add-on. Turns out it was the money shot as it ended up on the cover and won Garden and Gun cover of the year.

I was sent to Chicago for Bentley to shoot some lifestyle images of one of their owners and his ride. We were all over Chicago that day in and out of the rain, on the South side (sketchy) and finally on Lower Wacker right off the Chicago River. Nice mixed light and no, that is not Michael Douglas.

How many years have you been in business?

I’ve been shooting for about 3 years now. Prior to being behind the camera I came up through the ranks as PA, 1st assistant, digi tech, retoucher, etc.

Are you self-taught or photography school taught?

I have a degree from an art school that will remain nameless so, technically, Im school taught but really it was all self taught and learning on the fly.

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

I really find the work of Dan Winters and Andy Anderson to continue to push me and challenge me. Jack Spencer really taught me the power of narrative and digging deeper. As for a specific time/place/photo that pushed me towards photography, I couldn’t tell you.

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 hold dear the idea that no ‘photo’ can ever happen more than once, so you need to be out there with your eyes wide open and mind receptive to all sorts of influences. Understanding and interpreting all that stimulus is another story and therein lies the biggest challenge.

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

I don’t think that I’ve bumped up against this yet but I can see there being some friction when it comes to things like using ‘real’ people vs. hired talent and that sort of thing. I see a lot of images fall on their face when you try and coax something that just isn’t true out of a situation.

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

I shamelessly self promote through the standard outlets (email, print, etc.) but there is no substitute for a face to face meeting. I get my books in front of as many people as possible. Also, shooting something ridiculous every now and then helps as well.

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

You have to target images to the audience so as not to waste anyone’s time but the images have to be unmistakably yours and have your own aesthetic and narrative to them.

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

Yes, constantly. I have a bruise around my eye at the moment from so much camera action these last few days. Spring and Summer are tough because the weather and light are so nice all I do is shoot and the editing always falls by the wayside.

How often are you shooting new work?

See above. This time of year, probably about 3 days a week, sometimes more. There is a delicate balance between shooting, editing and running a business – all of which are equally important.

Hollis Bennett is an award winning photographer based in Nashville Tennessee. Originally from Knoxville, he has lived on 3 coasts (E, W, and Alaska) in the largest cities to the smallest remote communities.

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.

There Are 6 Comments On This Article.

  1. YEA Hollis!!!!

    I met Hollis this past May @ Fotoworks and had the opportunity to go through both of his books . . . his work definitely has impact. Glad to see him featured,
    he deserves it!

    • Thanks Andy – it was a dismal year for the Salmon run and there was a lot riding on this pull so, had to make an image that shared the gravity of the situation.

  2. Great job Hollis! The stories behind the images are always epic with your work… especially the one we shared over oysters in Grand Central