Photo Director: Whitney Johnson
Photo Editor: Jessie Wender
Photographer: Zach Gross
When did you start shooting and what process and direction did it take?
I started photography when I was 15. I was very into abstractions of all kinds and experimenting with alternative photographic processes without using the camera, I would make my own negatives out of plastic and other transparent materials using ink and paint. I also shot landscapes and some portraits.
What sort of cues surfaced alerting you to your gifted eye / talent for taking photos at such a young age?
I simply wasn’t into the regular school format, I didn’t understand a lot of it. I felt a huge relief with the white sheets of photo paper I could fill them with anything and explore things in a very open way, it felt hopeful. Teachers started wanting to buy prints, so that got me thinking.
I see you have a love for B&W, what and who were you influences?
I would say Man Ray was a big influence, his work and ideas really clicked with me early on. I love B & W there is simplicity and timelessness to it.
I understand the New Yorker gives you quite a bit of freedom, what sort of process do you develop with them to earn that? Congratulations.
I met with the photo editors a few times over a couple years before receiving assignments, They wanted me to answer key questions about my direction and what types of people I wanted to photograph. They helped me understand my work better. They have a really wonderful understanding of photography. They were/are influential to me.
Clearly you are connecting with your subjects. How are you developing that connection and typically how much time do you spend with them?
I think people are interesting. I like to understand and know them… and I want to make them look good. The average time is 2 hours… really depends on the dynamic. Could be longer could be shorter, its always different.
Do you study your subjects before hand?
Depending on the project, but I usually research what they do, what they’ve done and what they look like.
You had this image selected as one of the 12 standout portraits for the New Yorker in 2012. What resonated with you in making this image? How did it all come together for you?
The picture of El-P was from my first assignment for the New Yorker, I felt like I had to rise to the occasion and everything just came tougher really smoothly. I think it was a turning point in my photography for more reasons than one. This picture brought together a few sub threads going on within my work. It helped me understand my work in a more mature way.
What can you share about this recent New Yorker project?
Some shoots are smoother than others.
What can you tell me about the Carbonscapes?
The Carbonscapes are photograms, no camera involved. I’ve been making them ever since I started out in the darkroom 10 years ago, they evolved from Rayograms. It took me a long time to understand what they were actually about, and the explanation is still forming but, I’m interested in the very large and the very small more specifically outer space and the microscopic. I’m drawn to ideas that embrace the natural connections between those perceived separate worlds. The work is about exploring imagination and science.