Art Producers Speak: Christian Kozowyk

- - Art Producers Speak

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 Buyer: I nominate Christian Kozowyk because I loved working with him and thought other art producers might like to learning more about him.

This was a fun one that we shot before a rowdy night out on the town.

This was on a shoot for Ford. Halfway through hanging out with this guy he tells me he can do a backflip and then proceeds to breakdance—probably the most spontaneous thing that worked out during a shoot.

Outtake from a night off during a production in Portugal. This guy was looking for his friends. I didn’t speak Portuguese.

Outtake from a shoot. Still finding that prickly grass in my black Nikes.

Second time in a convertible on the PCH.

This is a seaside town I happened upon while traveling through Europe.

First time with a water housing. I got a black eye from it.

The pier was so icy this day that I almost slipped into the lake. Loved this family.

Kids are so easy to photograph.

Genuine as you can get. Real is real.

I used to skate with Perry when he was 2 years old. His dad and I built a concrete skate park together in New Hampshire. Now he’s all grown up and traveling the world.

Hairdoo. You meet a lot of people in this world and sometimes you just have to use nicknames. He had amazing energy—the day after the shoot he drove his motorcycle from LA to NYC.

Family dynamics are always fun. We had packed up the cameras and were getting ready to leave when this just happened. It was worth taking them back out.

Double vision.

Military salute. This guy wasn’t looking at the camera; he was looking through the camera. It was cold.

I’ve lost track of the number of sunsets I’ve caught on the Williamsburg Bridge. Whenever I’m in town I ride my bike there every night.

How many years have you been in business?

I’ve been using a camera since I was 18, shooting professionally for five, and with my agent Candace Gelman for three.

Are you self-taught or photography school taught?

A little bit of both—I went to college for art, but I think school can only teach you so much about being a working photographer, and I’ve definitely learned a lot more out there experiencing things and meeting new people.

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

Honestly for me it is more of a what. It will sound cliché but there is no shortage of inspirational photographers that are committed to the process, and people who have been amazing mentors to me. They have all inspired, supported and taught me over the years, but at the end of the day the real draw for me to get into the business was a basic need and drive to learn more about myself and the world around me. I am all about leaving a positive mark with my life and I believe that through photography I have the opportunity to work towards that goal. The process of photography is my life. It is a way for me to be constantly growing and evolving. It allows me to live with an open heart and to give back in a way that hopefully inspires other people. When it’s all coming together, it’s an amazing feeling and one that is endlessly motivating. How could you not get hooked on that?

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?

For me, it’s about the people and how the moment fits into that scenario. I am constantly re-discovering myself through my work and I’ve learned that following your heart trumps all. I’d like to think my work stays fresh because the people I shoot make it so, and my role is more about creating a space to allow that authenticity to unfold, finding stories that exist and becoming part of them. Trends come and go and most ideas are not necessarily new ones, so it’s really about being able to sit with someone and capture their spirit and energy in a frame. That’s always fresh. Real just does not get old in my opinion. It’s about keeping things authentic by just being authentic—and finding a team of creatives that are working with a brand that have that same vision and energy to put into a project.

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

Naturally every situation and client is different. We all have our specific job to do as part of the creative process, but sure, there are times when you’ve got the creatives in line with your vision, but the client is hesitant—it’s a trust thing and a comfort level. I like to be very involved in the pre-production and I love to collaborate from the beginning to the end. Our approach and strategy are honed in to a ‘T’, so there are no questions in the client or agency’s mind before the shoot starts about what to expect as the outcome. Again, my work is all about that real look and feel, capturing the essence of people in a way that only happens when people are comfortable. I’m not typically amped on things being overly mapped out with no room to breathe, but it’s important to find balance with the client’s needs and expectations. I think the goal with the client’s expectations would be to take away that sort of focus group mentality and get down to what really matters in telling the story—finding people that are authentic and that everyone can relate to. Gearing our productions this way allows for those real moments to happen. I enjoy encouraging clients to let go a bit and am inspired to help brands connect with their audiences in a real way.

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

Building a strong web presence is important. I update my website whenever I have new work to show, keep up with social networking and my Tumblr. Staying in touch with the folks I have collaborated with over the years is something that’s important too.

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

Follow your heart. Find out what you’re good at within the medium and go for it. It’s about what you believe in and what you love, and that’s a journey in itself. Before you go and sell something, you have to have a mission statement; a mantra that you will live and die by—you have to know what you’re selling. The rest will follow.

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

Every time I pick up the camera I am shooting for myself, whether it’s for a commercial job or not. It’s that simple. The thing about photography that never gets old is its ability to keep me present, grounded, in the here and now, and to appreciate people. It’s an opportunity to sit with new friends and old, to document life, enjoy it, and participate in it. It’s beyond the aesthetic. You have to know yourself in order for that complete package to unveil itself, whether it’s knowing when to direct and when not to, or disarming a situation despite the cameras, the layouts, or the shot lists so that you can focus on people and their emotions. Whether I am capturing a group of friends or a family dynamic, I try to create space for things to happen in a natural, unforced way for myself and for everyone involved. Photography is an exploration, an experience, a record—both personal and shared—a reminder for us all to stop and smell the roses.

How often are you shooting new work?

I am always working on ideas when I’m not in production—we always have something cooking. We have been shooting about two to three big commissioned projects every few months.

Christian lives his work. For him, it’s less about documenting a subject than truly getting inside the subject matter and living it. He specializes in capturing real moments in a unique way. His distinctive, consistent style and creative approach have helped brands define themselves, while earning Christian many industry awards, including: Communication Arts (advertising and photography), One Show, Addys, American Photography and PDN (photo annual) to name a few. He has been selected for Archive Magazines-”200 Best Ad Photographers Worldwide” since its inception and highlighted in the Communication Arts Advertising Annual in the “Fresh Section”.

Currently based in Brooklyn, NY, Christian and his team collaborate with creative teams worldwide on award winning advertising campaigns and slice of life projects. When he’s not on location or shooting personal projects you can find him hanging with “Peu Peu” – his French speaking cat, yelling at the bird that lives on the piano to stop screaming, working on his usually not running vintage Harley, playing the guitar, or wave hunting for ‘not close outs’ while avoiding broken glass, dirty trash bags, needles and ice storms at Rockaway Beach, usually at 67th Street.

Christian Kozowyk
Candace Gelman & Associates

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

Suzanne Sease

There Are 3 Comments On This Article.

  1. Nicolas Carle

    I enjoyed reading Christian’s take on commercial photography and thought it spot on. Many, myself included, have looked for that proverbial answer of how to make this intense and difficult profession honest and worth a life’s effort. Times are a changing and he put it well, “you have to love what you’re shooting,” wiser words could not have been spoken… Thanks to the writer for interview and to Christian for the honesty.

  2. Susan Sock Fossil

    I loved reading this man’s words and, of course was delighted to see such vibrant photos. Is Mr. Kozowyk available for family reunions?