The Art of the Personal Project: Callie Lipkin

As a former Art Producer, I have always been drawn to personal projects because they are the sole vision of the photographer and not an extension of an art director, photo editor, or graphic designer. This new column, “The Art of the Personal Project” will feature the personal projects of photographers using the Yodelist marketing database. You can read their blog at http://yodelist.wordpress.com. Projects are discovered online and submissions are not accepted.

Today’s featured photographer is: Callie Lipkin

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How long have you been shooting?
20 years
 
Are you self-taught or photography school taught?
Both – I studied art at Northwestern University and then at the University of Minnesota, but my training really comes from my years as a full time photojournalist. I always loved the storytelling aspect of photography so I was shooting documentary work at ‘art school’ but it was not incredibly well received. I was shooting long term projects on things like people with Huntington’s Disease and children diagnosed with ADD and that was not seen as much as an art form back then. My work was more warmly welcomed in the photojournalism world.
 
With this particular project, what was your inspiration to shoot it? 
I was inspired completely by the environment. I had driven by the barbershop a couple of times and decided to ask about doing a shoot there. I was just coming off of some more heavily produced tests and wanted to go in a totally different direction with a more traditional documentary approach which is more like the work I did when I first started as a photographer.
 
How many years have you been shooting this project before you decided to present it?
Some projects I have worked on for years, or months. This one in particular I shot in a matter of hours. Every project is different that way. Sometimes it’s good for me to do something without thinking about it at all. It’s a good creative exercise, which I enjoy. I developed the concept for the magazine mailer after shooting this project in order to have a fitting format to showcase how the pictures all work together.
 
How long do you spend on a personal project before deciding if it is working? 
I usually know in an hour or two if something is not working. But I think the nature of my work is to keep pushing to solve a problem. I can’t remember shooting a project that went entirely into the scrap heap, at least not right away, but some might not be as developed as they need to be for a 12 or 16 page mailer. They all find their place somewhere – maybe on my website or blog, or in a treatment statement if it’s subject matter that applies to a particular proposal.
 
Since shooting for your portfolio is different from personal work, how do you feel when the work is different?
Most of my work originates from personal projects since they are the place to try something new without any fear of failure. They almost have to be different from my existing work in order to continue to grow my personal style. Client work usually references personal work and is a place to perfect and fine tune what I started on my own time. I feel lucky that many of my commercial jobs come from clients seeing my personal projects, getting inspired, and wanting to use that inspiration as a jumping off point for their brand imagery.
 
Have you ever posted your personal work on social media venues such as Reddit, Tumblr, Instagram or Facebook?
Yes. Since we don’t get permission to post client work on social media all the time, personal projects are incredibly important to share in this way. It’s also a really great way to get instant feedback when I am working on or editing a project to gauge which images are connecting with people the way they are connecting with me.
 
If so, has the work ever gone viral and possibly with great press?
I have had some press for my series of burlesque projects that spanned several years. If my work reaches people in my network and they feel moved or inspired by it in some way I am satisfied. If it reaches beyond that, it’s gravy.

Have you printed your personal projects for your marketing to reach potential clients?
Yes. I send out a publication titled Vault to current and prospective clients at least twice a year. I try to include some copy that gives the story or subject matter some context and it usually features a personal project. I got a great response to the printed piece for this collection from the Belmont Barbershop.
 
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Callie Lipkin is an authentic photographer. A look through her lens reveals a simple organic moment between photographer and subject. 20 years of shooting has given her a truthful eye, her images unfolding like the story of her subject revealing themselves a little more shot by shot. 

While an undergrad at Northwestern University, a fortuitous trip to China opened Callie’s eyes and her focus from a career in engineering to one in professional photography. Post graduation, Callie started her photography career in journalism, interning and working for several newspapers including the Beacon  News in Aurora and the prestigious Boston Globe where she worked side by side with POY and Pulitzer Prize winning photographers. In 2001, she found the newspaper business on shaky ground and decided to pursue a freelance career. Today, Callie has a long list of clients who benefit not only by the beautiful quality of her photos, but also from her passion and desire to get the best possible shot. Callie is known to set up a shot with a goal in mind then allow the process and interaction between the subjects to give it depth and character. 

“I like the problem solving aspect of photography, not knowing how we are going to execute something exactly, but giving it room to breathe and grow. The most interesting looking images I take are that way because they came about naturally, it’s a connection between who I’m shooting and their surroundings. I feel like there is the opportunity to learn something about the world, or about myself, almost every time I interact with someone new.” 

Callie’s been successful in her photographic style, winning several awards including 1st Place from AltPick in 2009 and having her 2014 Whirlpool campaign featured in Archive Magazine.  Callie lives in Chicago with her husband and their two sons, her greatest inspiration and favorite subjects. When Callie’s not shooting photographs she’s spending time with her family, playing piano (in which she is classically trained), running, and honing her cooking skills by creating healthy meals with her boys.  She is also available in her hometown of Minneapolis as a local and for travel worldwide.


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 establishing 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 feed with helpful marketing information believing that marketing should be driven by a brand and not specialty. Follow her on twitter at SuzanneSease.

There Are 2 Comments On This Article.

  1. Hi Callie,
    Just wanted to say hi and comment on your wonderful article and barber project.
    You are too talented! Hope all is well with you and your lovely family.
    Enjoy the summer!!

    Patte Lau