What has been the biggest influence on your work?
I love to look at photographs, photographer’s careers to see how they’ve created work year after year building on ideas,being flexible, creating work that has value.
What was your first real break if you can remember?
I clearly remember my first big project. It was a documentary project and it started as a 1 day shoot that evolved into a 10 day shoot. I came home, quit my day job, got a new job bartending and looked for work and photographed everyday for years. No BS in that statement. Not much has changed.
You have such a strong corporate client list, how did that happen?
I remember being a young photographer and looking at the stack of annual reports on my father’s desk. They were always interesting to flip through and very photo heavy. I started to keep a list of the design agencies that worked on them and started to hand print promos to mail out to the art directors. I drove many a receptionist crazy trying to get the names of the right people to mail to. It was a very organic process that worked for well for me.
I enjoy that your promo’s are so interpretive. Quite a few of your images give us hope and an escape from whatever we are doing at the moment. I have your “Self Published spread 12-13” on my wall and often fall into that image when I need a break from my desk. Did you do this consciously? Put images in that promo as an escape for the viewer inevitably sitting at their desk wishing they were someplace else?
I’ve always thought that a promo should start a conversation with whomever is on the receiving end. Whenever I start a promo edit it tends to lean towards the commercial side. What I think people want to see, where the industry is at. I start to whittle that down with the help of the designers and the edit/promo starts to have a vision. Starts to feel like an extension of myself. I also start to have doubts and spend more that a few nights thinking about the image edits, the pagination–everything. It’s about a 3 month process from the first edit to the last with a few rounds of variations. The second guessing is an important part of the process (for me) and I generally feel that if the anxiety isn’t there then there’s something wrong.
When a promo arrives on a desk I want to get it opened. I want to allow the smell of ink to fill a room. We send out promos in clear envelopes with big imagery on both the label side and the back side. It’s always the goal for the promo to drive people to the site where they can see all the work they want. I’ve heard from a handful of people who spread 12-13 is hanging on their walls. There’s no better compliment than that. Yes, I certainly want a project from the promos but if It starts a conversation with a creative, adds a few Instagram/Facebook followers then its working.
I think in this crazy paced digital age everyone needs a visual respite. I don’t think that we consciously put in imagery that speaks to that but its tends to happen. I had spread 12-13 on my mind for weeks before the right situation presented itself. I wanted to shoot it out in Montauk but the weather just wasn’t right. We were 2 weeks aways from going to press when I found myself out in SF during a crazy December storm. I had an idea of something I wanted and reached out to Heather Elder who put me in touch with location master Jim Baldwin who turned me onto Sutro Baths. We hiked in wind and rain for about 30 minutes before I found the right spot. I actually thought the birds screwed up the shot until I saw the frames. I found what I was looking for and called Marcos, the CD at TODA who was working on the promo, and asked him to hold up while I sent it off to him. (Marcos and I have worked together on promos/websites/portfolios for 15 years)
A lot of your work and comments here keep you deeply anchored in the moment, were you always like this? Or has it become refined over time?
I like to think I was always anchored in the moment. It’s how I work; how I’ve always viewed situations. Everyone has a story to share and I try to tell these stories when I work. I try to find something that we can both relate to and build upon. It’s not the image that makes the photograph, it’s about the conversation that makes the photograph happen.
How has your family influenced your work and what has it taught you about yourself?
Being a father has taught me that the well-being of one’s family trumps everything. I talk about my children (2 boys 2 girls ) to everyone I shoot and that can lead to some interesting places. All teens make for a very interesting household.
I see you are without out a rep. What’s your best advice for marketing yourself?
Be smart with your time. Be respectful when reaching out to people. Research, research, research. I love sending out simple emails with personal notes and an image. Have a sense of humor. Know that it’s not about you and approach people that way. Be kind. Don’t make calls when you’re in a low or bad mood, go see a movie instead (advice to me from Duane Michaels years ago). Know that there are “friends” and “client friends” and understand the difference.
I could use a rep. When I go on appointments with larger agencies the first or second question is “who are you rep’d by.” I’ve worked with great reps in the past and have good relationships with them. Theres positive and not so positive things about working with agents. I think one needs to learn how to be their own rep before anything else. Learn the business because it’s a business no matter how creative you are.
Tell us about the conversations behind your promo images.
Walter Kirn and first day of vacation.
I really wanted to use the shot of Walter for a couple of reasons. I loved the image but there’s also a great back story. I photographed him 17 years ago for GQ for the contributors section. Met at the Gramercy Hotel and did some pictures that were fine but when I left I never felt like I really got what I wanted, if I even knew what I wanted really. I’ve thought about if for years on and off. Seriously, years. I’ve always keep track of him and I saw a post on FB mentioning him. I reached out to him through FB and reminded him who I was. How many people named Walter are there in the world really? He remembered the shoot, actually remembered details that I forgot. I asked if I could shoot him again when he was in NYC next. As it turns out, he was in the city the next weekend. We met up, talked , shot and I got what I was after. The funny thing is, and I wasn’t even aware of this, is that there’s a white coffee cup in both shots we did.
The promo editing was done by TODA. I whittled down to about 500 images for this round. To say “edit” is a stretch though.
This is generally what my house looks like on any given weekend morning. I always have film cameras around and the table image was shot on Kodak 400 through my favorite camera the Mamiya7II. Its traveled the world with me multiple times and has never…not once, crapped out on me. I always liked this image but never saw it as a paired up with another image. They showed it to me with this image of my son Otis and I was immediately sold. This particular shot was from a test with the new Leica S camera. Most intuitive comfortable piece of gear I’ve shot with in years.
The image of the 3 tourists against a wall was shot near the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, Turkey. I love it there. Photographs to be taken at every turn and I never felt uncomfortable shooting on the streets there. We were originally there for a Coca-Cola lifestyle shoot. Whenever I go to a new place I generally throw on some running shoes and clear my head with a trek through the area that often turns into a scouting trip of some sort.
I paired this with an image from the Governors Island carnival from two summers ago. I wold have never put these two together but it works because the contrast between the backgrounds. This spread hung up in my office for a few weeks to see if it grew on me. That’s part of the process when I edit and make decisions with these things. It will live on my fridge, in my office, somewhere where I see it when I pass through. I wait to see what the spread feels like after a bit of time has passed. Might be odd, but it’s worked this long so why change?
I’m always struck by how often people will not allow an experience to simply unfold before they start documenting it. I’m guilty of it at times but to see a kid walking down the street or sitting in a stroller with an ipad just kills me. What happened to just looking around, to being curious? I’m sure these ladies were just tourists outside Macy’s during the holiday but to me they we’re missing something. The leather fanny pack does it for me.
What’s not to love about Miami in the winter?
The last image to make it into the promo. I asked to swap this in just before it left for the printers. I love weather and I had this stormy sea image in my head for weeks. I was waiting for the right time to drive out to Montauk to get it but the weather was not cooperating as I said earlier. After I shot it I though I’d have to retouch the birds out. Ha. They made it that much better! I called Marcos in a “hold the presses” moment and we got this in. One of my favorites on 2014.
Just documentary portraits from jobs. Probably the only two images from paid jobs in the promo.
I love doing promos and find the process of how someone else experiences my work refreshing. It’s a long process for me. Lots of time goes into moving images around on pages before I even send the edit to TODA. It’s a bit of an emotional process in the beginning until it leaves my hands. Once it’s done the feeling of waiting to see what the designers come back with is equal to the feeling of waiting for rolls of film to come back from the lab. curiosity. Excitement. It’s all there.
Once we get round one done, I pin them up and live with them. This will generally lead to second edit that may have a few more commercial images in it. They always look great but I’m often left feeling like something is missing. I always know what’s missing but it takes sometime to make the changes. This time around I had my producer, Susan Shaughnessy, Paula Gren of The GrenGroup and Amanda Sosa Stone (my creative buddy for years) weigh in on the edit. All agreed more personal was stronger. I’ve always thought a promo should immediately stand out in the mail so that’s why we’ve always used clear envelopes. I’ve also started to send an email or PM to specific clients with a snap of the promo cover to let them know it’s on their way. It all works though sometimes a bit better than others. When I’m traveling to an area for appointments I generally will hold off sending a promo until two weeks before I arrive. It’s always a compliment when people remember receiving it. Promos are a way to start a conversation and my career has been one long conversation with many people.