Please tell us about yourself as a person and as a photographer. Where did you grow up and what sparked your desire to photograph? Were you active with the photography department in high school? Where are you living now?
I grew up all over. My father literally was a rocket scientist. He was one of the designers of the zip code machine and system, he was also part of engineering design team for mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs. He was the senior hydraulics design engineer for the crawler, which brings rockets out to the launch pad from the vab (vertical assembly building) it is still in use today. After that he worked on what is now the Abrams m-1a1 tank. So wherever there was a manufacturing/design facility we moved there every six months to a year. Needless to say I had a huge imaginary life and need to fill the time between no friends to new friends. Photography for me was that for me.
My interest in photography was sparked when I was 6 years old. My uncle frank was stuck with babysitting me and he was a wedding photographer. He had to make some prints so off to the darkroom we went, after my first wiff of fixer I was hooked. I save up my allowance for a year and purchased my first camera, a Nikon rangefinder, in a garage sale. I sold my first picture to the local town newspaper when I was nine. Was paid 50.00. I took my father out to lunch at Woolworths. I remember leaving a 1.00 tip (that was what my dad would do)
I was the youngest person in the photography class in high school and then I wasn’t. Photography was a seniors only class and I was allowed in when I was a freshman. The teach Doug Johnson was really supportive and let me bounce of the walls.
Can you describe the defining moment or image that made you want to become a photographer?
When I knew I wanted to be a photographer, I mean new it in my core, was when I was 15 years old and out to the smoky mountains with my other uncle CJ Elfont. I shot my first “smokey water” waterfall. I watched how the world stopped for him when he shot and the look on his face after he made an exposure with his view camera. I had the “buzz” when I captured my water shot. That was when I knew.
What was the first camera you ever owned and how did you come across it? Was it a hand-me-down, purchased at a garage sale, found on the side of the road?
I purchased it in a garage sale in new Cumberland pa. It was a Nikon rangefinder.
What was your first paid photography job? Did you enjoy it? Were you scared? Did you make any mistakes?
My first paid job was a wedding I shot in high school. I charge 250.00 and it cost 285.00 to process it. No I did not enjoy it, yes I was scared and asking me if I made mistakes is a silly question I charged 250.00 and it cost me 285.00. Noooooo…… I did not make one mistake at all…
How did you decide to make photography more than a hobby? If photography is your full time job, how did you make that decision? What was your backup plan if the photography career didn’t take off? Any regrets? If you are not a full time photographer, what is stopping you? What is your full time job? Any plans to become a full time photographer in the future?
I didn’t decide photography decided for me. I’m a conservatory trained actor and a graduate of USC film school. My uncle CJ gave me a camera for a graduation gift and said, “I’m tired of listening to you bitch about waiting tables. I taught you photography go shoot actors headshots.”
What was the last straw, the final decision maker to make you go digital? What do you miss about film?
I miss nothing about film. There was never a last straw form me. I wanted to go digital before they invented the first digital camera. I was blessed to be both Nikon’s first digital photographer outside of Nikon to be asked to beta test and Epson’s first beta tester of printers.
What is the hardest part of the job when shooting for a client? What is the hardest part of the job when shooting for yourself?
I think shooting yourself is pedantic and narcissistic. I find those types of images to simply be silly. The easiest way to deal with a client is to show no fear. All of that is handled in pre-production. If you let your work always speak for itself you have no worries. I never speak about my work in terms of “isn’t this amazing” i let the images do that. I never doubt my ability to create great imagery. That is what i do. Like a bank manage manages a bank or a baker bakes bread. That is what they do. Water finds its own level.
Do you try to help others learn about photography? If so, please explain how.
Sure do. I write books, produce tutorial dvds teach seminars arround the world.
Jay maisel. Why? Look at his work, go and listen to him speak. Josef Sudek. His sensability and use of the simple things of life to show the beauty of the world. That is what we should aspire to.
Do you consider yourself an artist first before thinking about the job ahead of you?
Art and artist are social terms. You can only be an artist or the work you create be called art if people who don’t know you accuse you and your work of being art and you an artist: I simply don’t think that way. People who do that are a wee bit pretentious doesn’t you think?
What is the best advice you would give a photographer just starting out?
First, consider a career in plumbing. Photography is for those people who cannot do anything else. Not that they are not capable of doing other things it’s just that they can only do the one thing express them selve through the camera.
Second, stop taking pictures. Be taken by your pictures. Let the images pull you trough the camera and not the other way around.
Third, master natural light photography first.
The key to creativity is…
Always say yes. Always listen your heart.
What is your favorite camera that you have used or owned? What camera and lens combination do you use most of the time when photographing for a client? What about when photographing for yourself?
The original Nikon d1. I shoot with camera 000001. That camera was magic. My favorite lens is the 70-210d series lens. I use it to this day.
What is your favorite time of day to shoot outdoors?
From just before sunrise to just after sunset.
How do you deal with rejection of your work, losing a job, not making a sale or a negative comment?
I don’t give a rat’s ass if someone likes my work. I like my work that is the only person who matters. I figure if you don’t like my work i now know something about you.
How do you protect your camera when not in use? When traveling? When on the way to a job? What if it rains?
I use Nikon. The world’s most “vinnie proof” camera ever made. Lowepro are the bags I use, I think they are the best built and they really go out of their way to listen to photographers when they design their bags. A secret to protecting your camera in the rain is to steal the shower caps from hotels. They are the most perfect camera covers ever devised.
Do you clean the CCD yourself or send it away somewhere? If you send it away, where to and how much does it cost?
Clean it my self
I recently started a project called 5511 where a client pays $5 for a 5 minute photo shoot when 1 artificial light is used and they receive 1 digital photo. Is this something you would be interested in trying? For me it is something fun and challenging. What are you thoughts on that?
I’m not that type of photographer. I use god as my gaffer, and therefore I shall never want for light. The way I see it is he brings the sun to every shoot for me to use.
What music sparks your creativity? Do you listen to that when shooting a job? Do you listen to music at all? Do you listen to what the client likes?
Sid Page and David Schrealander the DVD is called Odessy that and the sound track by Mark Isham from the movie “The Moderns” both are out of print.
What is your favorite band? Movie? Book? Museum? Website? Who is your favorite photographer? Artist?
Johnny Hartman. Bladerunner. The Foutainhead. The Gugenhiem in NYC. Don’t have a favorite website. Josef Sudek. Pablo Picasso.
What is your favorite photograph you’ve ever taken?
One I haven’t taken yet is my favorite image.
What is your favorite photograph from another photographer?
Dovima with the elephants. Richard Avedon.
Is there something you always ask yourself or think just before you push the shutter button?
Do you find yourself always looking at the World wondering how it would look as a photograph?
No. I think the world is always waiting to take me. I just have to slow down enough to let it.
Anything you would like to add for our readers?
Don’t worry about what others think of your work. Worry about what you think of your work.
Thank you for reading the interview. This interview was presented to the photographer with questions asked by me and submissions from other photographers. The photographer is asked to answer only what he/she is comfortable with. If you would like to contribute to future interviews, please submit your your questions to me on Twitter, Facebook or on the Interview intro blog post, What would you ask a photographer?. Thank you for reading and enjoy the interview.