Massimo Vitali Interview

Posted on: March 24th, 2010 by: Zack Seckler

The blog has been a little dry over the last few days so to whet your appetite I’ve found a great interview with photographer Massimo Vitali over on Joerg Colberg’s Conscientious blog.

Massimo Vitali InterviewI’m always  intrigued by the career paths of photographers and was interested to find out on Vitali’s website that he started out as a photojournalist in 1979 and went on to become a director of photography in fiction and advertising films about ten years later. He’s only been creating the fine art photography that most people associate him with for about half his career.

My favorite piece of the interview is this insight by Vitali: “I think photography, even when it became part of contemporary art, never ceased, to some extent, to be a social commentary. Photography is like a river with a thousand streams that never converge. They go in the same direction, flowing alongside but separately.”

Jim Fiscus Interview

Posted on: March 2nd, 2010 by: Zack Seckler

Photographer Jim Fiscus is famous. But he’s not famous for doing interviews.Jim Fiscus Interview on Stockland Martel Blog

So when I came across a fresh Fiscus interview on the Stockland Martel blog I naturally became very excited. Stockland Martel is inviting students from it’s represented photographers’ alma maters to interview them for their blog. It’s a fun idea and the results in this interview are definitely worth a read.

My favorite part of the interview was his answer to the question “What advice do you have for aspiring photographers?”

Fiscus replied “Learn business skills. Outwork your competitors. Take risks, and be willing to fail. Have fun. Don’t take a camera on vacation. Make sure you have goals. More importantly, pause to feel good when you have achieved a goal. It’s easy to keep resetting the goals and living in the future.”

If you’re hungry for more here’s another Jim Fiscus interview previously published in Communication Arts.





Reflections by a Market Mover

Posted on: February 22nd, 2010 by: Zack Seckler

For most professional photographers moving to a new market can be a real headache. Depending on how established the photographer is a move can range from being somewhat unnerving to completely anxiety ridden.© Clay Stang

Everybody’s situation is different but there are pearls of wisdom in the story of photographer Clay Stang that many could find useful. Stang reflects on the Heather Morton Art Buyer blog about moving to Toronto after shooting mostly in New York and Calgary. He thought he could rest on the laurels of his reputation and start getting work in Toronto almost immediately. He was wrong.

“My name had meant really nothing here (Toronto). I had been in all the awards annuals. However this meant little. I lacked the trust factor. My mistake/ego was the assumption that people knew who I was and were open to a new photographer hitting the market…if an AB or AD has never met you then there is only your work and assumptions. When building a campaign most AB/AD’s don’t want to rely on assumptions and for good reason.”

Check out HMAB for the full piece.

Phillip Toledano’s Shoot for NYT Mag

Posted on: January 12th, 2010 by: Zack Seckler

I first interviewed photographer Phillip Toledano back in 2007 for a feature we did on his series of people wearing elaborate body suits – suits made out of things like baby dolls, guns and even breasts. It wasn’t just the body suit of breasts that caught my attention, all of Toledano’s work is based on very clever ideas. His imagery is skillfully crafted too; often incorporating restrained use of color and minimal lighting to set a dark yet approachable mood. He’s a unique talent and I’ve enjoyed following his work over the years.

When I saw Toledano’s series of images he did for the New York Times Magazine article What’s a Bailed-Out Banker Really Worth a few days ago I had to get in touch and find out about this new shoot. Toledano is traveling through Asia at the moment so I really appreciate him taking the time to answer a few questions to share with us.

You seem to be full of great ideas, how did you and/or the editors come up with the concepts for this series?

Generally, a magazine will send me the article, I’ll think up a few ideas, we’ll have a chat, and then more often than not, I’ll shoot what I came up with. So for the Times, they sent me the article. I read it, and then proposed some ideas. It seemed apparent to me from the outset that the photographs should be large in scale – the images should be overwhelmingly bursting with money.  Most of the ideas lived (mountains of cash, man looking in the fridge, pockets full of cash, shoveling through money) they came back with a few thoughts of their own – snow angel, and the ‘jaws’ swimming shot. So in this case, it was a little more of collaboration.

An image from Toledano’s shoot for NYT Mag

How did you create these images?

I try and do as much as possible in camera, and these shots are no exception. Pretty much everything is real – whatever retouching there was just cleaning up. So I really have to take off my cap to my crack set designing squad (we are rocket science) they ordered $30,000 dollars of fake money, and glued it onto set paper. From there, we could just mold it into various shapes for various shots, and then we’d sprinkle loose bills on the ground, to fill in. In terms of lighting, it’s not very complicated really.  I never tend to use more than 3, maybe 4 lights…an octobank and a couple of grids.  The octobank is usually the key light, with the grids giving a little bit of kick and some tasty highlights.

An image from Toledano’s shoot for NYT Mag

You seem to have a signature “Phil Toledano” look, do you do much post-production in these images, if so can you describe your general approach?

It really depends, but there’s not much post that happens, as I said. If I have any kind of look, I suspect that it might be the ideas that create the look, rather than the lighting. Oh, and I suppose if I were to generalize about how I light, I tend to prefer not TOO much light – I usually avoid white backgrounds like the plague. Why? I have no idea.

An image from Toledano’s shoot for NYT Mag

Since our interview back in late 2007 you’ve created so many new and successful projects, what are you working on now?

A portrait series called ‘A new kind of beauty.’ It’s photographs of people who’ve re-created themselves through plastic surgery. Now that we have the technological means to re-invent ourselves, what choices do we make? This series will probably be done in about 4-5 months, although I am toying with a sculptural component now.

I’m also working on a project called ‘Kim Jong Phil’  I’m interested in what happens when patriotism crosses the line in America and becomes propaganda. It’s oil paintings and bronze sculpture. This project is going to take a little longer, because I’m having the paintings and sculpture made in china, so there’s a whole back and forth that has to happen.

Andrew Zuckerman: Flying High

Posted on: December 15th, 2009 by: Zack Seckler

I had the pleasure of interviewing photographer Andrew Zuckerman in his New York office back in the fall of 2008 for a feature we did on his high-speed photography. In ’08 we discussed his books Creature and Wisdom, both of which showcase their respective subjects against white backgrounds. As you may have heard Zuckerman has a new book out called Bird which features an almost encyclopedic list of birds against, you guessed it, a white background.  In our interview last year I asked Zuckerman if he had an overarching message in his bodies of work that were joined by the common white background and he responded “I gravitate towards reductive work and minimalism. I try to create an arena that’s really clean and clear so that my subject or my collective subjects are easily understood and not clouded by style or extraneous information. I tend to elevate my subjects by reducing the elements around them. I’m interested in the bare essence of the subject. I found Zuckerman to be a very thoughtful and intelligent photographer, in addition to being a very effective marketer. I’m sure, especially considering he’s only in his early 30’s, that we’ll be seeing a lot more from him.

I recently asked Zuckerman a few questions about Bird, his answers plus an enjoyable behind-the-scenes movie follow below.

Where did the idea for Bird originate?

During the Creature project I had made an image of a Macaw from the back – it was one of those images that demanded more investigation.  So I made more pictures of birds and eventually I had enough for a book.  I was also very interested in a subject that had been explored for so long.  Imagery of Birds are found in all ancient art and have been repeatedly used throughout history – I was curious if I could add something to this tradition.  The Audubon collection has always fascinated me specifically because of his ability to strip away context and focus our eyes on the bird itself, the drawing s are incredibly detailed which also amazes me.  So, like any project, a number of factors from past and present in ones life add up to the inevitable reality that one must commit and create.

Photo by Andrew Zuckerman

How did you get access to this incredibly diverse group of animals?

Access is always the issue – it is the number one factor in making my pictures.  In this case I had the fortune of already publishing Creature and therefore having a calling card to begin a conversation with collectors and institutions.  I travelled to places as diverse as Qatar and Pittsburgh.  The most fruitful locations were at the aviaries, where I was able to setup my studio in a large free flight room and coax the birds to fly across the white set (usually with food).  In addition to the aviaries in San Diego and Pittsburgh I was fortunate to shoot at a conservationist center in Doha where I made the image of the Spix’s Macaw- probably the rarest and most endangered of all of the birds in the book.

Photo by Andrew Zuckerman

Please describe you basic lighting and technical approach to these shoots.

My choices in lighting are driven by the desire to reduce the information in the image to just subject – no shadows or background elements that could distract,  In the case of the birds moevement was of course a major concern which led the decision to use Broncolor Grafit A4 with pulso twin heads for short flash duration.  For the camera I used the Leaf Aptus 75s tethered to a laptop.

Photo by Andrew Zuckerman

You have a real affinity to the clean white background, do you ever have an impulse to break away from this tradition?

I use the white background because it is a void.  The void is one of the determining factors in allowing the subject to stand alone and rise to surface of the image.  My long term published projects all work in a tradition of cataloging – almost encyclopedic – and the consistency is very important to me.  The impulse to make images not on white is something I dont ever think about.  I make lots of different images – many not on white- it is just the on white work that is most focused and thorough and therefore most recognized.

Photo by Andrew Zuckerman

First was your book Creature and now Bird, anymore animal projects in the pipeline?

Working on the next one with Insects.  I imagine I will be working on this project for many years.