David Stuart

Posted on: December 15th, 2007 by: Zack Seckler

Written by T.K. Dalton
Edited by Nisha Chittal

Final imageFor a young David Stuart, success came slowly in what he thought would be a solitary medium. He turned to photography after quitting a rock band, assisting several photographers over a period of four years. After being asked to bid on the same job as one of his bosses, Stuart decided to try freelancing. Currently, his clients include internationally-recognized magazines, corporations, and record labels.

Commercial success has its costs, though, and Stuart remains wary of creative exhaustion. He has recently begun concentrating on his portfolio again, with images like A selection of images used to create the final imageour featured piece, Girl with Dolls. In the next year he hopes to do many more personal pieces like this one. “It’s critical to do portfolio stuff. This is the first piece I’ve done for myself in probably a year and a half,” he says. “When you’re showing art directors stuff, they want to see commercial pieces on one hand but at the same time they want to see what you can do, so when you’re doing a portfolio piece there are really no restrictions.”

Girl with Dolls showcases his intense collaboration with retoucher Scott Dorman. “It wasn’t just my piece, but ours,” Stuart says. “We had a couple concepts we were batting back and forth and we found a strip of buildings that work as a location or setting for the image.” After spending three days casting and A selection of images used to create the final imagehunting for props, Stuart spent three more days shooting. For the buildings, Stuart used a Mamiya RZ with a 110mm lens and Kodak 160vc film; for the rest of the background shots, he used a Cannon 5D with a 24-70mm 2.8 lens. Most of his exposures fell around F11/F16 at 1/200, 1/250. Stuart spent another day shooting in the studio with a 50mm 1.4 lens on the Cannon 5D at an exposure of f11 at 1/160. He lit all the studio elements from overhead with an Octabank and a Pro-7A. Stuart spent four days working post-production with Dorman, who manipulated Stuart’s images with Photoshop CS 3 on an Apple Mac Pro workstation. The final composite image combined 57 files.

There’s irony in a man forced out of music by the hassle of “having to deal with a bunch of guys” now busily collaborating during his second life as a photographer. These days, in fact, he has grown fond of collaboration. His new focus on personal work seems likely to benefit from extra hands and eyes. And if Girl with Dolls is any measure, Stuart’s portfolio work will shine in a bright, shared spotlight very soon.

Stuart was interviewed by our Editor Zack Seckler about his career and his craft:

F STOP: Tell me how you got your start as a photographer.

Stuart: It was almost a substitute for music. I used to play in bands and I got kind of tired of being on the road, having to deal with a bunch of guys. When I got out of that, I was back in school, sort of flapping around trying to figure out what I wanted to do. I went to Georgia State for my undergrad in bachelor of art, major in psychology. I had enrolled in a photography program but the first day it was just too structured and too restricted. I also kind of burned out on school, so I just withdrew. At the same time I had a photographer friend of mine, who said I could assist him for a couple of weeks on the job which was cool, I get paid to learn versus sitting in a classroom, which I was bored of.

F STOP: Do you recommend assisting for people who want to become pro photographers?

Stuart: I can only recommend that for me. For the point I was at in my life, I really wanted to be doing something versus sitting in a classroom, so for me that was the best route. I didn’t have a lot of practical experience seeing how photographers interact with clients, where you’ve got these deadlines that are different than school. At the same time, had I been a little bit younger, just finishing high school or something, maybe art school would have been great. I was just a bit tired of school at that point. I’m sure they’re both great experiences – working and going to school. For me, I felt that real world experience is something that I needed more of.

F STOP: When you actually broke off on your own did you jump right in to doing portraiture?

Stuart: It was sort of gradual. I started shooting right away; I put up a web site and I started getting some work right away. I posted my work on AdAge and Alternative Pick, Black Book, and WorkBook, stuff like that. I started shooting a little bit right away. I also just started assisting as many different people as I could. I really didn’t work with one person full time all of the time because the idea is to learn as much as I can from different people. I was assisting for about four years and taking some shooting jobs, until I finally got to the point where I didn’t have time to assist anymore because it was interfering with the shooting! One day it was like, “that’s it, I’m not going to assist anymore. I’m busy enough shooting.” It was a gradual sort of transition and then all of a sudden, that’s it, I just can’t assist anymore.

F STOP: From looking on your web site it seems like there’s quite a different range of work. You’re based out of New York and Atlanta. Is the market in Atlanta more open, and less about specialization than the New York market?

Stuart: For me there is a bit of a range in my work, but I usually get called to do what I do. I think it just depends on what you’re doing. I think most people specialize to some degree in one thing or another. Atlanta is definitely not as big a market as New York.; it’s probably harder to work here–most of my clients are not from around here anyways. But if you’re just trying to work in this market in Atlanta, it might be difficult to do something that’s too edgy.

F STOP: How do you approach a shoot where it’s composite? With the featured image, it’s a piece of personal work, right?

Stuart: Yeah, that is personal; my goal this year is to work on more personal pieces. On this one piece I have to give equal billing to Scott, the one who does the retouching. It wasn’t just my piece, but ours. A lot of time we start with a concept and find a background to work with that. So we had a couple concepts we were batting back and forth and we found a strip of buildings that work as a location or setting for the image. We started with that. It’s funny we actually shot that about a year ago. I’ve been so busy, Scott’s been so busy, we hadn’t had time to finish this up. So finally we said, we have to take some time and finish this. We jumped back in a couple of months ago and started knocking it out. We started with that background strip of images. Once you’ve got your background you can start putting different skies and things like that. The main thing is the background, and having a strong concept for the entire image. So once we had the background and got that all pieced together, we started putting these other elements in there. That’s kind of how it worked. You start with a background and go from that. Normally, to me, that’s the best way to do it.

F STOP: Were the background images all shot at the same time of day?

Stuart: It’s funny, I shot some of that film, so I think what you’re looking at is that strip of buildings that were all put together. That was shot and filmed in the middle of the day, which was very overcast. The rest of the stuff was shot digitally. So we started out shooting the film. I was going to do the whole thing on film, but it got to the point where there was too many pieces and we were trying to get stuff on location really quick.

F STOP: The exposure on your background images seem to vary, what was the reasoning behind that?

Stuart: That was probably one of the more difficult things when I started shooting digital, is understanding that you have to overexpose just a little bit because you don’t want to lose that detail in the shadows. So I’ll overexpose things just a little; I’ll err on the side of being slightly light or overexposed because that way you can always take it down in Photoshop. You want the detail to be there. It was overcast that day, but you can just see there’s a difference between the way film works and the way digital works; that’s the nature of it. I had to find a point in the day when it was overcast. I obviously didn’t want a shady or an overcast shot on the building and try to drop sunny grass in there. So everything was pretty overcast when I shot it.

F STOP: Was consistency with camera angle and height a big factor when you were shooting?

Stuart: We were trying to be consistent on how things matched up, but it’s funny, sometimes you shoot one piece and then say you shoot with those buildings in the background – it almost doesn’t matter because they were so far back. You could take them up or down and change the granulation so it wouldn’t matter; it’s just a point on the horizon. But a lot of times I found that I will shoot something and if I match up say the ground exactly where I shot the background it doesn’t visually look right, so I may adjust the height down a little bit. We had to actually shoot the ground a lot lower than you would think. I was pretty down low on the ground when we shot the stuff. When you put it all together, it worked out like that and seemed to mesh together pretty well. What we were doing is we had laptops on location and we were shooting pieces of ground together. We pieced those together with the retouchers and decided whether or not it was going to work and whether we needed to re-shoot it.

F STOP: Were the retouchers always along with you when you were shooting these individual images?

Stuart: Some of the stuff yes, some of the stuff, no. Because it’s a portfolio piece, obviously we had a little more time to work together on it instead of a job where I’m not seeing anyone ever. But the retoucher was there for the studio stuff and the buildings and some of the ground. The sky was something I shot separately. I think I shot that sky coming back from Fort Lauderdale, I believe, at the airport.

F STOP: Do you get the same kind of fulfillment creating an image as a composite compared with doing it all in camera?

Stuart: It’s definitely very different, although I like them both. One of the things I love about photography, especially going out of music, I wanted something I didn’t have to depend on a bunch of guys to do. “Man, I can just shoot this by myself.” But as it turns out you really don’t do photography by yourself. You have assistants, stylists, re-touchers, all that stuff. So I mean I found I really do love to collaborate. It’s more the thing about photography I love. It’s just the interaction with people someone puts his two cents in and it’s like “wow, look what we did together!” Collaboration is a bigger piece of the process than I ever imagined. I love collaborating; it’s just different. It’s just a different type of satisfaction. It’s kind of fun to do different things. I like jumping back and forth.

F STOP: How important is it to create an image specifically for your portfolio? What’s the return for you as opposed to just doing it for yourself?

Stuart: I think it’s critical to do portfolio stuff. This is the first piece I’ve done for myself in probably a year and a half. To be honest, I’ve been so burned out at certain points just doing what everybody else wants me to do. Obviously I try to approach every piece like it’s a portfolio piece. But for me it pays off in the sense that I have the satisfaction of doing something with photography, which is why I got into this in the first place. In that respect it’s great just to recharge my creative juices and go “wow, look what I can do!” I think a lot of times when you’re showing art directors stuff, they want to see commercial pieces on one hand but at the same time they want to see your personal work so when you’re doing a portfolio piece there are really no restrictions. I think this image is a great selling piece. I’ll enter it for an award, and use it for my portfolio and do promotional work with it. That’s my goal this year and next year, to really work on a lot of portfolio things, as many as possible.

F STOP: Do you think that creating composite images is going to continue to proliferate and be part of what photography is in the twenty-first century? Do you think it’s here to stay?

Stuart: It’s not going anywhere. Art directors have these concepts they want to do. Now that they know what you can do with digital, there’s no way they’re going to go back to not being able to use it. But there’s still the need for the traditional photograph. People are going to want to see just the straight photograph, and they are always going to want to manipulate things and do whatever they can imagine.

F STOP: You work with a lot of musicians and actors, how do you find working with big egos and personalities?

Stuart: With kids, you have to work pretty quick with them, especially young kids because they’re going to get really burned out. If you’re lucky you might have them for a half an hour. You should try to nail them in about fifteen, twenty minutes. If I’m shooting hip-hop I can pretty much count on the shoot starting four hours late. If I’m shooting CEOs, I know they’re going to be there exactly when they say they’re going to be there. There are differences with everything that you are shooting. Sometimes their egos are really big, sometimes they’re really down to earth. I guess there are some generalities you can say from genre to genre, but it also gets pretty specific with the individual you shoot. A lot of times I haven’t met them before I shoot them. You just have to be adaptable and go with the flow.

Chris Anthony

Posted on: December 1st, 2007 by: Zack Seckler

Written by Lloyd Wise
Edited by Nisha Chittal

Final imageCobwebs, tea-stains, and creaky doors; mirrors, daggers, and hallways leading to nowhere: this is Chris Anthony’s world. A film and television director for many years, this Visionaire of the gothic has recently returned to his niche in photography, a medium he loves because it allows him the freedom he needs. In film there were distractions—deadlines to meet, logistics to coordinate—he never had the space to experiment, to “just sort of free yourself and play.” And play is essential to Anthony’s work. The solitude of the studio allows him room for trial andOriginal shot of fairy that was later shrunken down for final image error, and the chance his overactive imagination and idiosyncratic interests might mix to create an unintended success.

With its sepia hues, our featured image reveals Chris Anthony’s taste for the past. He has dressed the talent with his ever-growing collection of vintage props and costumes, and as influences, he cites movements as far flung as the pre-Raphaelites (not exactly standard fare for the modern photographer.) It was his European childhood, he says, that helped him hone this love of history; a love he even brings into his experiments: He employs his Original shot that was used to create the background in Photoshopcollection of antique lenses—those made from 1870 to 1910—in many of his shoots. But Anthony isn’t lost in time. Rather, his work depends on merging his vintage aesthetic with the technical advances of the digital age.Original shot of woman lying down that was later added to the final image

Our featured image is an anarchic scene, where dwarfs go to battle, hurling fireballs, wielding swords, and shooting guns. A debauched sleeping beauty lies sprawled on a table, the trophy, seemingly, in this doll-sized battle of good and evil. Anthony’s past in film and television attuned him to the trappings of narrative, so presenting a story is essential to his work. He says: “I think that really formed the way I like to make pictures these days,” shaping what is “not really story telling, but a certain narrative quality I think they have – a little bit like they are maybe a still frame from a scene from a film.”

The background image created in PhotoshopTo produce this image, with its aspect ratio mimicking a cinema screen, Anthony started with several separate shots: each individual figure, the room, and even the wallpaper. For the different setups a differentOriginal shot of a character that was later shrunken down for the final image configuration of equipment was necessary: a 4×5 was used for the room shots, and a Hasselblad with an 80mm Zeiss lens for the “little people.” Lighting in each of the shots took a flash from Calumet Travelite 750 w/s strobes with medium sized chimeras bounced off a 20 foot high ceiling. This, as it happens, also connects to Anthony’s love of history; photographs in the Victorian era were often taken beneath skylights, bringing light to the subjects from above.

After each image was developed, they were scanned and pulled together in a day-long process of retouching. Digital rendering was particularly necessary, as he didn’t have the resources to create a room big enough for the scene. He took a photograph of the wallpaper and then cloned it to bring the room up to scale. So with a little bit of digital tweaking, the separate images were woven together into one—as seamlessly as his career merges present to the past.

Anthony was interviewed by our Editor Zack Seckler about his career and his craft:

F STOP: How did you get your start as a photographer?

Anthony: I started shooting bands when I was pretty young, like twelve or thirteen. I was living in Sweden, had a fanzine, and I shot shows and stuff like that. I was really not interested in photography as much as the music business, but photography was a way to get access to all of that. Over the next couple of years, I got better at it, and when I was fourteen or fifteen I was actually doing it semi-professionally. I moved to Italy to study art history, and at one point I stopped cold with photography and went into film– for the next eleven or twelve years, I worked in film and was a director. That really formed the way I like make pictures these days—with a certain narrative quality I think they have – each one feels like it could be a still frame from a scene from a film. I like to create a little world with characters as opposed to doing straightforward portraiture or shooting models or that sort of things. About four or five years ago, I picked up on photography again. I had found a new passion for it, and came at it very much influenced by what I had learned and done in film.

F STOP: How has your film experience helped you in what you’re doing now in photography?

Anthony: I was very hands-on as a director when it came to the visual side, because I did, after all, have somewhat of a visual background as a still photographer. When it came to the photography of all the films that I worked on, or costume, set design, all that stuff, I was very much on top of that. On some projects, I downright just did it myself as well. That was something that was a big part of filmmaking for me, and something that I learned a lot about while I was making films. Quite frankly, the one thing that I really love about doing still photos now as opposed to doing film is the control over the process. Whether it’s your own project or you’re hired to do a music video or something, no matter what, there’s going to be a lot of filters during the process – with other people – it’s just a much bigger kind of apparatus than doing a still picture with crews and all the logistics. What I’ve discovered is that I prefer doing things on my own as much as possible. With still photography, it’s much more possible to do that.

F STOP: Tell me about the process of creating the featured image FEAR OF EMOTIONAL CHEMISTRY.

Anthony: That image was kind of a test because I wanted to do a series of pretty big pictures that featured a main character all in different environments that would be in sort of a state of unconsciousness – either asleep or maybe even dead, or sort of whacked out on drugs or something. Then they have their environment explored by little people that are like eight inches tall. It would be a manifestation of what’s going on inside the head of the main character, a little bit dreamlike. I had a number of ideas for different images, with different characters, different environments, and what the little people in each of these pictures would look like and what they’d be doing. Basically, I had an idea that it would be a young girl falling asleep. It was going to be more of a benign visit from these little people. I knew what they would look like, a little motley crew of little guys. I just worked with the model and makeup artist, Jamie. We basically shot it all in my living room. We did it all in one evening pretty much. I just did one piece at a time. In terms of the makeup and the design, and the costumes and everything, I just sort of made it up as I went along. None of that was really thought out beforehand.

F STOP: It seems like all these images have a vintage look to them, what interests you about that style?

Anthony: I guess it’s a set of aesthetics or tastes that’s derived from many things. I was born and raised in the countryside in Sweden. I lived in Stockholm. We lived in the south of Spain. I lived in Morocco, then in New York, then back to Sweden. Of course, I went to study art history in Italy. I think this helped me appreciate a lot of European history and the aesthetics of certain time periods since I was really young. I was never really interested in modern, like 20th century art, or modern architecture; somehow that other Victorian time period really appealed to me always. I almost wish I lived in that world; it’s definitely very much a part of me. Of course when it comes to the two dimensional art that I like, it’s derived from the mid 19th century British painters and pre-Raphaelites and the symbolists. I love that. I love the Renaissance. I’m also more influenced and inspired by painters than other photographers. It’s a feeling that really appeals to me. I guess it’s natural that it finds its way into what I try to do myself.

F STOP: Do you have any particular painters you’d like to name?

Anthony: Caravaggio and the Flemish painters. Then photographers like Juliet Margaret Cameron. I love Irving Penn and Richard Avedon. I think they are absolutely fantastic, the portraits are amazing. At the end of the day, if I could draw worth a damn, I’d probably be a painter, not a photographer. I am experimenting a little lately with compiling a lot of different elements together in my photographs. I’ve been experimenting a lot the past few months with really, really old lenses. I’ve been buying up and gathering lenses from the 1870s to 1910, all kinds of different old lenses, and been testing them and found a couple that I really like. I’ve been doing a lot of portraits with those lenses and the quality is just fantastic. It has such a beautiful sort of swirly, blurry look to it. That’s really fun and different from what I normally do. There’s not much postproduction on that. It’s pretty much done once you shoot it. It’s really nice.

F STOP: This style that you have is so unique. How did you come up with it?

The first couple of years that I picked up on still photography again, I was going much more straightforward. I was really just kind of finding my way with it again, and really just messing around for a good couple of years. On my web site there is a series called Red White Black and Blue. That is the first attempt I made at doing a somewhat cohesive series of pictures. It was during that process that I first composited two or three images together into one. I just started looking at it and felt like deconstructing it and putting it back together again. That’s when I started doing it and learned how to do it. It’s not really that difficult to do, it just takes a lot of time. It’s just a lot of little fine-tuning so to speak. You can take pieces from this and put it in that. When I started working on the Victims and Avengers series, I did not set out to do a lot of retouching with that series. I was actually shooting it much more straightforward. Then I realized that there were so many limitations of what I could do artistically. It’s like I could usually find everything I needed but it was almost always impossible to have everything together in one place at one time. I didn’t have the money or resources to build or manufacture these little worlds. It became a thing out of necessity to start by photographing the elements separately. Some of them are incredibly pieced together from many many pictures. Some are just a couple of images. Some are more simple and done all in camera. I really love that freedom.

F STOP: A lot of your images have this extreme horizontal format, what attracts you to this format?

Anthony: I think it has a lot to do with the narrative quality that I want in my pictures, the feel that something is really going on. I want it to have a context. It was more than just what the character was thinking or doing or what they had gone through, I want the viewer to really feel like they are in this space and something had happened in this space, and what did the affects of this space have on them emotionally? Again, that’s where I was thinking more in terms of film than regular photographs. It just seemed really appropriate to bring as much of the space that I could into the image and therefore doing it horizontally seemed to make sense, almost like an extreme version of cinemascope. I think it’s really nice on the eyes. In fact, I think in most of those images the aspect ratio is 1 to 2.5. I feel like actually 1 to 2 is the ideal. A lot of the stuff I’m doing now is basically two times longer on the width than the height. A great Italian cinematographer said that was like the ideal format for film. And it’s almost never been done.

F STOP: Are you currently doing more personal work? Or fine art to sell as prints?

Anthony: That’s pretty much one and the same. At the end of the day, my personal work is for the galleries. There is really no difference there, I’d be making the same photographs even if there wasn’t a show. That is the main goal with anything.

F STOP: Do you see yourself more as a fine art photographer or as an advertising photographer?

Anthony: I definitely see myself more in the fine art end of things. That’s what is most important to me – to be able to do my own stuff as much as I can. But the commercial side is really interesting and fun as well. So far, in the last year or so, I’ve been extremely lucky to do a few things that were really quite up my alley. It didn’t feel like I was in any way whoring myself out or anything. They were fun to do and it was fun to collaborate with the advertising agency and the record company, great people to work with. God, if I’m lucky enough to keep getting work like that every now and again, then what more can I ask for really? The fine art stuff has been only in the last year or so and is picking up in terms of sales and people buying prints and portfolios and stuff. I still need the commercial side to allow me to do the fine art stuff. It would be nice some day to just be able to do exactly what I want to do and maybe do some commercial job once in a blue moon. But right now I’m doing a little bit of both.

F STOP: What’s your approach to lighting?

Anthony: It varies because in this series the environments for each image are really quite different. That dictates different lighting schemes for different environments. In fact on this featured image, it differs a lot from Victims and Avengers. I actually did a lot of stuff on locations that entailed using available light. I rented a huge hotel for a few days just about a month ago, an old hotel from 1906 in downtown Los Angeles that Charlie Chaplin once owned. It has huge ballrooms and old suites and stuff. I shot several different environments in this place. The lighting was completely different from one shot to the next. In one particular shot it could be a huge open ballroom and I’d place the subject right near the window and pretty much just use the sunlight pouring in through these massive windows. In another one I’d do the same thing but maybe put a huge Octabank on a boom way high above. If there is any one thing that I do a lot it is that I almost always start with a top light; sometimes hardly anything more than that. I think that comes from my love of those old photographs from the Victorian era where a lot of times they’d shoot in a portrait studio where there would be a skylight. It’s very soft light coming from above. That’s the light I really, really like. Now when I’ve been shooting these portraits with the old lenses I’m shooting on an exposure of one or two seconds with these things, there’s no shutter, there’s no iris. I like it really, really simple.

F STOP: Where did you come up with the idea for using the little people in this series?

It’s really just something from when I was a kid, I was kind of obsessed miniaturization. I could just sit there and stare at mundane objects on the table top, like an ashtray, a book, a pencil or something, and imagine myself being a few inches tall and how I would relate to the normal world being so little. Hours could go by where I would dream about that sort of stuff. It was always fascinating to me when I was a kid. It kind of stuck with me always. The idea to actually do it in a picture occurred to me last year at some point. It was really just going to be one little set of small people that were the main characters that you were going to follow through different photographs, but I threw that idea out. The idea of sticking with the little people, though, that was kind of fantastic, and also a little funny, with a little humor and not quite as dark and serious as the Victims and Avengers stuff.

F STOP: It seems like a lot of your ideas and influence on your work, a lot of it comes from your childhood. Why do you think that is?

Anthony: I don’t know. With certain people there are things that hit you so strong. When you are a kid there are certain influences, certain things in the world that affect you in such a deep way that it just sticks with you. I think it’s a really good thing as well to be able to be in touch with that side of oneself, and that sort of childlike sense, and of the things that amused you or frightened you as a kid. Those things just sort of stayed with me. It’s not like I sit around and reminisce all day long about my childhood, but certain things keep popping out. I can’t really let them go.

Note: The image featured in this article and more of Anthony’s new work will appear as part of the “I”M THE MOST NORMAL PERSON I KNOW” show at the Corey Helford Gallery at 8522 Washington Blvd. in Culver City, CA from January 26th to February 16th, 2008.