The Showcase: Ivo Mayr

Posted on: September 10th, 2009 by: Zack Seckler

“The Showcase” is a publication featuring a photographer that has caught our eye here at The F STOP. I’ve asked Ivo Mayr to answer a few questions about his gravity-defying photography. PLEASE NOTE: Ivo Mayr is German and…surprise: English is not his first language. Consequently please excuse the frequent bracketed words we added to clarify his answers.

Many of your photos involve people actively defying gravity, where did the idea first come from and when did you start creating these types of images?

The idea [evolved during] a period [in] 2005 when I rotated every photograph that I could [find]. I noticed that the meaning of a rotated picture could be completely different. In the beginning I took staged pictures of people in open urban spaces with a lot of concrete and flat elements. After that I tried out letting them make artificial poses, so that by rotating the picture it became a stunning effect. I liked the impression of people [who were] knocked off their feet, but still [remained] balanced. I called this work “Light-weight.“

An image from Ivo Mayr’s “Passers-by” portfolio

What is the concept behind this body of work?

I’m interested in playing with the viewing habits of the observer. With my pictures I want to confuse my audience and force them to have a closer look in order to understand the  picture. The photo project “StadtLandFlucht“ where you can see flying people is about the state of mind between having lost your roots and longing for home. In this context flying has the meaning of loosing [one’s] roots and the feeling of being in-between.

The photo work “Passers-by“ is the result of a scholarship that I gained in summer 2007. My task was to create an artistic portrait of the city Koblenz in Germany. I [went up to] people in the streets, people who had attracted my attention due to their clothes, vibrancy, posture etc. I portrayed them detached from the ground, hanging on walls, trees or lanterns. These [images] represent the [attitude] of Koblenz in a very casual way.

An image from Ivo Mayr’s “StadtLandFlucht” portfolio

I’m guessing you’ve either traveled in time to a future where people can fly and beamed your portfolio back to 2009 or you’re using a bit of Photoshop to create these images. Can you share your technique?

I use a lot Photoshop to create my images, if necessary I [combine] up to three pictures [to create one final image]. To keep a natural impression, [which is] important for the effect I think, I shoot different pictures from the same fixed position with a tripod [during a very short time and over a short] distance. The final images are composited [in] Photoshop.

An image from Ivo Mayr’s “Passers-by” portfolio

Your locations are quite varied, from beautiful mountain backdrops to gritty city blocks, what compels you to choose a location for one of these images?

The sequence “StadtLandFlucht” that is presented here shows people on the one hand at their home location and on the other hand at a place that they don’t view as their home. [For the] home locations I have chose a rural area at the outskirts of the Alps (where I grew up) as a clear contrast to an urban surrounding. In a way I play with cliché images to create a kind of universal backgrounds recognizable for everyone.

An image from Ivo Mayr’s “Passers-by” portfolio

What do you want your audience to take away from this body of work?

I want to play with the viewing habits of the observer, [I] want to force them to have a closer look in order to understand the picture. I [also] like touching [people with] humor. I often watch them laughing [and] surprised while looking at my images. I hope to impress the audience with my pictures, show them things as they have never have seen them before, so that they [will] never forget them.

An image from Ivo Mayr’s “StadtLandFlucht” portfolio

Movin’ On Up

Posted on: September 8th, 2009 by: Zack Seckler

Brian Paul Clamp, Director of the wonderful ClampArt gallery in New York City, shares a revealing story of discovering, and ultimately representing, the work of photographer Amy Stein for us. It’s an important story that sheds light on the often talked about yet seldom discussed process of how photographers find representation at prestigious galleries. If anyone has similar stories of how they found gallery representation please share in the comments section.

Produced by Anna Beeke.

As a gallery owner, one of the questions I get asked most often is how I choose the artists I exhibit and represent.  It is difficult to provide a concise answer, since it differs case-to-case, so instead I will offer an example of the process by which work by a specific artist made its way onto the walls of ClampArt.

On September 10th, 2009, Amy Stein’s series, “Domesticated,” will be open at my gallery in Chelsea.  I first saw prints from this body of work at Review Santa Fe in 2006—over three years ago.  Review Santa Fe is a prestigious annual portfolio review event to which prominent gallerists, curators, book publishers, magazine editors, and the like are invited to review photographers’ portfolios.  The event is vetted, so the quality of the work is generally quite accomplished.  Amy Stein applied to the event, was accepted, and flew down to Santa Fe just one day after graduating from the School of Visual Arts with her MFA.  Stein sat down at my table with her portfolio of prints, and we had a twenty-minute discussion while she presented her work.  I remember being struck not only by the quality and sophistication of Stein’s concept and imagery, but also by the manner in which she presented herself and her ideas.  Both Stein and her work struck a chord, and I made note to keep my eye on this up-and-coming artist.

An image from Amy Stein’s portfolio

Many artists optimistically (and unrealistically) believe portfolio review events such as Review Santa Fe (Santa Fe, NM), FotoFest (Houston, TX), Photolucida (Portland, OR), and Rhubarb Rhubarb (Birmingham, England), to name just a few, to be analogous to a lottery, where, if they are lucky enough to meet the right arts professional, they will soon be catapulted to the highest echelons of the fine art world.   While this has been the case in a few highly unusual instances, most of the time these are events where a lot of valuable networking occurs, and artists are able to plant seeds that may later flourish after a good deal of determination and old-fashioned hard work.  Such was the case with regard to Amy Stein and me.

In June later that same year, I attended the Affordable Art Fair in New York City.  Dan Halm, Director of External Affairs at the School of Visual Arts, had curated a booth of work by recent graduates for the event.  This particular year he chose selections from Stein’s “Domesticated” series for the fair.  SVA’s booth was definitely one of the strongest that I saw, and I clearly remembered Stein’s distinctive imagery from Review Santa Fe.  I liked the presentation to such an extent that I ended up purchasing a piece by Stein titled, “Pelt,” in which a dead cat is being stretched and pinned to a board in preparation for taxidermy.

An image from Amy Stein’s portfolio

It was after this point that I began to notice Stein’s name popping up everywhere.  She had wisely added me to her email list, and I would receive periodic announcements of her ever-increasing accomplishments.  Her photographs were included in various benefit auctions that I attended, and she began receiving an array of awards and honors.  (Not coincidentally, I was one of the judges or jurors for a few of these honors, and was at least partly responsible for Stein’s inclusion on the 2007 list of the world’s top fifteen emerging photographers for American Photo magazine; for her securing the 2007 Critical Mass Book Award; and for her work making it into the Griffin Museum’s annual juried show in 2007, which led to her first two-person show later that year at the same instituation).  Further, Stein began to exhibit her photographs extensively, and soon she secured representation by galleries outside of New York in California and Europe.  Taking my clients to various art fairs, we began seeing Stein’s prints on display, and it was clear that premier private collectors and prestigious public museums were already aggressively collecting her photographs.  I began advising clients to acquire her work, and bought a second piece for my own collection, sensing that many of the editions were already beginning to sell out.

Another important point to note is that during this whole process, Stein regularly visited ClampArt, familiarizing herself with my stable of artists.  Her face became a regular one at my gallery’s events, and we began a warm acquaintance.  I appreciated her perspective on the art I was exhibiting, and took note of her awareness and knowledge of the art world at large.

An image from Amy Stein’s portfolio

At some point in this flurry, Stein also initiated an intelligent blog, which quickly received a considerable amount of attention, and I found myself following what she had to write.  By 2008 I was beginning to entertain the idea of asking Stein to allow me to represent her work in New York, seeing that she was also hard at work on other series of photographs building upon her already successful “Domesticated” project.

Then finally, just a few months past, an unexpected turn of events led to the opening of the September/October slot in my gallery’s exhibition program – – arguably the most desirable time window of the year, marking the kick-off of the fall New York art season.  Nervous about filling the gap so quickly, Stein’s work immediately came to mind.  She had proven herself in just a few short years as a serious artist devoted to her practice, and I knew she had a fully realized body of work ready to exhibit that had not yet received a solo show in New York City.  To my delight, Stein was thrilled by the invitation, and the exhibition was planned quickly without a great deal of complication.

The process by which an artist’s work finds its way into a commercial gallery is often long and circuitous.  Stein was gracious, politely tenacious, and smart.  Professional relationships can often be analogous to marriage, and after three years of “dating,” I was certain that I liked Stein as a person.  This was someone with whom I would enjoy working on a day-to-day basis; someone whom I could trust; and someone who clearly has a bright future, so that after one successful show I will not be left in the lurch with no further compelling work to promote.

An image from Amy Stein’s portfolio

The Showcase: Jarrett Murphy

Posted on: September 3rd, 2009 by: Zack Seckler

“The Showcase” is a publication featuring a photographer that has caught our eye here at The F STOP. I’ve asked Jarrett Murphy to answer a few questions about his nighttime photography.

What makes for a great nighttime photograph?

I shoot at night because I have control over the lighting like a studio, so my first concern is any strong lighting in the area. Bright lights make it almost impossible to shoot, especially if they’re sodium vapor lights. I get as far from traffic as I can so their headlights don’t bleed into the shot, and so my equipment and I don’t get hit if a driver is distracted by my lighting. Once I’m away from ambient light that can ruin the foreground, if the background is far away (anything more than a quarter mile), I need ambient light to fill in the background. Usually the moon is good for that when it’s full enough, because it’s a color temperature that’s pretty easy to correct in camera. And, if I have a choice, an area with a nice police department, because the more jaded police can be rather hostile to some guy fooling around with lights in the middle of the night.

An image from Murphy’s portfolio

 

How do you create these images?

I’ll start by saying it’s considerably easier in the winter, as the first step is scouting. To find an interesting formation or subject matter is easy around a lot of snow, because any windy area has beautiful snow drifts. I just spent some time in Maine photographing and spent more time scouting than anything else. Once I find my subject, I set up lights around the scene and meter their brightness. I’m often alone when I shoot, so I almost always set up the lighting by my best estimation of what will look best. I don’t own a digital camera outside of my cell phone, and Polaroid slows me down, not to mention that I don’t have much left since type 54 is in short supply. Then I open the shutter, add the prescribed amount of light, and leave the shutter open to expose the background if it’s too far for me to light myself. To help with exposing for the background I keep notes on my previous shots including my exposure times, fullness of the moon, cloud cover and ambient light. [Then I] close the shutter.

An image from Murphy’s portfolio

Why did you choose this subject matter?

I had been in college for a few years, spending a lot of hours photographing in the studio, and getting pretty tired of it. I felt like I was a better photographer than my photographs, which were looking like everyone else’s. The first landscape I shot was a mix of irony and experimentation. I had been getting lots of studio lighting assignments, and everyone was shooting inside, so I went to the park. Once I printed it, I kept thinking about it. I decided that we are overwhelmed with photographs that tell us what we should value, but we don’t see photographs in this hyper-real validating style, unless it’s a product or service with someone that benefits from your desiring it. I continued with this subject matter to highlight the value of the non-commercial world.

An image from Murphy’s portfolio

What’s your thought process when deciding what areas of the landscape to light and which to leave dark?

There are two goals I have with my lighting in most cases. The first is to take a unique subject, and highlight it, separate it from the background, and make it beautiful. I try to use the light to expose textures and flowing shapes in the subject, as well as creating gradients that show the shape of the subject. The second, is to make the light look fairly natural, as though it might be from the moon peeking through a cloud, or from nearby buildings or street lights. I definitely want it to look surreal, but not fake.

 

 

An image from Murphy’s portfolio

 

Stephen Wilkes

Posted on: September 1st, 2009 by: Zack Seckler

Written by T.K. Dalton

Edited by Jesi Khadivi

Final image


Whether shooting Jason Kidd for Sports Illustrated or the anonymous maintainers of Times Square’s “guts” for the New York Times Magazine, Stephen Wilkes frames his subjects to reveal a truth about them. He captures the humanity of a glistening Chinese skyscraper, of an Ellis Island office a century removed from the last huddled masses it welcomed. His impressive career encompasses editorial, advertising, and fine art work of equal skill and renown. All are united by his attention to detail and his keen sense of the eye’s hidden rhythm.

Time, Portfolio, and Vanity Fair are just a few of the many glossies featuring Wilkes’ images. His photojournalism transitions naturally into fine art, which he approaches as social documentary. This was nowhere more true than in his images of contemporary China, a country he had last seen in 1978, just two years after the end of the Cultural Revolution.  “Whole cities had changed, they weren’t even recognizable,” he says. “Because of my unique perspective, I had a true concept of what China was versus what China has become. One of the things I was drawn to was humanizing the factory worker.” His method of humanizing the worker relied on capturing what he calls the “epic quality” of China’s factory buildings and their cavernous, glimmering interiors. A sense of uniformity pervades the images, with shimmering steel filling a room populated by workers wearing dull orange shirts. Carefully framed and symmetrically balanced the human subjects seem as vulnerable as Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times. The image on his website set outdoors echoes this symmetry, while foregrounding the loneliness of the single worker living—for that that moment—between the buildings.

His approach to fine art, editorial work, and even advertising is informed by his understanding of photography as “the recognition of a rhythm in the world of real things.” This idea, featured on his website and excerpted from a Henri Cartier-Bresson essay, runs throughout his work. It is nowhere clearer than in our featured image, a shot of the Highline that appeared in New York Magazine. The shot appealed to Wilkes because of the “intimacy” it offered with the buildings. But shooting from rooftops didn’t satisfy him. “Everything was a little too high,” he said. “I was losing the intimacy.” So he shot from a cherry picker at points throughout the day, then worked with a retoucher to electronically blend the images together. He wanted to capture the floating, expansive feeling that had drawn him to the Highline to begin with, and settled on a 17th Street location. This ended up being key, as the other challenge of the shoot was finding an effective transition point between day and night shots. Wilkes picked a good spot.

Wilkes shot this image using a 39 megapixel digital back on a 4 x 5 camera. He embraces large-format photography because it gives his all-important details greater depth. “So much of my work is about levels of story,” he says.  He rotated the camera manually on a tripod throughout the day as he shot tons of images of the Highline while different street scenes unfolded within his frame (“The last thing you want to do is come back to the studio and have this great picture but realize you’re missing something”). He varied his exposure throughout, keeping a constant f-stop but varying the shutter speed to allow for proper exposure as the sun set. Periodically he and his retoucher, who was in the cherry picker with him, would load images onto a laptop and start creating rough comps to make sure he was getting what he needed. The final image was created by simply stitching together multiple images in Photoshop.

Wilkes’s success is due in no small part to his executive producer. She knows him well; in fact, they’ve been married 26 years. “People either think it is great or that we are nuts,” he says. “But it works for us.” Long-standing relationships have been crucial to his success, as a lesson he learned from his father demonstrates: treat every job like your first one. The Highline shot underscored the joy of working with supportive colleagues. “The great thing about working with people who trust you to do what you do [is] you can take something that is really interesting but take it to another level,” he said. “That’s always exciting when you can take something that’s unfamiliar for some people, and familiar for others and make something dramatically different.”

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

F STOP: The genesis of this idea for your Highline image came from a shot that you had actually done several years earlier, right?The Life magazine image

Wilkes: Changing time in a single photograph is a very interesting concept. The genesis of this idea really happened many years ago when I was working for Life magazine on “a big picture”. They hired me to photograph Claire Danes and Leonardo Dicaprio as Romeo and Juliet, and I had an opportunity to photograph them along with the entire cast and crew in Mexico City where they were filming. We spent about four days waiting to actually get the entire cast and crew into this one photograph and Life had asked me to create a panoramic gatefold.  When we got to the set, I realized that the set was actually a huge square. So I decided to take the square and break it apart, ala David Hockney, using individual images. I ended up shooting over 250 images that I pasted together by hand. The interesting time aspect came into play when in the centre of the photograph is where the stars are, Leonardo Dicaprio and Claire Danes, they are A detail from the Life magazine image showing the mirrorliterally in a moment of embrace when everybody else, cast and crew, is surrounding them. To the right side of the photograph is a huge mirror, probably 20 feet in height. I asked them to kiss for the reflection image. So the reflection does not match the centre embrace, they are kissing in the reflection. When you look at the photograph quickly you think the image in the mirror is a reflection. But then you realize that the reflection is a time change and a completely different moment. That idea stayed with me for a while. 

F STOP: A lot of your work deals with time: blurred motion and long exposures. What appeals to you about it?

Wilkes: It’s true of some of my work, especially the China series where I shoot long exposures so you don’t see people. I am interested in creating voids in physical spAn image from Wilkes’ portfolioace. If I am shooting architecture I want your focus to be on the architecture. Usually, It’s just a single element that I am drawn to. I’m interested in scale and the context of humanity within that scale. A lot of my China work delves into that. By the same token, I do shoot single decisive moments. I look for a certain type of spontaneity. I’ve been known to wait hours to get it, patience is a photographers secret weapon. I work on both ends of that spectrum, it really depends on the story I am trying to tell and what I am photographing. 

F STOP: How did you become interested in photography and what was your path to becoming a professional photographer?

Wilkes: My first photographs were taken through a microscope when I was twelve years old. That shot of a paramecium sort of changed my life. The combination of seeing a microscopic world and actually holding a photograph in my hand for the first time excited me in a way I had never felt about anything. I had a portrait done of me and my twin brother by a candle light at our bar mitzvah and I remember looking at the photo and thinking it was the coolest thing I had ever An image from Wilkes’ portfolioseen, I wanted to learn from this guy. So I ended up working for the photographer for almost a year in Jamaica Queens every Saturday. By the time I was 15 I already knew how to make the wedding albums, where the prints were made, and how to do the double exposure of the couple in the champagne glass.  I started my own little business and I had cards printed up.  By the time I was 16, I was doing weddings, special events, whatever I could do as the local kid in the neighbourhood. I used to go to people and say listen I know I’m young, take advantage of me while I’m young an innocent. I had a pretty good reputation, and I was getting work. I published a photograph in Cover Girl magazine when I was 18. I had taken photographs of  a model, which she used to enter a contest with the magazine. When she won they called and told her they wanted me to re-shoot the photo in color for the cover.

I’ve been blessed with great teachers and mentors my whole life. I had incredible professors during my college years at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications. When I left school I became Jay Maisel’s assistant and after a year I became his associate, which was when I started shooting my own jobs. Jay was my mentor, and  of the many lessons he taught me the most important was just how hard you have to work to make it in this business. I was Jay’s associate for 2 years, and with Jay’s blessing ventured out on my own. I do feel that the more you practice the luckier you get. I feel there is a direct relationship in any type of mastery with how much time you put into something. I have good fortune to be as An image from Wilkes’ portfolioexcited today as I was when I was 13. That’s what this picture is about, in a way I continue to challenge the idea of what a photograph can be. I’m always interested in doing something different and I think sometimes people are sort of surprised when they think they have me pigeon holed and then I do something completely different. I am interested in pursuing all aspects of the art.

F STOP: Your work seems to oscillate between produced images for big commercial clients and a more intimate photojournalistic style. Tell me about that dichotomy.

Wilkes: I take pictures and then I make pictures. I love doing both; I love discovering something and photographing it. On the other hand as I have grown as a professional, I have developed the craft and the professionalism of learning how to produce a job. I think the basis of even being able to execute jobs like that comes down to abilities to work with people and create an environment where people feel comfortable and relaxed

F STOP: Where do you think your interest in these two modes of photography stem from?

Wilkes: My core philosophy about photography came from journalism. I was a street An image from Wilkes’ portfoliophotographer; I used to go out for hours at a time, that ‘s where I really cut my chops.  Street shooting is like being a hunter; you can see how a moment builds. You can sense it happening. I think when you develop your eye through the study of gesture, movement and human nature; the ability to create those moments eventually translates to you as a director. When I work on big commercial jobs, I direct the movement and the moment, so to speak. But if you don’t understand the movement and the nature of human gestures then my pictures don’t have that energy or sense of realism. I think it all starts at being a real student of photojournalism.

F STOP: Where did the interest in doing advertising develop?

Wilkes: It just became a challenge for me. People used to look at my work early on and they couldn’t even realize I was lighting. That was kind of interesting, there was a perception that I had incredible luck all the time. When in reality I had discovered how to light and produce An image from Wilkes’ portfolioimages that look found. But then rather than go away from that idea, I felt like I could even do something more. As my career began to grow I began doing even bigger production photographs for major campaigns. I remember doing the launch campaign for a new Kodak film called Ektar, I had to photograph a guy propelling down the top of the totem pole in Monument Valley. It was an enormous production. We had these professional stunt guys dropped via helicopter on top of this 600 ft high stone monolith, there was only one place in the United States that makes a single piece of rope 600 feet long that a climber could repel with. It happened to be in New York City. There were amazing challenges, yet we pulled it off. Each project creates its own set of challenges. I think that’s what I love, the challenges. We do so much of the legwork prior to shooting; the easiest part for me is the actual shooting. Once we have done all our homework, I am just living in the moment when I get on set. 

F STOP: Your executive producer is your wife Bette. Did that work relationship develop from a romantic relationship?

Wilkes: Yeah, absolutely. She was a hard driven and well-liked established businesswoman when I first met her. I was really impressed, we were the same age, she asked me what I did An image from Wilkes’ portfolioand I was like, “Oh, I’m this struggling photographer,” as I was assisting and doing what I could do. She was intrigued by what I did and she said she never saw pictures like my pictures. She always believed we would be successful, and told me I was one of the most ambitious people she’d ever met. When you’re in it, you don’t feel that way about yourself. We shared a one-room apartment for three years and just saved everything we could. Whatever we made we invested back into the business. 

F STOP: Do you know any other photographers with wives or husbands as their executive producers?

Wilkes: People either think it is great or that we are nuts. But it works for us. We’ve  been married for 26 years, so I think it’s worked pretty well.

F STOP: What do you think has been the one thing that has really formed your success?

Wilkes: My dad is a self made man, he made fragrances. He always used to tell me that he would sell a guy on the street two gallons of fragrances when he first started his business. As the business grew he continued to sell that guy those two gallons.  He never forgot the people who helped get him started in business. I always respected that and I guess for me I think ifAn image from Wilkes’ portfolio there is one key, it is to treat every job like my first job. I never bank on what I’ve done.

F STOP: Tell us about your fine art work. There seems to be a common line of capturing the architectural ascetics of a place and the character of that place. Do you agree? 

Wilkes: I feel like my work is sort of a social documentary approach to fine art. I mean that’s what I am drawn to. I realized when I created the Ellis Island work I could take pictures that were not only beautiful to look at, but could actually inspire people to change or get involved in something. 

F STOP: And in contrast to places that are forgotten you have the new factories in China. Tell me about that series.

Wilkes: Well China was a very interesting project for me because it was a way for me to look back and look forward at the same time. I had the good fortune in 1978 to go to China, two years after the Cultural Revolution had ended. It was a very important moment for me as a photographer. I was hyper-focused on the idea that I was a photographer and I was really looking to create a body of work that would separate me from a host of other photographers and get a career going. So that series of pictures even to this day is as powerful for me as it ever was. When I went back 27 years later, whole cities had changed, they weren’t even recognizable. I felt the need to photograph what I was seeing. I had a unique perspective on what China was versus what China has become. In the factories, beside the epic scale I was also drawn to humanizing the factory worker.

F STOP: How did you get access?

An image from Wilkes’ portfolioWilkes: We wrote letters to a lot of these factories and showed them my work. I think they were very cautious because everybody is worried about being misrepresented. When I shared with them that I was doing pictures that were showing the epic quality of what Chinese factories are, what China has become, many of them acquiesced. I try to keep my China work very open. I don’t want to dictate how you should feel about my pictures. I am just showing it the way I see it, I want to allow the viewer to bring his or her own interpretation to the work.

To see more of Stephen Wilkes’ work visit his website.