What attracted you initially to photography?
I was 16 and newly broken up with. The photography club at school, which I had not yet joined, had a field trip planned for New Orleans and my grandpa Tony had just given me a Pentax SLR for my birthday. I wanted to get away. A friend’s father looked at my images from that trip and told me that I saw beauty in what others might think was ugly or boring.
Really I’ve always been seduced by imagery, letting it make me feel and wonder, having grown up with large picture books and family photo albums that were always open.
DSLRs became the dominant tool when I was in college and mine provided me with a great way to learn as I shot what my choices behind the lens would render. But it also made me feel overwhelmed by choice and, in a way, less connected to myself as an artist. Several years ago I inherited a Rolleiflex from a great uncle I never met and I found the limitations imposed by this new old device inspiring.
Then I began going to a darkroom to print about two years ago - to give my images a physical form. It’s the act of choosing, of editing myself, that can be so challenging. But you can’t print everything you shoot.
Why did you choose photography over other art forms or other career paths?
So many reasons! It was a gradual accumulation of circumstances leading to devotion.
I was lucky enough to grow up in a family that valued creative exploration and I have spent time focusing on theater, dance, playing flute and singing, video, and painting, too. My passions shift around, mix together, become submerged, resurface.
But photography has become a larger part of my life because it is a way I can make art often on my own, at my own pace. I think this comes in part from being in New York where everyone with whom you might collaborate is busy and you have little space. For a long time I thought I would return to oil painting, however the lack of affordable space always felt like a hindrance.
Taking and making photographs also satisfies the one-time anthropology student that still exists in me. I can explore the world and ask questions without having to answer them like a responsible scientist. Even when they lean towards documentary, my answers, which are my images, take a more poetic tone.
As far as photography being a career path- I sometimes get commissioned work and I make a little income from that. I hope it can be more and am pushing myself to find new clients, but I currently support myself primarily by tending bar at a wonderful spot called Bar LunÀtico in Bedstuy.
Where or from whom do you get your inspiration?
Mainly I am inspired by the people in my daily life who care to make their art a priority. History has given us so many wonderful photographers. I frequently return to Francesca Woodman, Edward Weston, Deana Lawson, to name a few. I also find inspiration on instagram, although I long for the pre-algorythmic, chronological days when you could see new, wild randomness instead of the same accounts over an over. Going to see other people’s work is so important. Some recent favorites have been Roy deCarava and Philip Hujar.
What keeps you motivated to keep producing new work?
I just find people and places endlessly interesting. I’m never looking where I step, always looking up and around. The way sunlight accidentally highlights an object or a space, framed intently and presented in the context of certain images can seem not accidental at all, but magical and specific. I try to be open to finding magic in the forms and faces around me.
Joining this collective and being a member at a darkroom also keep me motivated to produce new work because, for me, a social connection is a strong connection.
Do you make time for personal work, and what new projects are you working on?
I go through phases. Sometimes my camera will be with me on the smallest of walks.In this way the act of photography acts like keeping a sketch book for me. Especially if I develop the film quickly - a tight feedback loop can be helpful in developing skills and learning what you really care about. Often I have several vague ideas floating around in my head and I am waiting for the right time to develop one. Fortunately my work schedule at the bar permits me to take time as needed for my projects.
What has been a big learning lesson for you in the photography industry?
No one knows what you can do for them, as an artist or as a commercial photographer, unless you are already doing it - and showing it. You have to start by making things with friends, often for free or super cheap. You must promote yourself in some way by having a compelling, up to date presence online. Easier said than done!
Tell us about a project that changed the way you work in photography
While I lean towards film photography because I Iike the way it makes me think and feel as I do it, I am open to responding to the needs of the client and the moment. A friend wanted some stylized and colorful portraits and she needed them fast so we worked digitally. I invested in some strobes, made space in my basement for a small studio, and we had a wonderful shoot. I responded to her needs by developing my skills, equipment inventory, and workspace. More tools in the kit.
How is the photography community beneficial to your art?
It’s incredibly helpful to be involved with people who make photography a regular part of their lives. While it’s so convenient that photography is an art that can be made very much alone, having like-minded community around you is such a plus. You learn so much more from watching how others work, how others present their art. You may gain access to opportunities the internet won’t provide.
We help each other by lending equipment or assisting for free or cheap when someone needs it.
Who is your ideal client?
As for commissioned work, my ideal client knows what they want and what they want is me! I really want to work on a smaller scales for folks who are producing wares that are made in ethical and interesting ways. I hope my client is interested in film photography for its unique properties and believes these qualities will serve the intention of their brand. However I am willing to adapt and shoot digitally where necessary because I may be romantic but I am not a purist.
As for my personal work, my ideal client is someone who gets that feeling of expansion inside when they view an image of mine.
Where would you like to be in 5 years?
I would like to understand studio lighting better and be able to create things I imagine with ease, rather than relying on natural light and experimentation as much as I do. I want to keep expanding my technical skills to better serve my creative ideas.
I would like to have a handful of clients who return to me because they enjoy working together and they like what I produce.
I would love to have my own basement darkroom or maybe to run small studio.
Where do you see the industry going in the next 10 years?
The freelance life is new to me and I feel like I am still learning from more seasoned professionals how things used to be and how things are now. It seems the photography industry is suffering similar maladies as are many others. Institutional, hierarchical structures are disintegrating for better and for worse.
Disappearing is the in-house photographer, the union job, the one job that pays really, really well. Here is the rise of the in-expert, the cellphone photographer, the project manager who needs more content rather than better content. Digital platforms and the kinds of advertising they support do not make for safe careers for photographers. This sort of precarity in the freelance economy creates a few very successful folks and many many folks, just trying to get by on rates that stay the same or go down over the years. I’m not sure what a path towards a more sustainable economic ecosystem looks like in the photo industry. But as long as businesses need fewer large campaigns and instead need a steady drip of imagery, the industry will value quantity over quality and our wages will reflect that.