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Interview with Nick Holmes: Getting intimate with Portrait Photography

When it comes to famous images The Mona Lisa by Leonardo Da Vinci is one of the most recognized in the world. All the ballyhoo regarding it made me read about it too extensively. I never got a chance to visit the Louvre myself, but I saw many videos, clippings and read many experiences of the people seeing the image in actual. This was the 1500’s but now, as I am more focused into photography, I wonder what was it that made the image so eye grabbing? What should a Photographer learn from this portrait?

As a photographer you have to take a lot of things into consideration – Composition, Poses, Lighting and the list goes on… But, as a Portrait photographer you have other important and often overlooked challenges as well. Focusing more on the subjects, you face challenges such as poor light, hectic work schedule and much more! How should a photographer deal with those?

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While I was searching a photographer who would answer those for you.. I stumbled upon Erica Jagger. She writes for Huffingtonpost on the sexual power of boomer women! Interesting right? She introduced me to a very talented ( I wonder how I missed him) photographer, Nick Holmes. Not getting much into details on how he was kind enough to take out time in answering these questions, I will let you onto the interview and get the answers.

Q1. When I take an interview , I usually read up a lot on the photographer’s background. But in your case (apart from the fact that you make your female subjects go weak in the knees with your looks) I couldn’t find anything. Just bits and pieces. Tell me more about yourself. Your early life, how did the passion for photography emerge?

I grew up in a small town in Kansas called Dodge City. Despite it’s adherence to the football-centric Friday Night Lights kind of midwestern town stereotype – my high school had a diverse art department that included photography and I took it every year. We shot with old Pentax K1000s and a few P30t’s, had unlimited black and white film (as long as you rolled it yourself) and access to a darkroom, studio, strobes – the whole bit. The instructor was a talented cat called Tim Schoonover and the greatest thing he taught me was darkroom technique. I spent hours dodging and burning single prints to help accentuate lighting. Gravitating always to portraiture for it’s intimacy.

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Q2. You have photographed many stars. What uniquess did it add to your skills while photographing stars like Virginia Madsen, Jennifer O’Kain, Talia Montgomery. How did it change your course of career?

If photographing celebrities adds any “uniqueness” to your skillset – it’s probably only that it leads to photographing other celebrities. The kind of work I do, for the most part, doesn’t have a commercial purpose – it’s for the indvidual themself. So when I shoot a famous person, especially one that I’m just meeting for the first time, their trust in me is bolstered by the fact that I’ve been trusted by other public people. Most often I’ve been referred to them by a peer. All that said, I can’t say it’s changed the course of my career so much as it has broadened my clientele – which is fantastic.

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Q3. Three essentials for a sensuous shoot which are most important according to you?

The most essential thing during a session, be it sensual or more traditional portraiture, is conversation. That is not to say talking, exactly – more of an environmental feeling of creative interaction. No one who has chosen to preserve some private piece of themselves in an image wants to feel objectified or be alienated from the impulse to behave honestly by a photographer’s clinical professionalism. Any abilities I have to place lights or dial in an exposure are trumped by my ability to connect with people. Other essentials: music and time. Music, even from a phone, that helps relax the person being photographed is a terrific tool. Most often the music they’ve chosen aids in their connection to the ideas or parts of consciousness that hey hope to capture and that’s half the job. Time you don’t always get – especially with famous people. But I’ll go out of my way to insist on having at least a couple of hours for a sensual shoot, regardless the client. People are inherently sensual and almost all of them have been taught to hide it – societal norm. They need time. Time to get used to me, to get used to the environment, the idea that they’re not in much clothing, the sound of the camera – all of it. Sometimes you burn an hour talking. Sometimes the second hour is less productive than the first. I’ve never had anyone insist on wrapping early – because when it all starts to work and become a collaboration above an interaction that’s an environment people want to linger in. Actors too, even with their often called upon emotional transparencies, frequently need time to become themselves in front of a camera.

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Actress Krista Rayne Reckner managed to deliver this in eight exposures during the only five minutes she had available on set to shoot. Quite the exception.

Q4. It is said that in a photograph you must strive for simplicity and get rid of the extraneous. How true is that?

For portraiture I’m not sure that’s a rule. In general, I respond to simplicity most often – but there are plenty of opportunities to capitalize on the extraneous. Like in this portrait of actor Sean Gunn. I think the three models in the background looking into camera and wearing wine bras draws more attention to the the personality of the subject than if they were absent. Sean loves this image of himself and we had a riot shooting it. Alternately, I went to London to photograph author Patricia Cornwell for the release of her excellent book about Jack The Ripper. I scouted several locations that would show London’s landmarks but it was just too much, too busy. Ultimately I shot her against a beautiful old brick wall under the Hungerford Bridge and used a strobe to throw a Hitchcock style shadow on it. Much more simple and, I think, much cooler looking.

 

Q5. If you were to pick one of your best picture. Which would it be? And Why?

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This photo that I took in Havana a couple of years ago is a favorite. It is no kind of masterpiece. Composition is a mess. Focus isn’t perfect. But I love that place and the people. It’s an intensely vibrant environment. The faces of these three people in car watching a group of school girls cross the street are endlessly interesting to me.

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Q6. I remember Eleanor Roosevelt’s line: Do one thing everyday that scares you. Which would be your first?

Say “Candyman” in the mirror five times.

(I am laughing alone reading this)

 

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Q7. If you want something to look interesting, don’t light all of it. Is it true? What is your best bet in poor light during your shoots?

Again, for portraiture, it’s hard to call that scripture. For black and white I really like strong shadows – but I don’t always strive for it. Whereas for color I respond to the gamut. Poor lighting isn’t normally a factor during my sessions. Not that I don’t make misjudgments sometimes, but if I sense the lighting is poor that is a more than good enough reason not to take an exposure. …provided I’m in some kind of control. If I’m shooting a location with only existing light and it’s not a desirable condition and I MUST take the photo then and there – I just do my best. In situations like that it’s good to know what you can rescue in your post process, though I hate to shoot for the edit. Sometimes composition will save you on it’s own.

 

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Q8. After a hectic schedule of acting and photography what relaxes and rejuvenates you? How glorious it is when it’s hectic. What a privileged to be busy. My down time is usually spent in a kitchen with friends. Again, creative collaboration. …and gin.

(NSFW) An Interview with George Pitts: A Classy Affair with Art

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Not everyday you have the chance to meet one who has been a director of Photography at popular magazines like Life and Vibe. My luck has been jammy with meeting prodigious photographers like George Pitts. I was in awe of his writing and artwork. His works have appeared in “S Magazine (Denmark), The Partisan Review, The Paris Review, Big magazine, One World, Vibe, aRude, Juxtapoz, Next Level: a critical review of Photography (UK), Parenthesis, and other publications.

This was enough to get cracking onto more in his life. His popularity is directly proportional to his humility, I feel. He was kind enough to patiently answer all my questions. This classy, classy gentlemen has been the in the painting bailiwick since 20 years. Let’s learn more about this life, current trends in Fine Art Photography, some tips, gear knowledge and much more from him.

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Phillippe Diederich Interview: Revolutionaries, Mexico, and a Photographer

Phillippe Diederich

We all have ideals. I had a friend, in high school, whose sole dream was to be a punk—or be nothing at all. I also had a friend who dreamed of being a writer—and nothing else. And there were a few who would have settled with no less than having one good poem to their name. Of course, I had friends who actually did do nothing. We all have ideals–what matters is when you lose them.

Art is inviolable. Art never falls for those who really don’t love it. Because we were too scared or too lazy or too comfortable, we started thinking about other things. That’s not bad. It’s growing up, I guess. Phillippe Diederich isn’t one of us, though, and that’s why I’m here writing about him. Phillippe Diederich is a writer and a photographer who stuck it out.

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Michael Ernest Sweet Interview: Capturing the Human Fragment on NY Streets

If you know little about Street Photography then you would know that, in Street Photography the primary subject of the picture maybe completely devoid of people. It can be an object or environment where an aesthetic human character can be projected. Well, human or not, the idea is to capture pictures at a poignant moment! This candid photography is currently quite respected all over but has also been an issue of conflict. Even with these issues, it did not stop Michael Ernest Sweet from jumping with his 28mm in this field!

 

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If you have ever been in New York city chances are you have been clicked by Michael Ernest Sweet without you knowing about it. Living in Montreal this past master travels to New York where his partner resides. This doesn’t stop him from taking a break and snapping people unknowingly and making a great shot of it. Your faces, your expressions don’t interest him. With a different approach, Michael will be more interested in your fur coat and fashionable blazer. Moving with a very small, fast camera and his finger on the shutter he walks in New York and snaps photographs with an instinct.

The more I read about him, more intrigued I became about his role as a Photographer, Writer, Teacher. He is an award-winning writer and photographer. His poetry was debuted by legendary publisher Barney Rosset in the Evergreen Review, and his photographs have appeared in Popular Photography. This prompted me more to delve into his life and know more about him. Lets get to know more about Street Photography , the Michael way and learn from his experience in this interview.

Q1. Sometimes it runs in the family. Sometimes you go against all odds and sometimes it comes naturally. Which one was it for you while starting with Photography? What was your inspiration?

My aunt was a semi-professional photographer. I grew up with her in close proximity and she always allowed me to use her equipment and cameras. Despite this generosity on her part, I really only likely shot a dozen rolls of film as a teenager. I don’t think I have any of the photographs. It was likely her influence though, or at least access to her cameras which inspired an interest in me. I was really, initially at least, seduced by the camera itself – as a piece of equipment. I’m still to this day seduced by the camera. This is one of the reasons I shoot a lot of film because I prefer the feel and the operation of an analog camera.

Q2. You always seem to favor the traditional medium of going black and white? Don’t colors interest you?

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I have done color work. In fact it’s all I am doing these days. I have a new book coming out in February titled, “Michael Sweet’s Coney Island” and it is all in color. The images in that collection were shot with a Harinezumi toy camera and are very, very saturated. Martin Parr told me quote, “I thought my colors were bright, but now I see I am quite muted”. I thought that was quite funny. He’s a great guy and a fantastic photographer.

Q3. Never being a Street Photographer, I feel that audacious shots like this must be requiring quite a lot of balls. Have you ever been sweared at for taking images unknowingly. Tell us about this incidence.

Outcall

Sure I have been sworn at and had people threaten me. I guess it doesn’t bother me that much. I know, especially in New York City, that I have the law on my side. It does ruin the day though. I rarely ever get back into the swing of things after an altercation. I usually go for a beer and call it a day when that happens. It doesn’t really happen all that often though. I work very, very close to people – mere inches – so that usually think I am photographing behind them or something. In fact, the photo that you chose below, of the woman with the lace-up boots and the cigarette – she saw me in the reflection in the window and swore at me, but I got a great photo out of it.

Q4. I dont get to ask this to many photographers. But you being a poet too. What is the inspiration behind this poem? Is this you, the photographer you are talking about?

That poem is mostly fiction. It’s inspired by conversations people have tried to start with me, but mostly fiction. I’m usually a lot nicer to people who recognize me and strike up a conversation.

Q5. This photograph happens to be my personal favorite (not because of the dude in the picture) but in general the expression, tilt, Raybans and the cigarette . What made you click this picture? Did you decide clicking him when you saw him or it was just a random fluke.

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Interestingly, I was waiting to cross the street at a red light on Stillwell Avenue, near Coney Island. He was waiting too, just ahead of me. I always keep my camera at my side and my finger on the shutter release; he spun around and I raised the camera and clicked it. Thankfully I was using the Ricoh GRD IV that day and it is lightening fast and doesn’t require a pre-focus step. It’s just click and you have the image. That camera is a real legend. So fast, fast like a rangefinder.

Q6. If i were a beginner in street photography what are the 5 things that you would suggest to me – including what kind of gear should I use

Five things! That’s a lot. Let’s see: 1) Get a good fast camera and stick with it. Get to know that camera and be able to dominate it, 2) Go out on the streets as if you are going to work. Spend the whole day out there and if you get 2-3 decent shots you’ve been successful, 3) Know the laws where you are shooting. For example, I live Montreal in addition to NYC and in Montreal street photography is forbidden by law. You can take photos, but if anyone depicted in them makes an issue the law is squarely on their side, 4) Don’t show all your work on the internet. Show your very best stuff and keep the rest. I’m very tired of all the photographs of random people walking down the sidewalk – most taken from the side. What is the point of all these photographs? Show only your very best and if those aren’t good, take up gardening, 5) Grow thick skin. Street photography is a cutthroat world. It’s truly very rough and there is very little camaraderie or collegiality. Be prepared for that and don’t expect compliments on your work to come easily, they most certainly will not.

Q7. Close-ups seem to have become your signature. Any particular reason for it?

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It became my signature. There really were not many people photographing like this when I started. It was rather unique. Mark Cohen’s work was really all that came close in any kind of consistent way. I also like this mode of working. I find it thrilling. If I were going to wander the streets with a big long zoom lens I’d rather photograph birds. I don’t understand street photography with zoom lenses. Now, let me be clear about something. I’m not saying that street photography that is more composed and wider in scope is not good. Most all street photography is exactly that (think Cartier-Bresson or Winogrand etc.). I just focus on the extreme close up and the “human fragments” because that became my signature. That’s what people expect from me now.

Q8. A writer, A poet, A Photographer, An educator. You seem to wear many hats. How do you manage time for everything? Given a choice between either of them, which would be your favorite?

Yes, I am a real polyhistor (laughing). I’m just simply an artist. I move around in the arts depending on the time in my life or even the time of the year. For example, I don’t really photograph in the winter. I usually write more in the winter months. In the summer I am always out on the streets with a camera. I’m a teacher by profession, so I don’t work in the summer months and I have all that time to photograph. I also paint sometimes and have even made metal sculptures too. Like I said, I am all over the place. This past summer I also wrote a book called, “Ham and Eggs & Pork and Beans” which is poetry and drawings. It’s adult humor. Kind of Bukowski really. I loved that project and I think the book is a lot of fun.

Q9. Have you ever suffered form Photographer’s block? If yes then how did you manage to overcome it!

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Yes all the time. I do something else. I paint or write or meditate or drink beer and read novels. I’m not too concerned about lack of inspiration. I think it is completely normal to suffer from creative blocks. If you panic it can really overcome you. The key is to accept it and not let it get the better of you. I could care less if I ever make another photograph. In fact, I might not.

To know more about his work you can visit his website 
All images copyright Michael Ernest Sweet courtesy of Brooklyn Arts Press

Nigel Grimmer Interview: Self-Portraits Done in Art Drag

Nigel Grimmer

It’s almost a guarantee, a universal fact of life. If you have a family, you also have, somewhere deep in your pocket of history, a family portrait that looks just like every single one that has ever been made. If you’ve seen one family portrait, you’ve seen them all. But why do family portraits end up looking the same? Who said this genre of photography had to include what it does?

Nigel Grimmer makes photographs that expose the pressures placed on photographic genres. Putting his family in dunce caps, or having them take selfies as roadkill, Grimmer has previously explored what gets included in a family photo album. In his most recent project, Art Drag, he takes a shot at one of photography’s principal illusions — depth. Just as flattening the world to a map creates distortions to shape and size, a photograph also distorts a 3D world into a flat fantasy. The paintings highlight that — within a photograph —  what you see isn’t always what you get.

In this interview, Grimmer talks about his start, explains more about Art Drag, and reveals how you can participate with him by sending your own photos.

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Joana Choumali Interview: Capturing the Grace and Beauty of Africa

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Chunky jewellery, impish smile and a camera in hand – Joana Choumali has a face of a saint, with eyes that twinkle. I wish this interview would have taken place in the Africa’s sleekest cities, Abidjan from where she belongs, but for now I have to put right with this.

Behind those twinkle in the eyes, lies a face which has seen the harsh reality of living in a city of political crisis, young people subjected to discrimination and rejection from their surroundings. Joana’s projects deal with many intense topics like facial scarification (a fading practice carried out in the Ivory Coast), young men and girls who want to become independent and reintegrate into society, razed shantytowns and slums of Abidjan and much more. A graphic artist by education Joana was working with an advertising network giant, McCann Erikson group.

Winning the prestigious POPCAP’14 award for her project Haabre, The Last Generation, this famous photographer believes in highlighting equality of men and women in her photos. When I was randomly reading about offbeat works of photographers, Joana’s name flashed out and I decided that I want to know more about her life. Just as I was amazed by her normal but divergent approach to photography I am sure you would too. Let’s jump on to more about her life revealed in the interview.

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Shane McCauley Interview: Bumping Continent to Continent and Blowing Heads With Music

Shane McCauley

It’s called 128 Beats Per Minute: Diplo’s Visual Guide to Music, Culture, and Everything In Between (Universe, 2012) and it was Los Angeles photographer Shane McCauley’s first major project with Diplo. Since 128 BPM, McCauley has gone on to shoot with nearly everybody: Tequila makers. Music magazines. High-end fashionistas. Standard print mainstays. And new media behemoths.

Yet McCauley didn’t start out like many other photographers. In high school, he listened to Jawbreaker, Fifteen, and Minor Threat. He went to shows in restaurants that never hosted another. He took risks and stayed away from doing things too safe. He has even said that he might have ended up dead if not for photography. In that light, it’s easy to see why McCauley’s work has a little more grit — to him, photography isn’t just therapeutic performance. It’s first craft then always, always work.

In this interview, McCauley tells us how he got his start, explains why if you go to beautiful places, you’re not always going to make beautiful work, and talks music — lots of music. Go to the end to see some of his favorite images paired to some of his favorite songs.

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Quick and Simple DealFuel Memberships Giveaway

Our friends over at DealFuel approached us with a great giveaway. They know you love Photoshop and love getting exclusive deals you can’t find anywhere else. So they said: why don’t we give away 10 of our DealClub memberships — worth over $100 — and bundle them with a free Photoshop textures tutorial (video preview above). For those of you who don’t know DealFuel, they’re a great site that promotes the best tech and web-design products from around the world.

So what’s better than free?

Here’s how you win:

1) Tweet about this page. That’s it. No more, no less.

2) 10 winners will be selected at random.

We’ll update the page with our winners and announce it on our Facebook page!

Jeffrey Boudreau Interview: Bold Portraits Captured by a Shy Photographer

Jeff Boudreau

Jeff Boudreau lives and works in London. He has worked with Vans, Tank, Aksu, and DROP magazine, among many others. In 2013, he shot and directed a video for Vogue, and, this past year, he was shortlisted for the APA / Lucie Foundation’s prestigious grant for his ongoing personal series.

In this interview, Jeff talks about how he started shooting his friends skateboarding, explains why he gets real close with his frames, and reveals how a shy person like him can make strong and bold work.

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Graeme Mitchell Interview: Not Thinking About It Yet Thinking All The Time

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Some notes before the interview. This conversation took place via email between an office and an apartment in Los Angeles. I wrote the questions toward the end of the night of September 23rd. Near morning. But early or late enough to be considered neither morning nor night. Either way, I wrote them, proofread that, then went to bed.

I have the impression that this conversation could have taken place in the corner of a dark bar. Either there or a church that nobody attends. In fact, this church must have already been forgotten. Graeme Mitchell says he spent a morning on his answers. Mitchell has worked with W magazine, the New York Times, and New York Magazine, among many others.

In this interview, Mitchell talks about how he transitioned into photography, explains some ideas behind his work, and engages in a conversation like an old friend would.

The answers and their questions have been edited and reformatted to aid readability. 

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