Eliot Lee Hazel Interview: A Cult Photographer and How to Achieve Unique Work

portrait photographers - Eliot Lee Hazel - one of the most unique portrait photographers

There isn’t much prefacing you can write about one of my favorite portrait photographers Eliot Lee Hazel. Though, I guess I could mention that, during the last five years, he has shot some of the biggest musicians in the world: Thom Yorke, Beck, Cat Power, and my favorite band growing up in El Paso, Texas, the Mars Volta, just to name a few. And that, currently, he spends his time between Los Angeles and London. Oh, and let’s not forget that he’s achieved a worldwide cult following.

You see, I thought I’d be able to give you more information after this interview. But the only definite truth I can share is that he’s just as mysterious in written form as his work has in impact. It’s as if he’s protecting that pure and irreducible part of him. And that’s fair. It’s an artist’s job to keep their favorite part of themselves free from explication — to never have their process spooked. So all you need to know is that his work and his answers are as rare as anything we’ve featured before — brilliant, clever, and crookedly humorous.

In this short interview, Hazel, the portrait photographer explains how he overcomes self-doubts, talks about his work with Thom Yorke, and reveals his greatest influences.

portrait photographers - Work from one of the most unique portrait photographers

I like how deliberate and pensive all your portraits are. How did you get your start? How would you describe your work?

Slightly pensive 🙂

portrait photographers - Slightly pensive moods from one of the unique portrait photographers

Were you ever unsure of your talents that other portrait photographers have? Was there a point when you felt like giving up?

It’s a constant battle as my ego tends to want perfection, yet the “true” me just wants to have fun and not take “my work” too seriously, which keeps me going.

portrait photographers - perfection as shown by one of the unique porrait photographers

I’m curious about this. What was your first – very first – childhood memory? Do you think this first visual memory could have influenced the emotional resonance of your work?

I am not sure if it’s the first childhood memory but I vaguely remember my dad wearing his shoes on the wrong foot (left shoe and his right foot). He was blind.

portrait photographers - emotional resonance by one of the most unique portrait photographers

I have to ask a couple questions about two of my favorite bands, which you photographed. I’ll start with the Mars Volta. How did that job come together? How did you approach directing them? 

I ended up directing them on the spot as nothing much was discussed before the shoot but I guess they ended up looking like some cult for whatever reason?

portrait photographers - favorite bands of one of the most unique portrait photographers

And Thom Yorke – how did the idea about hiding within the shadows come about? What was your first step in pre-production, exactly?

I had this idea that I wanted to make him feel “boxed in” by putting him in a slightly awkward position. Long story short, no matter how hard the media tries to “label him” or “box him in”, he somehow manages to be one step ahead of the game — does that make any sense?

portrait photographers - slightly awkward moment shot by one of the most unique photographers


Pretty simple: we got some wooden boxes, put Thom in there and closed the lid, a few hours later we would check up on him and snap some shots, 95% was shot with a Polaroid land camera.

portrait photographers - wooden boxes shot by one of the most unique photographers

Many of your images are loud, even agitated. This one is a great example. When did you find your visual voice? What’s the attraction of this aesthetic to you?

It’s something within me that’s coming out.

portrait photographers - Polaroid land camera used by one of the unique portrait photographers

What inspires you?

A smiling stranger.

portrait photographers - smiling stranger from one of the unique portrait photographers

How about any lovers?

The ones that I am currently seeing.

portrait photographers - currently seeing light

Any last parting words from one of the most unique portrait photographers?

That’s that — but then again?

portrait photographers - parting words from one of the unique portrait photographers

Be sure to check out the work of one of my favorite portrait photographers –  Eliot Lee Hazel on his website!

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