Being recognized at an early age for what you do is impressive. It’s exactly like being told — way back when only your mother’s opinion counted — that you’re smart or funny or cute. Youth has a way of hiding how hard everything can be. Sometimes it gets in the way, and sometimes, like in the case of portrait photographer Geordie Wood, it fuels your work.
This must explain how Geordie Wood is able to work without an assistant, work with only one bag, forgo strobes, and still be able to capture portraits that are profoundly intimate and visually earnest. His images have an incredible balance between taking in the world as it is and then creating something that’s both beautiful and authentic. It is not surprising that Geordie Wood has been recognized by PDN as one of 30 new and emerging photographers to watch in 2013 and is the current photo editor at FADER.
In this interview, Geordie Wood talks about how he achieved so much at early age, give some insights to his approach to portraiture, and reveals how he creates photos that feel real.
You were named as one of PDN’s 30 New and Emerging Photographers to watch. How did you transition from graduation to being recognized so early in your career?
In retrospect it seems fairly fluid but it was a mix of a lot of hard work, many sleepless nights and catching a few breaks along the way. From day one I had a strong desire to follow my gut and define the work on my own terms. It was tough in the beginning but finally payed off. Practically, I worked in the photo industry in NYC wearing different hats to finance my own work. I worked with Susan Meiselas and a number of other Magnum photographers, shot my friends on the side and used every small opportunity along the way to create the foundation of a career I am now following through on.
What would you say to other recent graduates looking to start their professional photography career? Any advice?
A loaded question to say the least, but in short I would say that your work is the foundation of everything else. People talk about promos, websites, networking, all that jazz. There is nothing that will help you more then focusing on establishing your work and letting that carry you. Otherwise I would say make friends and help each other out, photography is much more fun as a team sport.
You’re the current photo editor at FADER, and you’ve profiled several musicians and artists. What is your usual level of access? How do you overcome any uneasiness (I’m sure they’re pretty tired of being photographed all the time)?
A big chunk of my work these days is with up and coming artists, musicians or otherwise. Luckily at FADER we profile so many emerging and new artists that people are generally very excited to be photographed and generous with their time. That said, there are always some difficult characters in the bunch. What always works for me is just being real with people, coming into situations with no pretense and connecting with subjects person to person before accosting folks with the camera. I often explain what I need out of people, get on the same page then start shooting.
As the photo editor, what helps you find the best images to publish? Is it just a sense?
Again a hard one, but I would say it is mainly the perspective of looking at photos for many years and developing your own taste. I like work that feels intimate, honest and free of visual bells-and-whistles but in the end it is a gut thing.
From A$AP Rocky to all of your personal projects, you tend to trust your subjects and get out of the way photographically. When you’re behind the camera and shooting away, what goes through your mind? Why does your camera seem so unobtrusive in your work?
I take that as a complement, thanks. The camera seems unobtrusive because that’s in many ways my goal on every shoot, to create something that feels real and not forced. Truth be told there is a lot more going on to create those moments. I tend to shoot in places that mean something to my subjects, their home or neighborhood, but I scout a decent amount, spend a lot of time shooting, direct quite a bit and am in constant communication with my subjects. Though in the end I hope all the planning, editing, cajoling, etc melts away and becomes transparent. I also work with only one camera, a small bag and by myself which is intentional, it makes people relax without all the production mumbo jumbo.
Your portraits have a way entering the subject’s world and capturing what looks like honest moments. When commissioned to take someone’s portrait, what are your first steps in planning the shoot?
I research who I am going to shoot and get somethings to chat about with them. Often times I have loose visual concepts in my head but I try to actually go in without much preconceived. I find I work best on my feet and love when I surprise myself most of all, that’s some of the documentary core coming through.
You also prefer natural lighting and on-location shoots. Why do you prefer natural lighting? How do you work so well with it?
I love the mood and drama of natural light, I also like to work on my own without an assistant and it gives me a lot of flexibility in that way. Also truth be told, I have just never found a way to mimic the beauty of natural light with strobes. Perhaps if I could I would do it more.
Your project “South Iceland” is a prefect example of how you’re able to capture beautiful lighting. How do you get what your eyes see to translate perfectly in camera? Any preferred techniques?
All of my personal work and a good chunk of the portraits are shot on medium format film with old manual Mamiya cameras. The lighting comes from being very discerning about what time of day and conditions to shoot, as well as a hand held light-meter and being super specific with exposures.
If any of your loved ones were going to try to make a living with photography, what would you tell them?
I would say that it is a labor of love, a practice that can be incredibly exciting and personally fulfilling while also being a struggle financially and career wise. What’s worked for me is staying true to myself, honing and maintaining my voice and having a positive and outgoing attitude. Life is too short not to have fun doing what you love.