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

Interview with George Pitts

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.

painting bailiwick

Q1. As a Lecturer and Moderator on Photography related
topics, genres,
trends, and noteworthy bodies of work. Can you tell me what is the current
trend in terms of Fine art Photography.
I’m generally more observant of specific photographers, who at
times are identified with contemporary trends. Here are a few fairly recent
directions I’ve observed: Disjunctive nonlinear, Narrative Pictorials;Narrative Ellipsis (pictorials featuring a mixture of differing styles of images
that in sequence evoke a kind of poetic effect; such as in the works of Roe Ethridge, Torbjorn Rodland, Viviane Sassen, others); long often elusive
sequences such as in the works of Paul Kooiker, or Documentary photographer Paul Graham. Intimate Pictures, that confront the elastic
range of qualities inherent in taking pictures that suggest or clearly endeavor to reinvent what Intimacy looks like and feels like in our era.

Paul Kooiker
Q2. Tell us more about your stint at LIFE Magazine. You were the Director
of Photography there. Tell us about some pictures, shoots that impressed
you and why?
After 13 years as founding Director of Photography at VIBE Magazine, I moved to LIFE Magazine, where I received the Lucie Award for
“Picture Editor of the Year” in 2006. A few of the more memorable shoots that I observed on set include photographer Peggy Sirota’s shoot with
“Dreamgirls” Oscar Winner Jennifer Hudson; photographer Alexei Hay’s full day’s shoot hanging out with the charming, emotionally generous, and
musically gifted actor Billy Bob Thornton; and British photographer Matt Jones’ iconic cover of Actor Patrick Dempsey resting his head on the
pregnant belly of his wife Jillian. Alexei Hay I believe had a tiny Leica, and he shot Billy Bob in such a relaxed and casual manner, that although I was
present throughout the shoot, I was nonetheless amazed by the clarity and monumental character of the B/W pictures. Thornton also entertained us in
his modest music studio and sang beautifully, almost in the tradition of the late Gram Parsons. I closely observed how photographer Ruven Afandor
depicted actress Courtney Cox; because in hindsight, I was keenly interested in his rapport with her, how he lit the actress, and how it contributed to the extremely flattering, elegant, artfully beautiful portraits of
her. I assigned that shoot very carefully and thought methodically of the levels of style that Ruven could bring to a shoot with her brand of beauty.
Because I was fortunate to observe very different kinds of photographers on location and in the studio, which was the tradition for LIFE Magazine, I’m
realizing how invaluable those years were. We used far more B/W photography than most mainstream magazines, and that proclivity was first
pushed at VIBE. Nowadays B/W is everywhere. At VIBE, I had the privilege of working with or planning projects with now prominent artists, such as
Juergen Teller, Wolfgang Tillmans, Inez and Vinoodh, Dana Lixenberg,Judith Joy Ross, Melodie McDaniel, Malerie Marder, Valdir Cruz, Glen
Luchford, Robert Maxwell, Mary Ellen Mark, Geoffroy de Boismenu, Andrea Modica, Ellen von Unwerth, Taryn Simon, Barron Claiborne, Christian
Witkin, Dan Winters, Koto Bolofo, David LaChapelle, Ruven Afanador, Luis Sanchis, Kayt Jones, among many others. These interactions yield myriad
results, and deepen insight into the craft and sense of surprise associated with the aesthetic of each actual and potential contributor.

Barron Claiborne
Q3. For your nude pictures , How do you make the subject comfortable
enough to strip? Is being friendly an advantage?
Being communicative is helpful, and that varies with the subjects.
Some subjects are friends, most I’ve never met before, but a number of women, for instance, do research, and look at all kinds of my photographs (via greg). A sensitivity is as essential in doing Portraits, as it is to do Nudes.

sensitivity is as essential
Q4. Style isn’t something you have after five shoots, it’s something that
emerges after a few years of shooting anything and everything. When did
you decide your style?
I was a painter for over 20 years, before I devoted myself to photography. I’ve retained that painter’s sensibility; and I know it has heightened the experience of photography for me. I tend to think more about
figures such as Manet, or Balthus in tandem with photographer artists such as Guy Bourdin, Araki, Hajime Sawatari or the endless line of compelling
photographers one glimpses or studies. Style is a complicated kind of longing, that goes into making a picture. I like making things through working with a sympathetic subject.

Hajime Sawatari
Q5. What does the subject wish to see when getting photographed? Her
Beauty, Inner depth, Imperfection or they leave it you to decide? How do
you manage to balance both. The subjects wish and your shot?
I’m not sure any subject longs to see their imperfections. But if my work gives that impression it’s something to ponder. Otherwise I’d venture
that all the above and more is what most subjects desire. The experience of capturing someone in my particular way takes time, an attention to lighting,
conversation that stops and starts, or an idea about lighting associated with something that touches me deeply can occur; for instance I can recall the
cinematography of certain directors such as Jacques Rivette, or Carlos Reygadas, and that can trigger a certain feel.

Jacques Rivette

Q6. Beauty, Lighting, Camera, Pose or Editing? Which do you think is an
essential factor in taking photos?
All these things factor in in varying degrees. An essential factor could be one’s life experience and the quality of attentiveness one has
brought to it. Photography seems to especially benefit from possessing a boundless imagination, a sense of pleasure, what we often call an “idea,”
a relationship with “technique,” the kind of invisible knowledge obtained from the discerning reading of books, including the many beloved picture books;
and a quiet or open enthusiasm for wishing “to get it right” according to clear and often wonderfully vague or obscure impulses. The febrlle excitement
inherent in taking certain pictures is a recurrent constant, invigorating for both the photographer and the subject. Editing cannot be underestimated,
because it can be conducted for so many different reasons: the appropriate “editorial” pictures, the daring experimental image, the narrative or visual
tipping points that establish a certain tone and informs the recurrence of certain textures throughout a long sequence of photographs, etc.

sequence of photographs
Q7. How did you choose to go for this hedonist approach to photography?
What challenges did you face?
I’ve used the “hedonist” term myself, off and on over the years. The challenges can be internally generated if a certain level of quality is pursued. The nude, for instance, is so familiar in the history of images, but
the truly distinct pictures are the result of the efforts of male and female artists with differing motivations, working in collaboration with a team, or
working alone pulling something out of one’s gut. Some may see it as a paradox that the Nude or the levels of eroticism associated with these
depictions, demands skills apart from photographic talent. In Fine Art representations especially, a quick awareness of what has already been
accomplished in the medium can cleanse one’s palette and impel one to simply try to see as in the moment and in as aesthetic or vital a manner as
possible. It’s tricky to talk about it. Painting had already instilled in me, a certain doggedness about chasing beauty, meaning, and even an aesthetic
complexity, which is likely the ultimate challenge.
One can also encounter arbiters of taste who harbor their own notions of the beautiful or the significant, which is the experience of so many artists.
Handling such encounters with grace, or tact, can be constructive, in the passionate pursuit of taking the pictures for one’s self. Photography can
often inspire the most absurd remarks about what is important.

passionate pursuit
Q8. Tell us about your gear? What gear do you use and suggest a Fashion
Photographer to use?
I have about 3 Mamiya C 330 Twin Lens cameras; and 3 industrial strength Polaroid 600 SE cameras. I’ve used them over so many
years that I tend to be extremely careful when I use any of these cameras.That I still shoot predominantly Film probably unconsciously sustains my
infatuation with Painting. I have no didactic suggestions for other photographers, because my advice might not be broadly beneficial. I come out of Painting, and never dreamed about Photography the way some
figures do and did. I have a deeper imperative to take genuinely contemporary pictures that gather cultural shadings, notions of modernity,
and staging what certain women do as they rise to the occasion of their own gestural, emotive, or sensually operatic performance. I have deepseated
instincts for representing Women in an active yet contemplative manner,which were originally engendered by the history of Art.
Q9. One advice you will give to all the budding photographers out there?
Have some patience with one’s self, and allow time for the cultivation of an aesthetic that grows, deepens, or branches out in ways that are both idiosyncratic and formal at the same time. Then, as someone like Newton advises, work your ass off.

George is currently working on a book project for Taschen Books on the subject of “Mature Women,” shooting portraits and nudes of Women 35 years of age and older. You can contact him here