Monday March 4th, 2013
by Maria Luci
Rick Wenner likes to keep things simple. His photographs are clean and insightful, with little in the way of distraction. This style lends itself well to strong and emotional portraits. And it’s the approach he took on his “New York Fighter Project”—a series of portraits of mixed martial artists (MMA), created in support of legalizing the sport in New York.
Rick first conceptualized the project at the end of of 2011, while looking for a meaningful series that fit his style and interests. Rick has always been a huge MMA fan, and finds it extremely disappointing that professional mixed martial arts is still illegal in New York. He believes that much of the opposition comes from misunderstanding—especially of the fighters themselves. Decided on his cause, he set out to create portraits showing MMA fighters in a new light—not as they animals they’re often portrayed, but as the humans they really are. His resulting portraits show tough exteriors while also revealing the emotional interior.
So far, Rick has shot almost 70 fighters from gyms in Long Island, Brooklyn, Manhattan and upstate New York. He found his subjects to be “well mannered, intelligent and generous people”—a far cry from the stereotype of the “barbaric fighter.” To get access to his subjects, he had to reach out to many gyms to see who was willing to get their fighters together for shoots. Rick adds, “I decided who I wanted to photograph, which was notable high ranking fighters in the MMA world as well as respected/well-known fight gyms in New York. After I made my list, I started making a ton of phone calls. Just about every gym that I called was interested in the project, which was no surprise because of the mission statement behind it.”
Scheduling ended up being his biggest challenge, since most of these fighters have jobs, families and other responsibilities, leaving little time for photo shoots. But when he was able to coordinate a shoot, Rick was not only able to create interesting portraits, but collect meaningful stories as well, saying,
I had extended conversations with each and every fighter I photographed, so there are a lot of stories. One that sticks out is of a Marine who has been on three tours of Iraq and Afghanistan. He’s an amateur MMA fighter, but full time soldier, husband and father. He told me about what it was like to be in gunfights, to see his friends be blown up by mines, and all this crazy stuff over there. He didn’t show much emotion in that he didn’t cry or get anxious, but you could definitely see the hurt in his eyes.
The project has received nice reactions, and Rick says that “people really seem to enjoy the portraits—it’s not something they’ve really seen before with these types of fighters. I know I’m not the first photographer to create something like this, but it’s gratifying to know that people enjoy my work.”
He’s already began showing the portraits to a few magazines and ad agencies, with good responses. He plans on making a photo book of the project to send to prospective clients as well as politicians who oppose legalizing MMA, saying “I think this project has a chance to make a difference.”
View more of Rick’s work at rickwenner.com.
Wednesday January 23rd, 2013
by Wesley Kays-Henry
Chicago-based photographer Kristyna Archer creates photographs steeped in psychology. Her work reflects the everyday contradictions and idiosyncrasies of life, which results in thoughtful portraits that explore intangible feelings. She describes her photographs as “colorful and bold, with dark undertones,”—deeply thoughtful body of work with tongue-in-cheek humor.
TimeOut Chicago Kids contacted Kristyna after receiving a promo of her beauty portraits. The print mailer had featured four portraits each visually describing a different “red” emotion: euphoria, elation, rage and fury. They connected with her style and reached out to see if she’d be interested in photographing two young boys who’d started charities to help young people work through hardships.
The boys have gone through hard times themselves, so their charities aim at helping other children focus on positivity. Acey Longly, 8, lost his father in a pyrotechnics accident before he was born. Acey’s dad was in a popular band, and playing the drums gives him a feeling of connectivity with the father her never met. He found so much joy in music that he began donating drumsticks and various instruments to children in the oncology floors of local hospitals in Illinois, calling the project B.E.A.T.S. (Bringing Everyone A Tremendous Smile). Jack O’Neill, 9, was born with kidney and spinal abnormalities. His time spent in-and-out of hospitals inspired him to donate toys to hospitalized children, giving them a distraction and the warmth of knowing someone cares. His charity, Little Hands Make a Big Difference, donates Build-A-Bears, hosts summer lemonade stands and even raised $10,000 last year as part of a 5K/Kids Fun Run.
Kristyna had photographed children on a number of occasions, but had never been given the task of making them look heroic, mature or serious before. She was thrilled at the opportunity to work with these introspective and altruistic young people. The scheduling with two active young boys and their families was tough, considering she had to set up the shoots in their houses. But after planning to work around school and sports schedules, the shoot went smoothly. Kristyna found it interesting, and even inspirational, to see these kids saying the most insightful and honest things, making themselves completely vulnerable, and then turning around and making fart noises with their armpit. “It’s as if they are only capable of functioning in the extremes,” which goes well with Kristyna’s over arching theme of the work. She goes on to compare the children’s self-awareness to the rest of society, and concludes that, “the best way to live is completely carefree”.
According to Kristyna, the hardest part of the shoot was capturing the “decisive moment” of honesty and maturity with kids who naturally just stand up straight and smile when a camera comes out. She got some great portraits, which were used by TimeOut in print and online. She was very inspired by the story and took the project further by asking the boys to write out why they started their charities, and what it meant to them, which she then displayed beside their portraits on promo pieces. Kristyna wanted to not only show these amazing kids, but to also show their story in their words, making it much more personal than it would be otherwise. This assignment was special to Kristyna, who says that it reminded her of the saying, ‘the more you give, the more you receive’—”we all need subtle reminders of why we love what we do,” and this job was it.
View more of Kristyna’s work at kristynaarcher.com.
Tuesday January 22nd, 2013
by Maria Luci
After moving to Nashville last February, Robby Klein met with Country Music Television (CMT) to share his portfolio and meet their creative team. The meeting went well—so well in fact, that he was recently brought on to shoot key art for the new CMT realty series, Big Texas Heat. The show follows fun-loving police officers from the small town of Trinity, Texas—a group Robby was excited to photograph.
The shoot was scheduled to take place just north of Houston, so there was a good deal of travel and rental arrangements that needed to be dealt with. Robby soon found that the equipment rentals would be the trickiest part of the entire shoot. No one rental house in Houston carried everything he needed, so he ended up renting gear from two locations in Houston and shipping even more gear in from San Francisco as well. “Each rental house had a different process and it was just one those times were each place had a hiccup that needed to be straightened out,” Robby says, “but in the end, we had exactly what we needed, when we needed it.”
Once all the gear issues were ironed out, Robby and the crew headed to Texas where they met up with the gregarious Trinity police force. The personalities of his subjects more than made up for any rental drama. Robby says the cast was “incredible to work with, ” adding, “they aren’t actors, they’re real police officers, but they were game for anything. It was a long day but they never complained, never needed a break and did anything we asked with a great attitude. And they kept us laughing the entire day—they’re hilarious people!”
For the shoot, CMT brought in “fantastic ideas” which Robby was able to incorporate—and since the day went so smoothly, he also had time to bring in a few ideas of his own. This included having the officers walking and riding Segways down the middle of the street “Reservoir Dogs style.” (The art director loved this shot, but it has yet to be released, so we can’t share it yet.)
The clients were very pleased with the final images, especially the variety of set-ups Robby was able to produce in just one day of shooting. The photos are now being used in advertising and press images promoting the show
View more of Robby’s work at robbyklein.com.
Monday January 21st, 2013
by Honore Brown
In October 2011, Kansas City-based studio mates, Ryan Nicholson and Colby Lysne, decided to launch a collaborative portrait series out of their shared workspace. The project, entitled “the roadway studio project“, is named after their studio. The project quickly flourished into a sizable body of work along with a self-published book.
The two photographers had not worked together before beginning this series. Nicholson, a Wonderful Machine photographer known for his environmental portraiture, and Lysne had only just moved into their shared studio space when they began this joint venture, which they hoped would come together as an elemental, black and white portrait series.
With each portrait session, they hoped to capture a unique slice of life. Each subject would be shot with the exact same setup: a 9-foot white seamless and simple lighting setup—an ideal backdrop for improvisation. Nicholson and Lyse wanted to be able to totally focus their attention on the subjects. They scheduled hour-long sessions for each portrait—shooting quickly, and then jumping into the editing.
Both photographers agreed that they were very open to who their subjects might be. They cast a wide net—approaching old friends and people they met around town. While still working on some construction elements of their studio space, and frequenting the local Home Depot, they met an employee who participated in the Renaissance Faire each year with his family. They invited the man and his family for a session. Through this type of interaction, the project grew organically.
The first year of the project resulted in 151 sessions. In addition to shooting at roadway studio, the photographic duo also took to the road and shot in Wichita and Phoenix. There were a few bumps along the way such as the igniting of a softbox in Wichita. Nicholson was unaware until the subject said, “ I think your light is on fire.” Another subject lost her balance and fell backwards through the seamless; the paper ripped and toppled down on top of her. But luckily, she was okay, and the shoot continued.
At the end of the first year, Nicholson and Lysne produced a self-published book through Blurb. After editing the book together, Lysne, having a strong design background, handled the layout of the nearly 200-page book. The resulting book looks beautiful, and offers the photographers an elegant way to showcase the work. Nicholson had this to say about taking the published book to portfolio showings, “It proves that we are committed to our craft, and have the ability to see a long-term project through from creation to completion.” He continued, “Our ability to guide and interact with people from all walks of life has certainly been strengthened by the experience of shooting the project. Often times, that skill is the most overlooked tool for portrait photographers. Whatever your methods are, you have to find a way to communicate with and interact with your subjects to create the images you have in your head, and there is no question I have improved that tool from the experience of shooting the project.”
The project was so successful that they decided to continue shooting even after the book. In fact, Nicholson and Lysne plan to continue shooting for years to come, with stops in Minneapolis and Phoenix already scheduled for this year.
Check out more on “the roadway studio project” here.
Wednesday December 12th, 2012
A year ago, New York-based fashion photographer Joshua Pestka began shooting portraits of each model he worked with on commercial shoots. He then started uploading them to a blog he called The Day’s Hello. The blog became an opportunity to connect with his subjects on a more casual, direct level—it also served as a quick and easy way to remember his favorite models. The first 100 portraits on “The Day’s Hello” were shot following a strict set of rules: they were all landscape, black and white, and were left uncropped. Now into his second phase of the project, Joshua is incorporating color, cropping and varying distances and orientations to add additional flavor and creativity. However, he still adheres to his 5-10 minute rule, shooting each portrait quickly to avoid obsessive tendencies. The idea behind Joshua’s blog, along with his stunning portraits, caught my attention and I got in touch with him to learn more. Below is our interview; Enjoy!
- Maria Luci
How would you describe your photographic style?
I think that there’s more consistency in what I shoot than how I shoot. Depending on the concept, the job, the collaborations with artists, models, art directors and so on, how you shoot needs to be a fluid thing. I try to work on a feeling more than anything. Almost everything I’ve shot shows the subject in a self-reliant light. I think that there’s a strength in most people and I lean towards showcasing that.
How would you describe “The Day’s Hello”?
“The Day’s Hello” is a collaborative work in progress that’s a mix between a fashion and a personality blog. It’s a development project for me. Most of the images on the blog are shot within about 5 minutes. For me, with a tendency to be a bit too meticulous at times, relegating myself to 5 minutes to get it right or not get it at all has helped force me to grow.
You use Tumblr; why?
It’s such a simple tool to use, especially for showcasing photography work. I have a twitter account, for example, but don’t really have much to say that’s either amusing or that I feel would benefit the world at large. Most people like looking at pictures, though, so with it’s myriad of themes, Tumblr offers a great way to showcase new material in a way that isn’t too convoluted.
How has the project evolved over time?
“The Day’s Hello” started out with a rigid set of rules. Same lens, no cropping, minimal retouching, and entirely shot in black and white (camera settings as well) as opposed to being shot in color and converted. After 100 portraits, I felt as if that format was something I’d been able to really feel as if it was my own, but I was also starting to lose interest. Time for a change. Looser rules. Cropping, color, movement, different framing instead of only face-focus. So far, so good.
Have there been any challenges with the blog?
Light. I’ll usually try to shoot after the commercial work is done, but during the winter, especially, finding light can be hard. Also, if there’s a lot of makeup, it’s difficult to just pop outside during lunchtime and make something look natural. But overall, it’s been great to have The Day’s Hello as a reference for when I haven’t seen someone in a while and need to surreptitiously double check on what their names are (sorry!).
What has the response been?
It’s been great. I show my printed portfolios to potential clients quite a bit, and have brought The Day’s Hello around as a secondary item to show via the iPad. I’ve gotten a lot of feedback saying that it should be its own standalone print portfolio. This is something I’m seriously considering at the moment.
How do you see The Day’s Hello in the future?
The blog is showing the evolution of my photography outside the commercial and studio work I do. As I learn to shoot more for it, I’m learning to shoot more for myself. I don’t do it for anyone or any client, so I’m the one who determines where it goes in the end. It’s been a really freeing experience, and I hope to see it continue for quite some time. Maybe I will eventually take it into the studio to see if I can combine the two styles… we’ll see.
View more of Joshua’s work at joshuapestka.com and on The Day’s Hello.