On photography: Keeping the creative juices flowing
By Jay L. Clendenin
People often ask what inspires me and my photography, in particular, when I am going to shoot a portrait. Besides the easy answer of my family and the work of my friends and co-workers, I try to keep up with a variety of photographers and see if there are any new processes or lighting I can play with at the L.A. Times.
There are so many photographers I admire and many that are close friends that I didn’t want to not include someone and feel awful about it. So, before I write more about a handful of photographers, I will mention several whose websites I have bookmarked, in no particular order: Sam Jones, David Burnett, Kwaku Alston, Erika Larsen, Chris Buck, and Victoria Will.
One of my favorite photographers is Dan Winters. This guy has shot it all and he started out as a photojournalist just up the road, at the Thousand Oaks News Chronicle. He is one of the top celebrity portrait photographers, but has also tackled a wide variety of subjects, including photographing bees with an electron microscope and the launch of the space shuttle Discovery. When I asked Dan to send me one of his favorite portraits, he sent one of his father, Larry Winters. This strikes a chord with me, as my dad has been one of my favorite subjects for years and, until my daughter was born, he was probably one of my most willing and supportive subjects. With all he’s shot in his career, Dan said has a fondness for portraits. “I always loved doing portraiture, even as a photojournalist,” he said. “It is one of my passions.” But creatively, Dan leans toward a different type of work, “I would say my favorite kinds of assignments are scientific- and aerospace-related.” In recent years, that work, including the shuttle launch, has made me wonder what this guy can’t do, as he creates works of art, incorporating drawings, found objects and of course, his camera.
As a fan of music, I’ve always been a fan of Rolling Stone magazine’s photography and both of their most famous photographers of the last 20 years, Annie Leibovitz and Mark Seliger, but a photographer I find even more inspiring in that genre is Danny Clinch . The work is grittier, a lot of black-and-white images, and has a much more spontaneous feel than the huge productions Leibovitz and Seliger have become known for. There is also a big mix of camera formats, documentary style and styles of portraiture (natural lighting and lit). He has worked for most major magazines, shot advertising campaigns, directed music videos and has developed so many relationships in the business that artists often reach out directly to him, as Eddie Vedder did for the photos for his 2011 album “Ukulele Songs.” I asked Danny about the black-and-white image of Vedder, more curious about the process. “The photograph was taken with an old Konica Instant Press camera, with the sepia ‘polaroid’ from the impossible project.” Besides his creativity with various films and formats, it is clear Danny has been in the business a while and his experience keeps him in demand when unique art is needed. As Danny says, “It’s all about relationships. It’s important because if you don’t have the relationships, you don’t get great access, which can be necessary to get what others cannot.” That point is well illustrated by the rest of that Vedder shoot. Danny concludes, “It didn’t hurt that he [Vedder] invited me to Hawaii to do the shoot. It was a great hang. I think all my assignments should be like this one.”
And last, but not least, a husband-wife team, Jeremy and Claire Weiss. This pairing hits close to home, as I am also married to a photographer, Nancy Pastor, and we both have a young child (their boy is almost 5 and we have a girl almost 7). This team’s work is really about moments and with a very “natural” look — as natural as portraiture can be, in my opinion — because having a camera and pointing it at people tends to change how natural our interaction can be. They come from a photojournalism/documentary background and I think that comes across in their editorial work and, in particular, in their more widely seen advertising work for such clients as Converse, Adidas and Pepsi. There is a youthful spirit in the work that I love and feel is always in my head when I am trying to guide a subject in that particular direction. I asked them how they come up with the ideas they shoot, whether in single portraits or ad campaigns. Jeremy says they have never considered themselves “idea-based” when it came to assignments, “In the past couple of years the majority of our work has been for advertising and the process usually starts with us meeting the art directors and start bouncing ideas off of each other, what has worked well in the past, what hasn’t, etc. But with those assignments it really comes down to great talent. We do a lot of work ahead of time making sure the people we shoot have great personalities and will stand out in a crowd. We really just let the subject be who they are without stepping in too much and capture it as a fly on the wall and I think that’s why there is so much honesty in our work. Its real people having real fun, not being told to have fun. “
Top photo: A portrait of Jay L. Clendenin’s dad, whom he credits as being his most willing muse, until the birth of Jay’s daughter. Credit: Jay L. Clendenin
October 26, 2012, 12:00 pm
Thanks for this post, Jay. Ilove Dan's work and well as Danny's too. And I was fortunate to get to know David Burnett abit. Will definitely check out the others you recommend here. Always good to keep the creative fires stoked!
October 29, 2012, 6:27 am
Awesome post Jay!
Your wollacott friend,
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