You’re welcome. I’m flattered to have been asked.
Growing up with the Wagner family was like being at summer camp. Lots of crafts. My mom was deep into ceramics and stained glass design with a propensity for making ashtrays and large-scale windows from craft magazine how-tos. My dad had a woodworking shop complete with bandsaws, tablesaws, routers, drill presses and even a forge where, with his own hand-made bellows to stoke the fire, he blacksmithed carving tools for cabinetmaking and wood sculpting, me reluctantly by his side. Somehow I survived childhood and adolescence with all my fingers intact and a boatload of skills that included plumbing and radio electronics on top of everything else.
One day while in my teens, I discovered my father’s old Ciroflex 6x6 twin lens reflex camera in the attic and found that taking pictures was easier than building a seven-foot armoire. I was hooked. And somehow all that crafts stuff filtered in to my photos.
Thanks. Inspiration is one of those things that’s kind of hard for me to pin down. I have a tendency to be intrigued by the way things look or how they function. I’ve been known to spend way too much time looking at a bent wheel, a cracked window or a seam in a metal doorframe because they intrigue me visually. That’s my father in me, and it works for my photography, but that obsessiveness really annoys my girlfriend.
In the studio I’ll shoot hundreds of frames of a set with my Canon G10, top to bottom, over and under exposed, blurred, in focus, even stupid ideas until I run out of steam. Then I lay them out in Lightroom for review and look for the magic. Sometimes it’s not there and I go back and shoot more. And then sometimes, it’s just there. I find that moment exhilarating. Photography is such an imperfect art. In a shoot, if I’m lucky, maybe one photograph is great, maybe one is okay, and the rest are garbage. I think there’s a skill to knowing what’s what. That’s why I’m pretty strict with my editing, usually choosing only one image from a final shoot to post produce. But even then it doesn’t always make it to my portfolio.
3.Do you remember the very first photography that you worked up?
That’s a hard one. The earliest photographs I have are naked pictures of my first girlfriend standing on a cliff at Hither Hills State Park on Long Island. Actually, she was wearing something loose and the wind took it and I kept shooting. That was a seminal moment. Anything I may have shot before that I can’t recall.
My first paid assignment was shooting a very expensive LP record turntable for ASCAP (Association of Composers, Authors and Publishers). It didn’t win any awards, but I was thrilled to see my work published. (It’s around here somewhere)
I like the classics.
For simplicity and style, Richard Avedon was a big influence as was Irving Penn. They were such amazing photographers with a remarkable breadth and scope to their work.
For concept and creativity, Ryszard Horowitz and Pete Turner. These are two more photography giants whose work run the course of their lifetime and have crossed from film to digital.
For still life lighting and technique, it’s Ben Somoroff. He’s in the same class as Penn and Avedon. Somoroff was a protégé of Alexey Brodovitch and a brilliant still life photographer, whose lighting was crisp and inventive. He died in his early 60’s and never gained the notoriety of Penn. Ben is probably my biggest influence.
Elliott Erwitt’s cleverness of capturing unique, humorous, unadorned moments is unparalleled. I try to do that with fruit in Union Square. But I don’t think I come close to Erwitt’s brilliance.
I love the sheer intellingence of Brock Davis (an art director at Carmichael Lynch actually), who recently completed a personal series - “Make Something Cool Every Day.” A very clever guy. He makes me look lazy.
Maybe I should stop here.
For years I shot almost exclusively 8 x 10, but now I shoot with my old Hasselblad ELM and a Leaf Aptus 75. I also use a Digiflex II camera body, an interesting hybrid that was designed for shooting with a medium format digital back with Nikon lenses, but it’s too awkward for shooting handheld like a 35mm.
For everything else I rent either a Canon ds1 MKII or the Nikon D3X. I like them both for different reasons. I don’t see any reason to own one, since much of my work is in the studio.
In post-production, I use Photoshop (who doesn’t?) and a few other programs like Mask Pro for tough silhouettes. Then there’s Bracketeer and PTgui for a bit of pseudo HDR and stitching files, which I do from time to time.
Because I live in New York City, surrounded by such a diverse range of artists, writers and photographers from all over the world, I feel I’m influenced by their cultural ideals in ways that I’m not aware. You can’t escape being influenced by your friends and peers.
I’ve actually never had a creative block. My biggest problem is that I do too much. I’m always shooting, planning a shoot, looking for talent (stylists, chefs, etc.) writing tutorials for my F.I.T classes or keeping up with my blog. Last year I learned bookbinding and hand crafted 7 portfolios with slipcases for my new book. I also do my own custom framing. It’s that obsessive thing. I wake up in the morning like a little kid ready to take on the day and play in the snow.
Two years ago I decided to stop showing my special effects photography and move on to something else entirely and created new body of work. As a special effects photographer, my work has appeared in How Magazine, Discover, BusinessWeek and ad campaigns with dozens of major ad agencies. I have a couple of images in the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection and about 100 awards for that work. But reinventing oneself means letting go of the past. Been there, done that. Like the economy, I’ve downsized and repackaged the product.
Currently, I’m laying out a book of the past 4 years of work I’ve shot at the Union Square Greenmarket, both in the studio and on location. I go to Union Square at least 3-4 times a month to shoot or to buy produce to bring back to the studio. Also I’ve connected with the folks from the Council on the Environment for New York City (CENYC), who run the NYC greenmarkets. It was time to give something back to the market pro bono and we’re working on marketing fund raising projects using my photos.
I’m also working with a couple of chefs, three food stylists and two jewelry designers on building an interesting new portfolio of work that should start appearing on my blog and portfolio web site mid April. Oh, and there’s a 50 gallon water tank involved in some of the food shots.
There’s other stuff, but I’m making it sound like I don’t sleep.
Plan, plan, plan. Shoot, shoot, shoot. Then, edit, edit, edit. Because what you show is as important as what you don’t show. There’s a lot of competition out there, so know your market.
You’re welcome. It’s been fun.
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