Q & A

A high school student named Adriana wrote to me for an interview for her “project on photography and it’s impact on social justice.”

So since I put some time into answering these questions, thought I would share them. Please feel invited your thought or reactions by too by commenting, even if you think I’m totally full of crap.

Also, in case I never told, I was honored to be featured on the website Verve Photo recently.


1. How did you get interested on being a photographer?
I took an elective course in black and white photography my senior year in high school. I was really hooked on the idea of not working in an office.

2. How long have you been doing this?
I’ve been making pictures ever since, but it’s been my primary source of income since 2001, which is to say I haven’t made much money.

3. Who inspired you to be a photographer?
I draw inspiration from many sources, literature, art, music, films. But I imagine you are asking about photographers who inspire me. Well, for starters their is the entire staff from my home town newspaper, The Albuquerque Tribune, including Stacia Spragg-Braude, Michael Gallegos, Craig Fritz, Erin Fredrichs, who probably had the most profound impact on me directly. Other all-time favorites include James Nachtway, Robert Frank, Eugene Richards, David Burnett, Vince Musi to name a few off the top of my head. Others who are in my generation include Matt Slaby, Kevin German, Jakob Schiller, Rich Joseph-Facun, Michael Rubenstein, again just off the top of my head. I could go on and on, and I hate to leave people out, but that is the list for today.

4. What type of photography do you do?
My work to this point is mostly documentary in nature, meaning I don’t set-up/stage photos. In the coming year I will be doing more controlled portraiture.

5. In every photograph of yours what is something that you want to show the viewer?
My one time (and always) editor/mentor Mark Holm put together a list of words that start to explain what makes a photograph successful. These are his words, which say it very well.

“MOMENT, LIGHT, EXPRESSION, EMOTION, COMPOSITION, IMPACT, TONE (as in, attitude), TONE (as in, the more technical / aesthetic), PERSPECTIVE, ENERGY, IRONY, LAYERING, SURPRISE, JUXTAPOSITION, MESSAGE, COLOR, COLOR (as in sports reporting: vignettes, asides, feature aspects), SCALE, CONTRAST (as in, comparison), CONTRAST (as in, stark tonal relief), HUMOR, HORROR, EXCITEMENT, NARRATIVE, QUALITY (as in, excellent photographic execution) FOCUS (as in, the optical qualities), FOCUS (as in, attention), MOVEMENT, CONTEXT, TRUTH”

He (Holm) as also sent along this new explanation for these words:

“The idea here was that any photograph has appeal, or lack of same, because of some quality (or combination of qualities) that rises to the top. Or maybe it’s notable that these qualities are missing. Any time you view and are drawn to a photo, you can probably identify certain attributes that photo has that give it strength or muscle. Tuning in to those qualities and giving them a name, I think, helps you converse more fluently in the language of visuals. It helps you articulate what a photo brings to storytelling beyond, “I really like it,” or, “it really works for me.” It helps you know intellectually, what you already know empirically or emotionally.”

6. What is something different from your photographs from other photographers?
I guess I’d leave that to the viewer to decide. Really there is no magic formula. It’s work, hard work, being on the streets, approaching strangers, rejection, long hours for low pay, more rejection. The best way I ‘ve heard it explained is to tell a writer is to say that photography is a universal language, and I want my photographs to adverbs and adjectives, where many photographs are nouns and verbs as it relates to a larger body of work. It takes time to develop your voice with a camera, lots and lots of bad pictures to make one good picture where all the elements come together. But for me now it’s not about making one photo, it’s about a series of images that conveys a message, a perspective.

7. Does photograph affect society today? In what way?
Not that long ago, people looked to still photographs for news, for proof from “unbiased” sources. Great magazines like Life brought the world but with today of ‘photoshopping’, we are distrustful of amazing pictures, which is unfortunate. But still images still resonate in people in ways words and video can’t. It lingers in you heart and in your soul a little longer.

8. Do you think photography is art or something that is used to show how time changed?
Yes, on both counts, and so much more.

9. Do you think photography changes people perspectives on global issues?
(Like in Darfur, they are having hard times right know, and they show these photographs from there, do you think it is something that is helping their situation to motivate people to do something about it and help out.)
I think it can contribute to greater understanding, so yes. I think that photographs can change the world, but maybe in way we might expect. Say for example that I (or Marcus Bleasdale, who also belongs on the list above) makes a great reportage about Darfur. Maybe it doesn’t end the situation, but maybe some kid see those pictures and is moved to go out and volunteer and devote their life to making a difference. Maybe they become President, who knows.

10. Where have you gone with your photographs?
I just got back from the inauguration in DC, and before that I was living in Guatemala and traveling around Central America. If I hadn’t become a photographer, there is no doubt in my mind I would never have experienced these things. the camera is just my excuse.

11. What is one of your proudest photograph?
Well, I have a series of pictures from rural village of Chilili NM from their feast days, which I was incredibly lucky to be allowed to photograph. The community is not far from where I live, but I had the same sense of wonder I get from traveling to a foreign country. You really don’t have to leave the USA to get outside of yourself.

12. Do you do something else than photography?
I try to sleep once in a while, but I’m not very good at it. As a freelance photographer, there is always more work to be done, plans to be made, pictures to be edited, invoices (hopefully) to be sent. It’s the reason I’m trying to learning EspaƱol. Making pictures is the easy part, the too rare reward.

13. If you had the chance to change your career would you do it?
For me it has to be more than a career, and to that extent if I have to do something else to make money, I would, but it would just be to feed myself and my photography habit. That being said, I would also love to teach photography some day.

14. Do you think being a photographer is a thing to do?
It’s a million things to do, or more.

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