10 minutes with Toby Burditt

Interviews with Photographers April 11, 2011 8:18 am

When did you first know that you wanted to be a photographer?

I wanted to be an architect, but failed out of architecture school, having no aptitude for math. So, at 24, I decided to be a painter, but I realized the photo studies I did of my subjects were much better than my paintings. I enrolled in the photography program at Portfolio Center in Atlanta. It was lame, and I realized I’d never make a living doing what they were teaching in that program. But, I saw that the kids coming out of the Art Direction and Copywriting programs were getting great jobs, and I thought “that’s easy, I can do that”. I switched to the Art Direction program, put together a portfolio in 2 quarters, and then I was an Art Director for 10 years or so working at great agencies. At first is was wonderful, and I made a great salary, but I never stopped shooting. Near the end I was miserable. Thankfully, at the time I had a Creative Director who understood. He fired me with a nice severance package, and said “You’re not happy being an Art Director, go be a Photographer.” So, I guess I was supposed to be a photographer all along, I just took a roundabout way of getting here.

 

Toby Burditt

Toby Burditt

 

Are you currently working on any personal projects? How (if at all) important do you think it is for photographers to have their own projects in the works?

I’m working on a personal project now that (for me) is an expensive and emotionally/ethically challenging undertaking. I’ve entered the first five images of what I conceived as a book into the American Photography contest. Based on the results of the contest, I’ll decide wether to continue. My next project will probably feature Jehovah’s Witnesses, but again (for me) will be a massive undertaking.


Toby Burditt

Toby Burditt

 

How can an editor be most helpful when giving you an assignment?

An editor can be most helpful when they communicate the basics/tone of a shoot. I actually don’t prefer to be given “carte blanche,” because sometimes, if given free reign, they’ll see my edit, and ask me if I did “such and such.” Hopefully, I’ve done “such and such,” which is usually some kind of safety shot. Safety shots are very important!

 

Toby Burditt

Toby Burditt

 

Whats the thing that most surprises you about being a photographer?

Everything surprises me about being a photographer. No two days are alike. I get to meet and work with the most amazing people. The most surprising thing is how much smarter than me they are. But, the goal is always to have a blast doing this. I have a somewhat absurd sense of humor, so the best thing is when you have subjects that will go along with the crazy shit I’ve thought up for them.

 

Toby Burditt

Toby Burditt

 

Any words of wisdom for the up-and-comers?

It’s hard for me to give advice to up and comers, because I came at photography from a different place (e.g., I never assisted). But, I think the most important thing is to always ask for what you want. The worst thing that can happen, is that your subject says “no”. I wasted years shooting still life (not that there’s anything wrong with still life), because I was too afraid to ask a a subject to do what I wanted.

(Toby lives in Oakland, CA. See more of his work, here)


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