When did you first know that you wanted to be a photographer? If for some reason you never picked up a camera, what other path do you think you may have followed?
I got interested in photography when I was 14. At that time my brother worked as the photo lab tech at Union College, which was in Schenectady N.Y. The professor there was very passionate about teaching photography as a form of self expression, not really as a commercial tool at all. I met him at my brother’s graduation party and he invited me to attend his classes. It seemed to me that he liked seeing how photography would affect people’s lives when he empowered them with it. I was a teenager, awkward as anyone, and I think he saw it as a chance to see what an awkward teenager would do with photography.
This was a powerful time in one’s life to discover photography: it could be a tool to learn about yourself and a tool to learn about others. The professor taught that idea right from the start, and I saw it as that from the beginning.
If for some reason you never picked up a camera, what other path do you think you may have followed?
I always saw a connection between words and photographs, writing and photography. When I got out of college I worked as a photographer at a number of newspapers and was always inspired by the writers I worked with…and now I like to combine words and images in my personal projects, so I think that would be the other thing that would allow the storytelling to keep going. Then of course a fantasy of being a hair dresser at a hip salon, kind of like Warren Beatty in the film “Shampoo”.
With all of the changes in editorial photography – from the desire of video components, outtakes for the web, and tighter budgets, what do you foresee the future of editorial photography looking like?
There was a lot of buzz about photographers all becoming film directors last year…my reps at Tidepool Reps were encouraging everyone to make films and a number of photographers created some really wonderful motion pieces. I never actually made one…I got kind of distracted by the energy that ECHOLILIA was generating and focused really on that. But one is in the works…
I guess I foresee print continuing but there also being a need for well done still photography productions that use the motion the web offers. There have been some great moving slideshow productions ( just saw one by Danny Wilcox Frazier ) that have surfaced in the world of photo journalism that allowed the wonder and splendor of still photography to continue, but enhanced the storytelling with sound and transitions and moving images that wove things together with maximum impact on the web. But of course, I can’t see the future. But I do feel that the idea that all still photographers will now become directors is kind of shortchanging both mediums. Kind of like saying way back in the beginning of photography that all painters will toss away their brushes and become photographers.
But for me, the advent of blogs and Facebook has changed the way we show photography, and has changed what we want to see. Here at my studio, we are trying to create a printed portfolio that feels more like the looseness of a blog and has the personality that can come thru on face book. This casual tossing out of idea and photographs that blogs and face book allow us are starting to be expected and hungered for…and I do really find that exciting.
Who would your dream subject be?
Whenever I show up to photograph someone they often ask me that question. I almost always respond by saying ” Well, I’m having a real good time photographing you right now. Maybe it is you?” And I mean that.
I’ve always enjoyed what I think of as the smallest fish in the pond. The person or subject that really has gotten no attention yet…or never thought they’d get any attention. I love the idea that everyone is an expert in one thing…and that is themselves, their own life. Whenever I feel like I’m able to tap into a subject that has those qualities, I feel like it is the ideal.
Are you currently working on any personal projects?
My personal project really are the things that have gotten me attention over the years. In 2005 my first book “Sex Machines: Photographs and Interviews” came out, and then we did “ECHOLILIA” in 2010. I never try to force these things, and really I wait for something that is compelling enough to bubble to the surface. Right now I’m working on a series called “Psychotherapy Photographs” which are primarily diptychs, shot in black and white. Right now it feels like a creative exercise, rather than something that has legs of its own, but we’ll see. Typically these projects seem to last 3 years and then come to a natural end.
With the success of your book, ECHOLILIA, is it important for you to keep shooting personal work while also doing editorial and commercial jobs?
For me, both genres need to be cared for and nurtured. Whenever I’m deep in a personal project, my commercial work suffers. And typically when there is a time that the commercial work is going strong, that’s when I don’t seem to make any progress on personal work. But none of these things really seem to be able to thrive without lots of attention.
If you could go back 10 years, what advice would you give yourself?
Oh, ten years? Well, I always wished my work was more commercial, or I could figure out how to exploit the commercial side of what I am up to better. I’m always finding myself feeling jealous of these photographers whose work speaks so clearly the language of advertising, where my work is always like trying to back in to the ad world, parallel parking blindfolded into an ad campaign. But that said, I’m thankful that I never really took the path of assisting ( though I’ve been inspired by everyone who has assisted me in the past ), and I’m thankful that my early education had nothing to do with the concerns of commercial photography.
Any words of wisdom for the up-and-comers?
Learn the history of photography.
Tell someone whose work you love why you love it.
Surround yourself with a community of peers whose work you admire.
Don’t pay a consultant for advice, listen closely to your friends.
Call a photographer on the phone and ask them how they made a photograph you like.
Always be honest and generous with your advice to others.
Learn how to be happy for your fellow photographers when they kick ass.
(Timothy is based in San Francisco. See more of his work, here)