10 minutes with Jamie Kripke

Random October 31, 2011 9:05 am

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

I never made a conscious decision to be a photographer.  My mom gave me her old Minlota SLR when I was 15, and from then on I just kept shooting.  I never considered studying photography at university, even though I took lots of art courses — painting, drawing, sculpture, etc.  Ultimately I graduated with a degree in Philosophy, but it never crossed my mind to even attempt to make a living as an artist, which was probably a product of my Midwestern roots.  Growing up in Ohio, there was quiet, underlying pressure to be a doctor, lawyer, or businessman.  Not that my parents contributed to this pressure — they always supported me in my choices.  It was just a side effect of growing up in a more conservative social environment.

There was a moment, however, when I understood that I actually was a photographer:
I was 30 years old, living in San Francisco, working my way through that difficult stage of transitioning from assistant to shooter.  I had a printed portfolio, and was getting small jobs from a few local magazines.  But this transitional period was one of the hardest stages of my career.  I gave up the security of a full time assisting position at a busy studio in order to make less money, while continuing to spend more shooting work for my book.  My situation had shifted from stable and comfortable to expensive and uncertain, and I was feeling very anxious about my decision to “become a photographer.”
A friend of mine suggested that I talk to a professional about my career path, and referred me to a “life coach” she knew. I drove to this tiny house in El Cerrito and met with this life coach at her home.  I told her everything about myself, and that I was looking for some clarity on whether or not I should be a photographer.  The conversation went like this:

 

her: “What is the longest relationship you’ve had?”
me: “I don’t know, about a year and a half”  (Ironically, my girlfriend and I had just broken up.) 
her: “How long have you been making pictures?”
me: “Fifteen years.”
her: “Fifteen years is a long time to be in a relationship, isn’t it?”
me: “Yeah.”
her: “It’s time for you to stop dating photography and marry it, don’t you think?”

 

When she said that, I realized that I was already there.  It just took a small shift in perspective for me to accept that I was going to be married to photography for the rest of my life, and that I needed to fully embrace that commitment.  From there onward, things were easier because it wasn’t really a choice.

 

 

Jamie Kripke

Jamie Kripke

Jamie Kripke

Jamie Kripke

 

 

In addition to your still photography, you are now picking up video cameras – what led you to exploring motion and how do you see it in relation to your photography work?

 

I didn’t really make a conscious decision to begin shooting motion either, I just started getting requests for it on my still assignments. It’s a common assumption that still photographers can shoot motion well.  And I agree to a certain extent — when it comes to lighting, composition, and post production, I’m equally comfortable in either medium.  Beyond that, the storytelling, audio, editing, and production practices are entirely different.  So I try to stay focused primarily on the lighting and composition part, and leave the rest to experts in their respective fields.  
So far, I’m really enjoying the moderately steep learning curve, and find that working as a director and DP has been a pretty natural progression for me and my work.

 

 

Jamie Kripke

Jamie Kripke

Jamie Kripke

Jamie Kripke

 

 

Tell me about your project Freemasonry. You started the project in 2006, how long do you see yourself working on it? How did you come up with the idea and where do you see it going?

 

I’d always heard about Masonic culture, but never really thought about it until I found myself inside the Scottish Rite Temple in Santa Fe. There was this amazing bunkroom on the top floor where the members would spend the night.  There was also an ancient album of their group photos, dating back to the early 1900′s.  Curious to learn more, I started visiting and shooting other Masonic buildings around the country.  They’re all over the place, and many are beautiful stone structures that have been frozen in time.  Because they have very few windows, the lighting inside is very subdued and dramatic, and I am constantly blown away by the quality of Masonic light.
I tend to work on this project in the winter.  Most of it is shot with available light and long exposures.  It’s really nice to be able to travel with just my cameras and a tripod — no heavy lighting cases or assistants needed.  It has been a refreshing, rewarding, meditative personal project that I’ll continue indefinitely.  
I presented the Freemasonry images to a book publisher in San Francisco that was interested, but passed on it, mainly because they didn’t understand the market for such a book.  Ultimately I’d like to find a publisher with distribution that does understand that there are millions of Freemasons in the US, and that they are all connected to each other.

 

 

Jamie Kripke

Jamie Kripke

Jamie Kripke

Jamie Kripke

Jamie Kripke

Jamie Kripke

 

 

If you could go back 10 years and give yourself advice, what would it be?

 

Get married. (See answer #1.)

 

Any words of wisdom for the up and comers?

- Show what you love, that’s the work you’ll eventually get.
- Art is subjective — Don’t worry what people write or say about your work. Do what feels right to you.
- Buy the best gear you can afford.  The best gear is the gear you don’t have to think about while you’re using it.
- Look at lots of art.  Spend time in bookstores.  Listen to unfamiliar music.  Pick a random town on a map and go there.  Creative ideas come from changing your patterns and exposing yourself to unexpected combinations of new experiences.
- As Dan Winters told me (after Chris Callis told him) – understand the basic physical properties of light, starting with The Inverse Square Law and the Law of Reflection.  It will do wonders for your lighting.
- Keep shooting!

 

 

(Jamie is based in Boulder. See more of his work, here.)

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