10 minutes with Brian Shumway

Interviews with Photographers November 15, 2011 7:59 am
When did you first know that you wanted to be a photographer?

 

We often hear the familiar story about how a photographer receives a camera from their father or grandfather at age 12 and immediately falls in love, knowing it will be their life’s passion. Not so for me. I didn’t even find photography until my mid-twenties after I graduated college with a degree in anthropology. At the time I was more interested in pursuing film. My friend’s father had given him a camera, and already having interest in visual hand-held contraptions, I thought I’d play around with it. I liked how small and mobile it was, and that moments could be frozen and looked at again and again. I didn’t have any immediate or clear idea about what I would use it for or what I would ‘say’ with it, but I knew there was something. So my interest grew overtime and eventually I began to pursue photography more seriously but also cautiously, taking some courses at the university I had already attended and then a bit later in San Francisco. For me, wanting to be a photographer was a process, not something that can be distilled into one experience or epiphany. 

 

Brian Shumway

Brian Shumway

Brian Shumway

Brian Shumway

Brian Shumway

 

What is a typical day like for you?

 

My day seems to be one of two ways: 1) so dead I’m bored out of my mind, or 2) so busy I’m worried if i’m going to be able to make deadline. I’ve learned there’s no rhyme or reason to the business side of photography. I don’t waste time trying to figure it out anymore. I just promote myself (via emails, postcards, competitions, blogs, etc) on a regular basis.

 

Brian Shumway

Brian Shumway

 

Brian Shumway

Brian Shumway

Your projects, True Men and Black Girl challenge the mainstream views and expectations of being a man and being a model. What led you to pursue these topics? How long did you spend working on them and how did you find your subjects?

 

Before I began these two projects, I had been shooting pretty much traditional documentary photography. Visually, I was creating work that I felt was strong but the content wasn’t really me. They say everything’s been done, but some things have been done more than others. And  I felt what I was producing had been not just done, but overdone. And then I noticed that there was (and is) this absolute obsession even fetishization of models and fashion in pop culture. I thought doing something that involves modeling would be the exact opposite of documentary photography, and that I could bring something a little unique to the subject given my background. So at the end of 2008, I began to find models (and subjects for True Men) on one of the many modeling websites around. After a few months of shooting a project that focused just on women, I thought a great way to balance it out would be to do one focused on men. Black Girl breaks expectations about women and modeling, and True Men breaks expectations about who we believe men are supposed to be. Both fuse fantasy and reality, and I see them as being very much related to each other. 

 

Brian Shumway

Brian Shumway

Brian Shumway

Brian Shumway

Brian Shumway

Brian Shumway

Brian Shumway

Brian Shumway

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

 

Be strong. 
Be patient.
Ask for help.
Ignore the trends. 
Make your work about you.
Don’t get a degree in photography.
Reach out and make real connections with others.

It may not seem like it, you may even want to quit, but if you stick around long enough, things will slowly (or quickly) begin to happen.

Any words of wisdom for the up and comers?

 

See above.

 

(Brian is based in New York. See more of his work, here.)

4 Comments

  • I like your work and the way you portray people. Great words of wisdom!

  • Fantastic work, very sensitive.
    I’m just a beginner, but I also think that portrait photography is all about connections (with lots of mystery involved, of course).

    Eduardo

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