When did you first know that you wanted to be a photographer?
I grew up around an antique camera collection and took photography in high-school – the impulse to create images has always been present. That said, being from the suburban Mid-West it never occurred to me that being a photographer that shot something other than senior portraits was a possibility. I went to Montana State to study engineering and after my freshman year I realized I did not want to live that life. At the same time my 101 photo class had opened my mind to all the possibilities that exist for professional photographers so much to the horror of my mother I dropped engineering and dove into photography.
Who were some of the first photographers that inspired you? Is anyone new catching your eye today?
My junior year of high-school I happened upon a Gordon Parks retrospective and it blew my mind. The way he was able to uniquely celebrate the dignity in everyone he photographed made me realize the possibilities of the medium. His shots from the Harlem Riots were hung next to Dior couture and yet everything felt perfect. The show was full of huge gelatin silver prints you could just swim in and c-prints with a palate I had never seen. I left so excited I would say he single handedly caused me to start consistently shooting and opening my eyes to everything around me.
What are some of the best, and hardest, parts of being a photographer?
I make a living photographing the people who are shaping our world. It is amazing really. On a daily basis I am thankful for the opportunity to have my challenges be creative ones and not the pressing issues that 99% of the world face. However, it takes a certain type of personality to be able to accept a life with no security in an industry that is rapidly evolving. It’s funny being a photographer in NYC because everyone here is a photographer but there are only so many jobs out there. You have to set yourself apart, deliver consistently, and not be a pain. Creatively, keeping my work evolving yet remaining tight and meaningful is something that I think about constantly.
If you could go back ten years, what advice would you give yourself?
It can be crippling to try to come up with a New Big Idea which as a creative we are always trying to do. I would tell myself to shoot more and think less. Actually, not think less, but concentrate my energies on developing and expounding on ideas that have already been shot and put to paper. Looking back, my best projects ended up in significantly different places than where they started and the only way to get to B is work through A. Hunter said it right; “Buy the ticket, Take the ride.”
Any words of wisdom for the up and comers?
A big part of what you are doing to cultivating relationships and it helps to empathize with your clients. Realize how much work went into any good assignment before it is handed to you and thus how much pressure that art buyer / photo editor is under to produce. Respect their time. Come to the table with ideas and be willing to let go of them if they are really off for what your client needs to achieve. Make sure that if you are asking people to hire you like a pro that you act like one. And more than anything make sure you love what you are doing because this is an amazing occupation and your love will show in your work.
(Mike is based in New York. See more of his work, here)