The magical mind of Michael Clinard

Interviews with Photographers January 27, 2014 7:32 am

Something I love about Michael Clinard’s work is that it is always evolving and Michael is passionate about the journey of the evolution and, for lack of a better term, celebrates it. I have been fortunate to work with Michael on several shoots, and he is always thinking outside of the box, mixing the mundane with the fun, getting tons of options that I never asked for that always worked. When I hired him for a shoot a couple of years back, I was asking for an insane amount of options in a short amount of time (oh, Google), but instead of being annoyed, he was on it – emailing me from the plane with sketches and ideas and lighting questions. I wanted to find out more about his work-flow and how he uses his sketches when he’s on set. Hope you enjoy learning about Michael’s work as much as I do..

Can you tell me what your thought-process is like when you get an assignment?

I do business shoots and conceptual shoots a little differently.

If I’m shooting something with a business or tech slant, there’s always that inherent exercise of researching a company to find out what they do. When it’s profiling a particular person, I like knowing the seemingly boring stuff, like the kind of car they drive or the fact that he or she always bikes into work on Monday morning, rain or shine.

That alone might tell me they’re committed and persistent, so it’s my entry point to start thinking about what I’m looking to evoke. Day of the shoot, I go in with several ideas and a plan, but I’m usually just making myself malleable and adapting to the vibe of the room.

When you look at these companies like self-contained mythologies, most everybody’s a different version of Icarus. There’s a certain responsibility to show where they’re at in the arc of that story. With any luck, they pull their veils and capes back long enough to show me their wings.

Let’s talk about your interest in conceptual work. When did you start making sketches for shoots?

I had to go back in my email to find that I did doodles on the second assignment I shot, a feature on startup culture back in January 2011 for Seattle Met magazine.

Back then, I was working with Benjamen Purvis, now Design Director at Runner’s World. I think he emailed some sketches during the pre-production process, so I replied back with my own set of notes and sketches that functioned like a tracking number, saying ‘message received.’

This trend of doodling back and forth continued through with his successor, Andre Mora, and it’s since stuck. It pretty much informs the way I go about tackling every conceptual project now.

I have always been impressed by the sketches you did for shoots that we worked on together, even when the assignment could go towards the mundane. Not only did you come up with these really creative solutions, but you would draw them out and actually DO them. Do you draw up ideas for every assignment?

Not always, but I’m drawing all the time, even when I’m not shooting. It’s just something I enjoy doing. It’s meditative for me, a kind of a self-evaluative exercise, too.

The practice helps when I’m tapped for projects that require a quick turnaround, like my work with Adweek. In those cases, I work directly with Creative Director Nick Mrozowski, and in the course of one day, it’s not uncommon for us to completely turn a concept on its ear or reinterpret a topic that’s been beat to death visually.

On the other hand, I’ve been commissioned to do my ideation practice a couple times where I didn’t shoot anything. In those instances, I mocked up a suite of 6-10 directions over the course of a couple hours for AARP. One was a rough treatment on the subject of cashing in early on one’s retirement, and the other one was a concept about living in one state and working in another.

I don’t know if you think it’s interesting as a photographer, but as an editor watching your success in both specialties (business, conceptual) is pretty awesome. I would love to hear about how you are managing it.

‘Managing’ is a good way to put it.

I don’t value one over the other, in fact, I love shooting both. While they might look completely different at times, I find there’s a common theme running throughout both styles: a re-imagined or elevated take on the everyday world.

To me, one informs the other, like the way a personal project can inform the way you shoot a job. They evolve, or rather mutate, alongside each other.

I’m a photographer, but equally, if not more importantly, I’m a father and husband, so there’s that conversation about how to balance a personal life with a professional life.

I feel that one’s personal life evolves at a pace that feels sometimes discordant or disproportionate to their professional life, and vice versa. In the end, all I can do is what I do: keep being.



Michael is based in Seattle and New York. See more of his work, here

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