I was raised on a farm in rural Maine, went to a liberal arts college, and returned to my home state in 2001 after six years in New York City. I never wanted a normal job, but along the way I worked as a census taker, forklift driver, guy Friday, busboy, systems administrator, SOES bandit, doorman, and sandwich maker.
An old Nikkormat, handed down through my family when I was 12, was an artifact from the future. Throughout my teens and twenties, I learned how to use the camera, but the idea of taking photographs for a living seemed remote and fanciful. To make that fantasy come true required years working for other photographers, trying, asking questions, falling down, and getting back up. I've been making photographs for over 30 years now, and do not desire to look back.
Every project needs some foundational idea—a concept, a theme. Sometimes the client comes to the production with this idea already formed; other times, the group brainstorms to come up with a concept. Either way, it’s essential to have a plan and execute it. Time spent staring into the creative void is often more fruitful than that spent looking through the viewfinder.
Once you have the vision, you can frame, and then light, and then everything else. Without that idea—the nugget at the core of your concept—you're just treading water. As my friend François would say, you're fucking the dog. You're wasting time, and post production rarely saves an ill-conceived idea.
So if I have a philosophy, it’s to not fuck the dog.
First, the idea. Stay focused on that idea, and build everything else around it. Next, execution—the basic groundwork for any shoot. Prior to shoot day, you need to have a pre-production meeting, develop a shot list and a props list, decide on equipment, finalize a budget, and so on. On the day of, everything that was on paper becomes a physical reality. Lighting, grip, props, models need to roll onto the set in the correct order of battle. And the little things matter: Make sure there is lunch. Hungry people cannot do their best work.
Sometimes images happen in the moment—Henri Cartier-Bresson's 'decisive moment’— but for a commercial photographer, they are painstakingly built with a team, step by step, piece by piece. A well-run photo or video shoot creates mental space, and time, to experiment, to really work an idea. Sometimes the first frame is the keeper, but more often it’s the last of several hundred frames that is just right, and you’ll never know which until you shoot it. Doggedness, practicality, and preparation win the day more often than not.
I’m based in Portland, Maine, and gladly travel anywhere for work.