by Alexandra Niki

 

 

 

 

 

So, we’re starting a new thing here at Resource Magazine. A weekly post by yours truly, every Monday called “Embrace Photography”. You can also keep an eye out for regular tech posts by Adam Sherwin on Wednesdays and a regular column by Aurelie Jezequel on Fridays.

I grew up in NYC, in the West Village in the hay day of the 80’s photo scene. Without having been there it’s a hard experience to retell and my childhood, well, maybe you don’t need to know ALL about it, but it was amazing. We lived on West 12th St. two doors down from what is now Industria Superstudio and across the street from Tortilla Flats. It looked a lot like this:

A building close to Industria used to be occupied by a close friend of the family and photographer, Walter Chin, prior to becoming what it is now. He was a regular in our loft amongst many others. My father had his studio in our loft, which also included 30-ft ceilings, a 5,000 sq ft deck, spiral staircase, and generally speaking, a massive loft that you could not even recreate in your imagination. Growing up here, included photo shoots, large parties of 200+ guests, big dinners, drinking, art directors, models, fashion, lots of nudity, friends and simply– freedom and happiness.

Underlying this paradise, my father ran his studio like a well oiled machine: assistants on salary, maids, nannies, you name it. He learned from the best, with a history assisting Avedon, Albert Watson, Helmut Newton, and many other greats; he knew his sh*t, he knew how to party and he knew how to shoot a damn good photograph. This is my father:

I used to sit in the darkroom with my dad while he processed his film. I always thought the darkroom chemical smells on his hands were the normal smells of a man. I always loved when he picked me up from school in a location van. I always thought living like a rock star in the West Village was a normal way of growing up. Although, none of this was necessarily normal for a child to grow up in, it WAS a normal lifestyle for people in the photo scene during that time.

The photography business used to be very different than what it is today. I reminisce frequently about how life used to be. Here are some photos of my dad before I go on.

During my impressionable years at West 12th Street I grew a love for music which played constantly and spanned from Joao Gilberto to The Rolling Stones and my sleepy time music was George Winston. Little did I know that throughout those years it was actually photography that made the biggest impression on me. It’s hook was deep and I grew to become a prop stylist and now the co-founder of Resource Magazine. Wait, wait,  back up…before that, my parents fell in love:

They had me:

I grew up:

And here I am now. All of this wasn’t arbitrary. I never wanted to be a photographer and I never had any interest in being a magazine publisher, but here I am. The reason being, I’ve lived photography, I grew up in it, I swam in it, I was surrounded by it every step of my life so far and I know what LIVING PHOTOGRAPHY really means (should I consider a knuckle tattoo? LIVE- PHOTO). When I grew up and got into the photo industry as a stylist, things were not the same; people were business, nobody had fun, the crew kissed butt hoping to be rehired, I had to kiss butt hoping to be rehired, film disappeared and photography became expected and sterile, money dissipated, big lunches became a hassle and expense, and passion became institutionalized . Photography is much more than a “nice picture” but it takes heart.

5 Lessons on how to LIVE PHOTOGRAPHY:

1. HAVE A BUSINESS, DON’T BE BUSINESS: Is your client really so different than you that they wouldn’t enjoy having an engaging conversation, having a good shoot day, or even cracking open a bottle champagne for the wrap party? Basically, loosen up. We live in such a high stress society these days and its only going to get worse if we keep letting it. Photography is creative, photography is fun, its your passion, bring this mentality to set and enjoy yourself and the other people around you. This doesn’t mean you’re not there to do a job and make money, but it also doesn’t mean you have to give yourself high blood pressure. On set interaction when I was a kid was much much more relaxed. We had one art director who my dad worked with a lot who loved Haagen-dazs ice cream during lunch. They would make big spreads with really good home cooked food during lunch time, which ended with a wide selection of ice cream….Haagen-Dazs of course.

2. DON’T KISS BUTT: No matter who your client is, you can really skip the butt kissing. This applies to anyone on set, not just the photographer. Respect yourself and others will respect you back. Plus, you won’t feel pathetic by the end of the day, you’ll get rehired, and you may even end up making some friends. However, you should be able to recognize the moments that require some butt-kissing. There once was a creative director on our set who stepped into our giant cactus plant. His entire arm was covered in cactus needles. He screamed. He may have even cried. My mom sat there picking out each needle from his arm for the rest of the day. That would be a good time to kiss butt.

3. PLAY GREAT MUSIC: You are a great photographer, which means that you are a great artist, which means that you understand how ones environment can impact you. Do an experiment: put someone in a room for 8 hours and play the worst music you can find. Then put someone in a room for 8 hours and play awesome music. See the difference in their moods when they leave the room. Something as simple as putting on some great tunes and having a killer, yet eclectic selection of genres can be massively impacting on how someone experiences your studio, your house, you and even your photography.

4. RIGIDITY IS A TERRIBLE WORD: We live in a rigid world. Our clothes are rigid. Our work habits are rigid. Our social skills are rigid. Our creativity is rigid. One of the things that was really lost by the time we hit Y2K is our naivety. Sometimes not being so planned and preconceived is a good thing. We are always so scared to not do things right and there is so much information available at our disposal that its hard not to be well informed. But its ok not to be taking part in the latest fashion trends or be self-censoring all the time. Sometimes its good to take a leap of faith and try to do something different and unconventional.

5. MAKE IT A LIFESTYLE: Don’t go to work then go home to kick off the shoes. Photography is 24/7. This means entertaining clients, hanging out with other people in the industry, cooking big dinners, getting wasted, photographing your family or yourself or your photo assistant, brushing your teeth so you can reflect on that Avedon poster you see from your mirror, traveling for fun and to shoot (but not just to shoot), poking around at the local camera shop to talk shop or play with your next gadget, reading Resource Magazine while on the can, or simply just being epic in your own photographic ways. At West 12th Street,  there was a very vague line between work and play because my father had a true passion for what he did and it resonated into every other aspect of his life.

The secret 6th Lesson has not yet been solved: MONEY. Yes, it takes money to live like we did and today, there’s just not enough money to go around. So there are the few that make it big, the rest of us hope to survive and some need to work Sundays at B&H. Unfortunately, there is no solution and this is the struggling economy that we live in now. My only advice is to take the rest of my advice and the money will follow. Everyone wants to be on a photographers set who is different, free spirited, and enjoyable. We all escape to our petite luxuries every once in a while, your client is no different. Give them their Haagen-dazs and of course, you also need to take great photos, but the experience for them goes the extra mile for you.

I hope you enjoyed my first ever “Embrace Photography” post. You can expect something different every week. I figured this first one would be a good kick-off since now you even know the house I grew up in!

See you next Monday!

Alex

 

 

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