Interviewed and photographed by Marsin Mogielski.
How did you begin your career?
I was a photographer as a young boy because my father was an amateur and was passionate about photography. But I didn’t turn to it until after I graduated from a university with a degree in Art History and had given up my dream of being a rock and roll star (like so many people in my generation). I had my epiphany when I was living in San Francisco and I read the Time Life twelve volume series on photography. I realized immediately that photography was going to be my future and I was going to be a photographer. I knew it was in my DNA, I understood it intrinsically, and I knew that I would be a people photographer because I really enjoyed directing people. Being a photographer, as you know, especially a people photographer, it is a wonderful way to get to know a person. There is nothing like it. When you take a picture of a person, there is an intimacy that is created instantly. You peel away all the layers very quickly and before you know it you’ve made a friend. I moved to New York City because I had a friend living there and working as a photographer. He told me to go see Michael Reinhardt whom he had freelanced for. I did: Michael Reinhardt, who was a star photographer at the time for Vogue, hired me, and the rest is history… it was immediate gratification.
When did you decide to start doing headshots?
When I came back to New York City from Paris in 1982, determined to be a successful fashion photographer, I was basically dealing with Elite Model Management. There was a woman there named Davien Littlefield: her job was to take any male or female model that wanted to act, and groom them for J. Michael Bloom, which was a big theatrical agency at the time. I was standing at a street corner in SoHo with my friend Perry, who was a male model at the agency and buying a bottle of wine, on a beautiful evening, and down the street came this Russian photographer named Sasha and with him was Davien. They walked over to us and we started chatting. She said that she would like to talk to me about taking some pictures for her. And that’s how it started. I initially said no, because to me headshots were horrible and a business that not many people wanted to work in. She said that it was a stupid way to look at things, and that I could make them new, fresh and better. She was very persuasive, very smart, still my friend today, and together we changed the business and the look of headshots.
Do you do any work other than headshots?
Yes, for over 25 years I have done nude photography of women. Helmut Newton was one of my idols. For years I have photographed my friends, created different projects such as ‘Creepy Killers,’ which Visionaire Magazine has printed. There is one person that I have photographed in the past 18 years in different disguises, Dovanna Pagowski, sort of a Cindy Sherman-esque type of thing that has never been published or shown in galleries. Today I am working on abstract color, which I am having a lot of fun shooting as well as printing and hope to reveal sooner than later. It reminds me of when I first started taking photographs. It gives me a thrill, which is refreshing because it’s just me, myself and I.
How did you become a success?
Being tenacious. Success is where hard work and opportunity collide. Hard work, non-stop belief in yourself and being open to making connections. I worked hard, would spend all day shooting, all day assisting, and many nights in the dark room. That’s the thing about getting started young: you’ve got a lot of energy. You have to appreciate connections and you have to make that happen for yourself. You have to get up and go out to meet people. I did not move to New York not to meet people. I got off my couch, went out to every party I could go to, every nightclub I could go to, I pounded on the doors, I wanted to work.
What do you think agents are looking for in a photograph?
The agent is looking for something they believe exists in their client. The best managers and agents that have great education, see something in their client that the world has not yet discovered and they will work hard to make the world realize this about their client. They would work with a photographer that sees the world the same way. The agent would say this photographer speaks my language. They know what I know about you. They know that photographer will get what the agent knows out of the client. They will find that thing I believe is in you. That used to be the relationship the managers, agents and photographers had. Today, I think that’s all gone. There are no rules anymore.
In the many subjects you have photographed, who has changed the most?
Honestly all the ones who made it are exactly who they were when they came to me; just older, richer, and more confident. I don’t think any of them have changed. I believe that they already knew that they were going to make it, most of them, and they never spoke about an alternative.
How is working with actors different than working with models?
I think the obvious answer would be that the actor is a storyteller. They have to work really hard. For a model it’s more thrust upon them. When you are beautiful, it is an easier game to play in the early stages, it just happens to you. However, to be a good model it just isn’t looks, it is about having a strong and interesting personality in order to turn the business on. Many of the best models are not always the prettiest, but they can tell a story with their body and with their grace.
What advice do you have for actors getting headshots taken?
Before you get them taken know yourself as much as possible. Knowing how to wear your hair, how to wear your clothes, be an individual and don’t be afraid to be yourself. Don’t be afraid to take advice from a professional because you get what you pay for. The headshot business is a business that allows everybody and anybody to be in it. Anybody can call themselves a headshot photographer these days.
Work on yourself, find out who you are as soon as possible in terms of grooming. Be smart about your grooming. Find a look that is handsome for your face and stick with it. Every actor that has made it looked the same at 20 as they do at 50, they figured it out.
What kind of lighting do you prefer?
I prefer natural light, always have and always look for it. Many photographers that I studied as a kid used it. I always admired Helmut Newton, he would show up with one assistant, one silver case with his cameras and a tripod and he took the most amazing pictures, generally speaking with ambient light, meaning either natural or streetlight. Most of his work was with what was there and he used it. That is what appeals to me.
What advice do you have for emerging headshot photographers?
Make sure you really want to do headshots because it could become a trap and you might get stuck labeled as a headshot photographer. Once you become successful at it, it could be what they call golden handcuffs. I went in to it, became successful at it and 32 years later am still doing it. There is a good chance I let other good opportunities pass because it was lucrative, paid my bills, bought my house, and allowed me to work on my other stuff. It could be a golden handcuff because in perhaps ten years you might regret it. If you think that’s just a way to make a buck be careful because it might take you in a direction you may not be able to change.
Make sure if headshot photography ends up being a big bulk of your career that it doesn’t sadden you. I made a conscious choice to do it well, to do it with passion and be proud of it. The book shows that.
Currently, where can we find your book ‘8x10’?
As well as the following retailers:
Crawford Doyle Booksellers
McNally Jackson Books
Spoonbill and Sugartown
St. Mark’s Bookshop