Saturday, September 01, 2007

Male Physique Photography


Tell us a bit about yourself...

Although photography is one of my passions, it's not how I earn my living. I started out wanting a career in the arts but got sidetracked in college because I was more worried with supporting myself. Photography is also not my only creative outlet. I write fiction as well and someday I will find a way to put my words and my images together into something greater than the sum of the parts.

How did you get your start in photography?

I've been fascinated by picture taking since I first picked up the family Brownie as a kid. I did my first work with a 35mm camera and darkroom work in college. For years most of my work was casual scenic vacation photography. I didn't start to get serious with photography until I started to shoot men about ten years ago. I started at a nude photography workshop. I've always been into working out at the gym, but I have never been as successful at it as the guys I shoot. I guess those who can't turn themselves into gods, photograph them.

What steps did you take to learn photography?

After I got excited about shooting men I began taking evening courses at Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles. Seeing the work of my instructors (many of whom were accomplished artists) and my fellow students opened my eyes and set me on fire creatively. I got to spend a lot of time in the darkroom working with both black and white and color and slowly developed an individual style for my work. Almost all my training is film based. I have worked with 35mm, medium format and large format cameras and have spent a lot of time working on special darkroom techniques like toning, bleaching, etc.

Tell us more about your favourite equipment and software?

My favorite camera is still my Minolta Maxxum 9. It operates flawlessly and even sounds beautiful when you press the shutter. I use strobe lights in all of my studio shoots and usually arrange the lights to create high contrast shadows on the models' bodies because it really makes muscle definition pop.

Which do you prefer? Film or digital camera?

My shoots are evenly split between the two right now. I have been working a lot with infrared film in the studio because I like the way it creates a soft glow. Since I work with strobe lights I also use very slow films like ASA 50, because they create images with broad tonal ranges. I like digital because of the immediacy of the results. After I drop off the film and the lab, I can start manipulating the raw images from the memory card and have something to see right away. I also like the low investment cost per image that you have with digital. Lately I have found that it motivates me to shoot more freely, to try things I wouldn't necessarily have tried with film because it costs so little per frame. I suppose when I upgrade my current digital camera to something that will create really large images, I will probably shoot less and less film, and then that big investment in darkroom equipment I made a few years ago will all be for nothing...

What inspires you?

The work of other artists, not just photographers, but painters, writers, dancers and musicians.

Do you find it easy to approach strangers for a photograph?

No. I rarely do. And when I do it rarely results in a shoot. I think most guys expect the men who approach them about pictures to have ulterior motives, especially when they want them to do nudes. Mainly I find my models through an agency that specializes in fitness guys.

What do you like or dislike most about being a photographer?

In the weeks leading up a shoot, I am really jazzed about the work, but the night before and the hours just before the shoot I get ambivalent about it, because the pressure to create something new and unique starts to bear down on me. If the shoot gets cancelled, I am almost relieved. Still when you load up the digital images on the computer or get back the proofs from the film shots it's always thrilling to see how the work has turned out.

Are you going to consider a career in photography?

I gave up hoping to make a living in photography pretty quickly. The only significant money is in commercial work, and I don't have the temperament for it. Also I enjoy shooting what I want and pleasing myself first.

Any advice you would give to other aspiring enthusiast photographers out there?

Ground yourself in the work of other photographers. Learn the tools of your trade (camera, lens, film, Photoshop) and take lots of pictures. It doesn't hurt to try to mimic the work of people whose images you admire at first. All great artists start out imitating other artists. Most of us do it badly though, and in the end we find our own style.

See more work by Thomas Mitchell on his blog and on his website.

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