In 2009, we’re adding some new features here at TWIPPHOTO.COM. One such feature is a new interview category. We’ll be interviewing both established and emerging photographers on a monthly basis. This is the first of those interviews.
Many of you are familiar with Rick Sammon. He is a prolific photographer who’s written more than 30 books, hosted 20 television programs, taught many workshops and written for both the web and several photo publications.
I interviewed Rick for TWIPPHOTO.COM right after Christmas.
1 – Scott: Please tell me how and when you got into photography.
RICK: As a kid, my father had a 4×5 view camera. Was fascinated by it. Like most the people I knew, I didn’t want to be a photographer. I wanted to be a rock star. Photography and music do have a lot in common. You have a tendency to be creative in both. I didn’t set out to be a photographer. I went to music school instead. Because I didn’t get much work as musician, I started submitted pictures and got published. I ended up getting a job as editor of “Studio Photography & Design.”
2 – Scott: What is your favorite photographic location or subject?
RICK: I love photographing people. I love learning about people’s culture. In Namibia I met Himba people who were so beautiful. I photographed them in my book “Face to Face.” In Papua New Guinea the Huli Wigmen paint their faces all sorts of bright colors and they live off the land. They’re so friendly. I went to dance competitions on a mountain (called a “sing sing”) and saw incredible dancing. It was beautiful too. I’ve done many things but many people think of me as a Travel photographer with a focus on people.
3 – Scott: Can you recall the first photograph you made that caused you to think WOW – that’s a good shot and if so, what was it?
RICK: I went to Papua New Guinea for the first time in 1995. Before that I only did underwater photography. When I started focusing on the culture things changed for me and my photos started to get better.
4 – Scott: Do you have any formal training in photography or a related field and do you think that’s important for aspiring serious photographers?
RICK: I have no formal training but teach at several formal training institutions. I think that if you’re motivated, you don’t NEED training, but it doesn’t hurt. If you have time and money it helps you jump start your career.
5 – Scott: Are you more of a technical or an artistic photographer?
RICK: If someone asked Eric Clapton if he is more of a technical or artistic guitar player…he’d say “I’m just a guitar player.” For me, it’s really a combination of the two. Every photographer should be a little bit of both. Just do it. Don’t think of it. Just do it. That’s the way Clapton plays guitar and that’s the way I photograph.
6 – Scott: Which photographers if any influenced your work?
RICK: Steve McCurry’s photo of the Afghan woman moved me. His tight head shots really influenced me. I like to work close to people in that way.
7 – Scott: What has been the most interesting or surprising thing to you about how people react to photography?
RICK: When I travel to remote locations like Africa, people still are in awe of seeing their photo appear on the back of the camera. Digital is so magical that it creates a childlike glee in the subject due to the instant gratification you get from the LCD. It’s that instant moment of joy you felt as kid when you discovered something magical.
8 – Scott: How would you describe your style of photography?
RICK: I don’t have a style. On the cover of my newest book “Digital Photography Secrets,” the style is very different from the cover of “Face to Face.” I just try to have fun and photograph what’s there.
9 – Scott: How do you go about “seeing” a photograph?
RICK: I’m big on making the picture rather than taking the picture. In Mongolia, I was trying to photograph a young woman. There were a lot of motorcycles around. I asked the guide to move them into the shot and then had the woman walk into the shot. I see the background as important as the main subject. The setting is important. That’s how you make a photo rather than take a photo.
10 – Scott: Of your many projects, which is your favorite-books, TV, Web, magazine and why?
RICK:If I could only do one thing it would be videos. I have five videos on Kelby Training. I love teaching via video. I have three DVDs on how to use the Canon Digital Rebel. Writing is theraputic – you get to sit all day in a room and talk to yourself and get paid for it. But writing is not as much fun as being on camera and making learning fun.
11 – Scott: You’re very busy. You publish a great deal of material. Why and how do you work so hard and so often?
RICK: How can a photographer today not work hard? I like to be busy. I don’t see myself sitting on a beach. I see myself photographing the beach. I love sharing. If you really want to do something you’ll make the time.
12 – Scott: After all these years as a photographer/teacher and author, do you ever find it hard to remain passionate about your work?
RICK: Five books ago I did a book called the “Complete Guide to Digital Photography.” I thought I was done. I told a friend I was selling my cameras. A month later I started working on a new book. So I cant stop. The thing that keeps me going is the travel. For me, it’s the traveling. My camera is like a magic carpet. I can’t believe where it’s taken me. Places like Venice, the Arctic and Africa – if it wasn’t for that box (the camera) I wouldn’t go.
13 – Scott: Everyone will ask me why I didn’t ask this question if I don’t – so here goes – What cameras/lenses do you use and why?
RICK: I use Canon top of the line gear. Recently I just got two 5D MK IIs because video is going to be a really big part of photography. So for those who have to go shoot both it’s perfect. The downside is that I have to learn Final Cut Pro.
14 – Scott: What’s the biggest mistake you made when you first started out as a photographer?
RICK: Throwing away too many slides that I could have fixed with the technology available today.
15 – Would you like to give any final words of advice to photographers who want to improve their photography?
RICK: Photographing people – the tip is that the camera looks both ways. In picturing the subject remember that you’re photographing a part of yourself. Your mood will reflect in the eyes of your subject – you’re a mirror so put out what you want to get back.
Thanks to Rick who was very gracious with his time during the interview. I hope everyone finds it helpful.
To learn more about Rick Sammon and his photography visit: www.ricksammon.com
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