Photo by Larry C. Price – Interview by Scott Bourne
We’re proud to offer you a chance to get to know Larry C. Price – Larry C. Price. Larry is a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, a long-time photojournalist and a photo editor at some of North America’s largest newspapers including the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Baltimore Sun, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and the Denver Post. Price’s much-celebrated work has also appeared in National Geographic, Time, Newsweek, U.S. News & World Report, LIFE and other national and international magazines and newspapers.
1. Please tell me how and when you got into photography/Photoshop.
When I was in 9th grade, a friend showed me some small contact prints he made with a home-darkroom kit he received as a birthday gift and I was amazed that he developed and made the prints himself. I sort of dropped the hint around the dinner table one night and a while later my dad took me to the photo store where we bought some basic darkroom gear. Dad later told me he had built a tiny attic darkroom as young boy so I think the notion of developing film and printing was a lot of fun for him too. We spent the weekend trying to get all the steps correct and managed to make some little 2-1/4-inch prints from the 120 negatives from my camera. There was no turning back–I was hooked. The next year I started working on my high school newspaper as the photographer and had access to a “real” darkroom with free chemicals and paper. That was a dream situation for someone just starting out.
2. What is your favorite photographic location or subject?
My formal training is in art and journalism so I have an interesting set of skills to interpret and compose images and cover a wide range of subject matter. The journalist in me is always on the lookout for interesting, quirky stories but my passion has always been to tell the stories of struggle and triumph, especially of those overlooked or with little voice. The artist in me appreciates form, texture and graphics so I enjoy this side of the equation too. I love the urban landscape. I enjoy architecture. I like minimalist images and try to see how little I can include in a frame and still make a meaningful photograph.
3. 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?
Sure, I was nine years old and on a family vacation. Keep in mind, this was long before the “darkroom kit,” but I remember taking my first serious photo. I was walking in the woods at my cousin’s farm in rural Arkansas. I came across a huge pecan tree. For some reason my eye noticed the texture of the bark as a shaft of light played on the trunk. I decide to make a photo but remember thinking carefully about framing only part of the tree trunk placing it off center to the left. That was definitely a “wow.” From then on, I actually throughout about composition when I made photos.
4. Do you have any formal training in photography, Photoshop or a related field and do you think that’s important for aspiring serious photographers?
Well, I taught myself the basics so I had a head start when I decided to pursue journalism. As a teen, I read everything I could get my hands on about tech and craft and the darkroom. Then I started studying the work of other photographers and tried to figure out how they made images. I think this shaped my approach more than anything: I realized early on that the best images are often the most simple and that learning to modify and control light was key. I also learned that “modifying” light didn’t necessarily mean MOVING a bunch of lights around a subject. I learned that I could move my camera position to take advantage of available light. This approach works well with my minimalistic approach and for documentary subjects.
5. Are you more of a technical or an artistic person?
Fortunately both, which works well in this business. My interest in more on the artistic side though. To me, SEEING the photographic potential of a subject is more fascinating. I feel like the technical skills are more second nature. I do love keeping up with technology though and it’s challenging these days with the rapid advances in digital imaging and software.
6. Who has inspired or influenced your work?
Edward Weston, Gary Winogrand, George Tice and Ralph Gibson. I learned formalism from studying Weston’s work. I studied with Winogrand in the 70s as an undergraduate at the University of Texas. I learned to print from Tice. Gibson’s work crystallized the potential of the small format for me.
7. What has been the most interesting or surprising thing to you about how people react to photography?
The world is awash in images yet a powerful image has the ability to stop someone dead in their tracks. I truly believe photography is a universal language and can influence change.
8. How would you describe your style of photography?
Simple, graphic, linear. Less is more. When photographing people, I concentrate on expression, movement and body language to make the composition work.
9. How do you decide what to photograph?
I tend to see photos everywhere but I’m somewhat selective about light, shadow–that sort of thing. If I see a rare situation, I’ll stop what I’m doing and work the photo. Sometimes, I simply budget time and define a subject then immerse myself. I’ve spent so many years doing stories on people so these days, I seen to be drawn more to landscape, architecture and urban scenes. I also like prowling around with a cup of coffee looking for photos with nothing particular in mind.
10. Of your many projects, which is your favorite and why?
Two come to mind. In the mid-80s I spent months documenting life inside a notorious housing project in Philadelphia. The resulting essay was published in The Philadelphia Inquirer Sunday magazine. This was a rare glimpse into the world no one really knew existed. As a result of the project, the city eventually demolished the high rise building. More recently, I spent a couple of years documenting African American Rodeo. This was a lot of fun. Because of my Texas roots I could “talk the talk,” so to speak. The essay was among the last published in LIFE magazine before they ceased publication in 2007.
11. Is there any photographic discipline that you wish you knew more about?
Yes, fashion photography. I love the work of the classic photographers like Avedon and Penn.
12. After all these years as a photographer/teacher and author, do you ever find it hard to remain passionate about your work?
No, I’m visually obsessed.
13. 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?
I use Olympus equipment. I love their focus on image quality and optics. Olympus carefully tunes their cameras and lenses to work together with the goal of ultimate image quality. I think their glass is a sharp as it gets.
14. What’s the biggest mistake you made when you first started out as a photographer?
I shot my first newspaper assignment without any film! I was so excited to get new gear that I forgot to load the camera. I made that mistake exactly once in my career.
15. Would you like to give any final words of advice to photographers who want to improve their photography?
Learning craft is essential and continual so do that and move on. Obsessing over megapixels, film grain and Photoshop techniques isn’t necessary to produce stunning work. Get inside the head of the photographers you admire. Read about their approach; dissect their images. Find a discipline you enjoy and then try to study with whomever you consider to be best in the field. Above all, keep a camera with you and make pictures. There’s no shortcut for this–you have to make the mistakes, learn and move on.
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