“Western Virginia to be the tiniest bit more specific….
I first picked up a camera when I was around 10.
Just playing around with my father’s Canon F1.
I don’t recall if I ever processed any of the film. I toyed with it on and off throughout high school, never really thinking anything of it other than ‘something I did’.
It wasn’t until College, the first time around, that I really fell in love with photography.
My fourth year, I took a Black and White photo course – shooting, developing and printing all on our own … it was the only class I passed that semester.
After that, was hooked.
I was thrown out of school (I didn’t like to attend classes), and really had nothing going for me except photography.
So I started working with the instructor from my college class, and he allowed me to sit in on his future classes. Thus, I learned many facets of the business as well as a great deal of the technical darkroom side.
I had friends living in Atlanta, so I contacted them and made the move.
Living on a futon for 6 months, I started tending bar while continuing my photography hobby (having since moved to digital) when one day my parents brought up the subject of Art School.
One school visit and I immediately registered. In January 2004 I started at the Art Institute of Atlanta.
Technically based and with a competitive edge, the program was a perfect fit for me and I thrived in this environment.
Mostly because I was one of only a couple of students in that area, and also because I really like working with people….and beautiful people at that, over the course of my 3 years at the Art Institute, I gravitated to Fashion and Beauty photography ..
I won many national and international awards, was in multiple publications all culminating in winning the “Best in Show” portfolio award when I graduated.
After graduation a decision needed to be made….
Move to NYC to pursue fashion photography professionally, which would most likely result in working constantly just to pay the bills meaning personal shooting would have to be put on hold, not to mention the lack of equipment or shooting space.
Or go to graduate school, to continue shooting, getting publications and building my book for a future move to NYC.
I chose the latter.
So, I attended Savannah’s College of Art and Design (SCAD) in the Fall of 2007.
This was a totally different program to what I had grown accustomed.
It was all about the ‘Art’, not the technique.
… And boy did I struggle.
Not so much as far as grades… quite frankly the work load was a joke…
… my ego took severe blows
… because I was no longer top dog anymore.
SCAD didn’t care about my technical precision, nor my publications and awards. This frustrated me… but I made it through.
Only when I left SCAD did I realize the impact that the “artist mentality” had on my work.
I now had a new goal and purpose to add to my work. A new facet that I hadn’t had the opportunity to tap into and develop.
Currently, my focus is on making the images I want to make.
For so long I shot in anticipation of praise from others. Often changing concepts and visuals to please an instructor or my peers rather than my own personal tastes.
Now my goal is to discover truly who I am as an artist, and what my voice is going to be.
I will finally be moving to NYC this October to make my final run at this business.
For too long I’ve put off taking the obvious path for fear of failure.
But I realized that without failure, it is impossible to learn or grow.
My current style of photography varies greatly, from clean precise beauty shots, to grungy off the cuff ‘snapshots’.
… I just shoot what floats my boat at the time.
A graphic sense of composition. I always leaned towards keeping a dynamic frame in mind. When I look through my viewfinder, I see a final image, and consider everything in that frame as if it were placed on a wall or in a magazine. I like use background elements to aid in composition, as well as leading lines, and of course the Golden Mean. But I’m also ok with breaking those rules. Sometimes a simple centered image is what is called for…but composition has a huge impact and is a HUGE contributing factor to my work.
I like to keep a sense of movement in my images. Not necessarily literal movement like flowing hair, or jumping models, but more of a feeling that there is motion either happening while the image was taken, or the viewer feels a sense of movement from the image. I like to capture my subjects in between poses. Static poses come off as cliché for me. I’d rather find something new and unexpected than play into what everyone thinks should be seen.
I shoot to edit…. Not to retouch, but to edit as in selecting images from the shoot. I take a lot of frames on each of my looks, I’d say I average 100-150 on a typical model test. But, I’m not worrying about what I’m getting while shooting… I decide the “look” later on in the computer. It adds an element of spontaneity for me to just turn the LCD off on my camera and just fire away, and be surprised later when reviewing the images. I also think this contributes to the aforementioned “movement” in my work.
Most of my creative concepts happen organically.
I do TONS of research… looking at hundreds of images a day online and in magazines, just absorbing as much as I can.
I never “copy” a concept and feel that I’m beyond that in my career; but, I take inspiration from everything and I let it “marinate” in my head and come out on its own.
The mishmash of concepts/visuals/techniques that comes out is hopefully a unique product. Sometimes similarities happen, and you can see where certain photographers have and or are influencing my work at any given time.
That’s okay with me, because all throughout art history, you see a constant building and rejection of work that has come before one another, each generation/movement pushing the boundaries of what is known in art.
One of my goals is to hopefully be a part of the expansion of our art form.
When a concept strikes me, I usually storyboard it out. Just to help give some physical presence to the idea so that:
… it’s out of my head and on the paper.
… others can see what’s going on in my head and have an easier time collaborating.
Once a loose plan for attack is formed, the production begins… I book the models, makeup artists, stylists, whomever I need on the set to complete the concept.
On the day of the shoot, the framework for the concept is laid out… and then … I just let things flow.
If there is a particular shot I have in my head… I set it up, get it, and then I try something different.
And sometimes… the variations on the original idea turn out better!
When it comes to my post-production (Photoshop, LightRoom, etc..) I take the same approach as I do with the production of the shoot.
I have idea of what I want, but often while working I will change directions, and develop something more interesting/better than the original idea.
A lot of my creativity comes out while sitting at the computer… not only throughout the editing process, but in the retouching of those images as well.
I tend to get ‘into’ working in Photoshop.
I’m definitely one of those photographers that can sit down to do some retouching, and look up only to realize that 5 hours have passed.
For the most part, in my day-to-day work (model tests), I keep retouching to a minimum.
Nowadays, it’s rare that I even take an image out of Lightroom for work.
I’m a big proponent of “get it right in camera”…
Point of fact… I’ve been using a “Canon Rebel for ALL of my work since 2008.
It’s a great camera, and the latest versions have an image quality that 99% of people can’t distinguish from the $10k cameras.
I am kind of a lens collector though.
I’d rather spend my money on great glass than a camera body that is going to be obsolete in a year.
As far as lighting goes… I use Alien Bees. Cost is definitely a factor, but so is service and convenience.
My bees have served me well for nearly a decade, with nary a problem.
They may not be the most consistent color wise, or output, but for the work I do and the way I work, they do the job amazingly well, particularly for the price.
I have, as of late, been dabbling in film a little more. I have an old Olympus Pen-F from the 60s, that is a ‘compact SLR’.
It looks much like a rangefinder but what is unique about this camera is it only uses HALF of the 35mm film frame.
It’s a fun camera to just carry around and take snaps with. When I use it on a professional model though, I get a unique response.
Most people tend to loosen up more in front of the Pen than they do my digital SLR.
Almost a ‘ah it doesn’t matter, these are just for fun pics’ kind of attitude comes out… and that is brilliant!
Of the 10+ years that I’ve been seriously doing photography… right now feels to be the most productive.
So much is changing in the industry, not only visually, but financially, that there really is nothing certain anymore.
All I know for the future is… As long as I make the images I want to make, and do them well, someone will find a use for them. Whatever that may be.
My only hope is to be able to do what I love, day in and day out, and be able to put food on the table without having to check the bank account before going to the grocery.
To hell with fame and fortune…I just want to make cool images.”
Very cool Rich!
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Images © Rich Meade.
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