SLR Lounge Interviews Erik Almas
This weekend we are starting a new weekly interview-series, featuring amazing photographers from all around the world. Every weekend we will be interviewing a photographer whose work pushes the boundaries of our profession to create images that are emotional, edgy, original, and most of all capture a unique moment in time. We hope these interviews will inspire you, and will help you learn more about these great photographers. If you have a question you’d like us to ask, or you would like to suggest a photographer whom we should interview, just send us an email to email@example.com, and we’ll see what we can do! :D
Your Name: Erik Almas
Location: Bicoastal, residing both in San Francisco and Brooklyn, NY
Your website or portfolio: www.erikalmas.com
Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get started with photography?
I’m a Norwegian photographer who since 1995 have been residing in the US. I got started in photography by just being curious really. There were a few friends that had a camera and I joined them in a darkroom course while in the National Defense.
At the time I skied a lot and started taking pictures of my friends floating through powder and flying off cliffs. Out of these adventures on the slopes came my first published pictures and marked the start of me as a photographer.
Later, at 22, when faced with the crossroad of “what do I do with myself” I decided to study photography. Through great advice and some random encounters I ended up in San Francisco at the Academy of Art University where I studied photography for 4 years, earning a BFA.
How would you describe yourself as a photographer?
It’s tough to describe oneself so I might not be the best one to do so…
If I were to try I’d say I’m always drawn to a quiet sense of beauty. Both in space and its people… There’s balance and order and the elements within the frame are always classically composed. There’s not a lot of tension, conflict or stress. I seek moments that are inspiring, proud, humbling, stoic and contemplative. Doing so with a bent towards the romantic and sensual.
I love the contrast of low light in the early morning and late afternoon. Color is a big part of my work, often used in a family of colors giving the work a more painterly hue and palette.
As I have matured in my work I have become increasingly drawn to what adds layers to my images. For me this often is the intangible connection between photographer and subject. I increasingly try to bring out something in my subjects that helps tell some kind of story…
It seems that you were not originally determined to be a photographer, what motivated you to move to the US and start your career?
The motivation to pursue photography at the time of my life’s crossroad was fun. Photography as a profession was then the only thing for me that felt like a fun thing to do. I thought taking ski pictures was a blast and thought maybe I could learn some more and later cover the Olympics and world championships for the local newspaper. At that age I wasn’t really interested in art or had any intention of becoming an artist. Coming to the US was driven by the fact that photography was the only thing floating to the surface when I asked myself what I wanted to do next…
Are there any artists/photographers you look up to?
Absolutely. There are so many photographers and so much amazing imagery out there that inspire me every day. A few, in no particular order are: Paolo Roversi, Avedon, Leibowitz, Penn, Recuenco, Dan Winters, Gregory Crewdson
We all have someone or something that inspires our life and work. Where do you draw your inspiration from?
For me inspiration does not come from one place, person or thing but is a result of all things I encounter both visually and emotionally. Input equals output: The more I expose myself to both art and life the more I feel like creating.
One great place to start if one seeks to be visually inspired is to read poetry. Great poetry conjures up amazing visuals in your mind that is more self-reflective and less a derivative of other images one have seen.
Landscapes and location in general plays a huge role in your photography. Your job as a commercial photographer has taken you all around the world. What country/location/landscape has been most memorable to you? Why?
Every new place I come upon offers a new experience and it’s hard to rate one over the other, as they all are unique in their own way.
Coming to a location in the dark of the predawn hours and watching the sun rise over the horizon, painting the landscape in front of me is just deeply gratifying no matter where I might be…
What I have done though in all my travel is to rediscover the beauty of where I grew up. One often take ones own surroundings for granted and being away from Norway for long periods at the time have allowed me to see it with fresh eyes.
Looking at my own work and how obvious my Norwegian heritage is present in those photographs I have to say Norway and its locations and landscapes are the most memorable to me.
A lot of your images have a cinematic feel to them. What do you think draws you to that look?
There’s a few things I find in my work that resembles the cinematic feel. First off I am drawn to big, open landscapes similar to the “epic” scenes found in movies. I also love to incorporate a sense of story in my pictures. I try to be conscious of and create moments that leaves the viewer wondering what happened just prior to the image they see and what might happen next.
Creating this open-endedness is inherently cinematic and a great tool for making stories come to life in still photography.
How do you like working in the advertising industry?
I love it!
You hear a lot of talk about how difficult it can be working with clients but I’m truly grateful for being embraced by the advertising community. I have met a lot of amazing people and seen some truly extraordinary places while on assignment. I thrive in a collaborative environment where I can apply myself and my aesthetic finding it a great positive rather than limiting…
What does your workflow look like when working for a client?
The usual workflow starts when an advertising agency approaches me with a set of ideas and layouts. After talking to them about what they want to accomplish and the feel they want to the images my agents and I, together with a producer, submit an estimate for the cost of bringing the concept to life.
If awarded the assignment the producer then set things in motion sourcing the right locations, talent and crew. When all elements have come together we head out on location, wait for the right light and take our pictures. We then edit and go through the post process bringing additional elements, like clouds for instance, into the image.
Does your workflow differ a lot when working on your own photography?
What differs most is that the concept and ideas are personal. I spend a lot of time finding the idea and theme which I want to shape my new images around. From there the steps are the same but me and my studio manager will find the elements and bring the parts together for the shoot.
Your DVD (“On Aspects of Image Making”) was published just recently. If I’ve understood right, you had been working on this project for two years. How do you feel now that the work is finally done and the dvd is out there available for people to purchase?
It’s both a huge relief and a sense of pride in getting the DVD done.
A lot of the reason for it taking so long was that we essentially made the DVD twice. First from a “follow along on shoots” perspective and then a full redo into a truly educational process where we cover all parts of both the personal and emotional to the technical process of image making.
What was your motivation for taking on this DVD-project?
Since I graduated from the Academy of Art University 14 years ago I have been invited back every Semester to talk about life as a photographer after school. I really started enjoying these twice a year trips back reassessing how I progressed as a photographer and what I found important in my own image making.
These visits then lead to lectures and workshops and now to this DVD.
What is it that you want people to learn from this DVD?
I get questions many times a day about how I go about making my images. Most of these are about cameras and retouching which I have realised is starting in the wrong end of the image making process.
Right as I moved to the US to start photography School I bought an 80-200mm lens. Mostly because it was really big and it made me look like a photographer when walking around…. I still have this lens and 18 years later it still looks like new. What I didn’t know at the time is that I like images with volume and a wider perspective and that all my pictures since have been shot with a wide lens around 35mm…
What I want people to walk away with after watching the DVD is that photography is about visual and emotional content. I feel so passionately about this that we created exercises that will help everyone identify a unique photographic style around which they then can build a body of work.
I’m hoping to help people avoid what I did and get on the fast track to identifying ones voice and then apply equipment and technique.
Apart from sheer hard work, what would you say has been the main key to the success of your business?
A big portion of tenacity is the most important thing to succeed. After this staying true to my photographic voice and identity has been the most important part. Without a unique voice you won’t be able to stand out in today’s marketplace.
As I mention in the trailer for the DVD; “You will never be great at photographing one thing if you are another. You have to photograph something that reflects who you are. That’s where you shine, that’s where you will make amazing pictures, and that’s where you will be recognized.”
Do you have any advice for aspiring photographers out there, looking to achieve success in this very competitive field of commercial photography?
If I’m to point out one thing, but for creating unique work that’s innately self-reflective, it’s to be smart about your marketing.
If you want to get hired you need to get your pictures in front of the people that do the hiring. This is not a onetime thing but a continuing effort that should be spaced out over a 2 or 3 year period essentially branding yourself.
Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions!