“Youth is something very new. Twenty years ago no one mentioned it.” -Coco Chanel
Ever wonder how Steven Meisel or Bruce Weber got their start? Sure, you can scour the Internet and devour all of the interviews you can find about their lives, and about the experiences that led them to becoming the household names that they are today, but who were they when they just started shooting? Where was their head? What were they doing?
At age 21, Arizona native Jeremiah Damian finds himself at the beginning of a journey that he hopes will one day place him in that elite company of photographers who light up the pages of publications like Vogue and W. With all of the confidence of one of these shooters, tempered with the infectious bravado of youth, on any given day, you can find him out in the streets of San Francisco scouting the perfect location. From Grace Cathedral to Ocean Beach with his camera in hand, his portable lighting equipment in tow, and his latest concept in mind he is always ready to burn through some film, or at least warp his memory card.
Educated in Photography at the Academy of Art in San Francisco, an institution that counts many a famous photographer among it’s alumni, Damian is passionate, driven and unwavering in his quest to take on the fashion industry on his terms. Having previously done work for the Ford and Look modeling agencies, and currently testing models for City, Damian is slowly and methodically building his book, before heading out to NYC this fall to put his work to the ultimate test. On this day, EG15M plays “Catch a Rising Star” with Damian as he shares what he loves about shooting fashion, some of his influences as a photographer, “talent” versus “moving furniture” and what he’s learned thus far about finding his voice.
What is photography to you?
Pictures become gravesites. People come and go, never to be seen again.
What equipment do you use?
For Digital I shoot with the Canon 5D Mark II, for film I still rock it with my Pentax K-100 and my Yashica-D twin lens (“stolen” from my grandfather).
How would you describe your style as a photographer?
It’s taken me a long time to realize or even find my style, but if I have to condense it down to a few words, my style would be considered “darker beauty” I suppose. I have recently been told that my images have a darker undertone and dreamlike quality, whether that’s good or bad is up to the viewer, but I agree that my images follow along this idea of beauty mixed with the unknown.
What is it about fashion photography over other styles of photography that appeals to you most?
For me personally, fashion photography is fine art, documentary and advertising photography all mixed into one. Fashion photography allows me to create whatever kind of concepts I wish, from military-clad temptresses to crazed mental patients. I get to explore different outlets that lead to those final images which include high fashion with a story line that is all my own. (Well…along with the help of the team make-up artist, hair stylist and wardrobe stylist!) In the end, it’s producing a world that was never there and turning it into something real. I really just love the work, finding the location, getting the team and model and shooting my concepts. Other styles of photography, no disrespect to them at all, are just not as fun for me. I cannot tinker with every facet of a diamond ring or get out into the world and just shoot what I see, that work is beautiful but not what I love doing.
What qualities are you looking for when choosing a subject to shoot?
It’s always different and depends on the concept. There are times when the model has been dead on for the concept and times when they’ve been the complete opposite. I guess once I visualize my shoot I just edit the talent to fit as best as possible.
What would you consider to be your dream assignment?
When I realized that fashion photography was what I was going to do for the rest of my life, my goal has been to shoot for the pages of Italian Vogue. That magazine is so “art” driven and allows for raw image making. You can be as creative and as weird as you wish. It’s all about the concepts and the passion put into the spreads.
What is “sexy” to you?
Creative people with passion for the shot.
With digital being the standard today, and Photoshop a given, in what ways do you think the advancements in technology have helped or hindered fashion photographers?
It’s instant gratification. I truly embrace the fact that I was lucky enough to work with film for a while before digital made its grand entrance. I think digital has for sure helped photography in general, but I also think that digital has made it too easy to over shoot (Sometimes I find myself over shooting because I have a larger CF card that allows for it!). Lately, I’ve been going back to basics and shooting film to remind myself that with film your forced to get it right the first time.
As a fashion photographer, who are your greatest influences?
Gray Scott, his work is amazing and his story on his success. Every time I look at his work I feel so inspired and driven to create. His work and the interviews I have read on him really have pushed me to stop shooting pointless images and really give my work a life and a voice.
Others that I really look up to include Steven Meisel, Steven Kline, Mark Peterman, Yu Tsai and Miles Aldridge. The list goes on and on, I have way too many booked marked on my computer, but I also really love my fellow peers’ work. Their work pushes me to do my best on every shoot.
When choosing the image to go with, whether it be for a client’s portfolio, tests for an agency or work for a magazine, what is your editing process?
Honestly for me, I edit purely by what looks right. The edits that others make for models and magazines, normally include a lot of my own edit, but ultimately it’s their decision; however, everything that is on my website is my own vision, whether it pleases the viewer or not, its my voice.
In Annie Leibovitz’s book “At Work”, she quotes Arnold Newman as saying “photography is one percent talent and ninety-nine percent moving furniture.” In your opinion, how important is “talent”?
I think that talent is a huge portion of being a photographer, I mean in reality we don’t see just anyone’s work on the cover of Vogue or W, we see someone with talent and drive. I understand what Newman was getting at, but if the world really operated off 1% talent then we would have been screwed already.
When thinking about carving out a niche for yourself in this highly competitive industry, what is the most important lesson you have learned thus far?
Just to stay true to what it is I want to do, to stop wasting time with shoots that I really don’t care about and to focus on those that my passion is leading me towards…to follow my own voice and not to let others try and break me down.
Any other advice for those photographers that are just starting out?
Just to stay true to what you want. Learn as much as you can whether through a critique, a friend, or even a complete stranger. Keep your ears open and mind open, if you can’t take critique and constructive criticism then stop right now and start thinking about another career.
Jeremiah Damian is currently living and working in San Francisco, California. www.jeremiahdamian.com