How did you get into photography?
My grandmother. She was fairly unique in the way she looked at the world. She bought me my first camera when I was probably around 12. Then, from there, I was mostly shooting skateboarding, which led me to the first part of my career, working for Transworld. I was a sponsored amateur and so most of my friends were pretty good skateboarders. I was living in Raleigh at the time and was sort of the only guy photographing.
What was it about photography as a medium that interested you?
Initially, I feel like it was just mostly the passion for documenting skateboarding that started things out. As my career developed, I was driven to be more creative with it, which was a bit of a confusing place to be, because a big part of shooting skateboarding is about showing what’s happening in a way that the trick that your shooting can be measured and evaluated. It’s also a real challenge to be creative when you have very little time and are constantly getting harassed by cops and security guards. After I stopped shooting skateboarding, it took a while to step away from that mindset and reconnect with what I truly loved about photography, which is capturing a moment that speaks to me. Sometimes, that moment is a reflection of how I feel about the subject and other times its about capturing someone or something in a truly authentic moment of its own. It’s a bit like a conversation. At times you step back and listen to what someone is saying and try to understand how they feel, and sometimes you speak and express how you feel. Hopefully, whoever is looking at the picture can share in that truth.
When did you move to NYC and what prompted the move?
I moved to New York City on November 19th 2008. Anyone who has come to New York remembers the exact date. I was living in San Francisco at the time, and I was just kind of wandering in the world of photography odd gigs here and there, not really sure what I wanted to do. Then I was at a wedding for a friend of mine, and I met Paul Gilmore who convinced me to come stay with him in Brooklyn and check things out.
The lessons you learn from surviving in New York City are lessons that you can’t really get anywhere else. New York forces you to take a hard, honest look at yourself and then everything gets thrown at you. New York doesn’t care about you, your problems or your excuses, and so you really have to tread water till you figure things out. However, if you can dig deep and survive, then the City can become like a friend (that has occasional tantrums).
What were your first thoughts when you moved?
My first thought right when the cab dropped me off from JFK was “umm, I think I fucked up.
What are your favorite aspects of the City?
The energy, it just can’t be overstated. There’s no other reason why I can be somewhere far away, on a beach in the sun in the middle of January and at the same time feel the need to get back home.
Who are some of your artistic heroes?
Stanley Kubrick, Bruce Weber, Peter Lindbergh, Terrance Malik, Paul Thomas Anderson, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Muhammad Ali, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, Maya Angelou, Richard Avedon, Milos Forman, John Lennon, ThomYorke.
What are your favorite places to shoot/work?
I really like shooting on location. It’s obviously much more challenging than working in a studio, which is something, I learned when I was working as an assistant for Anders Overgaard. But, it is far more rewarding and can be much more organic in telling a story when you give an image a sense of place. Cape Town is unreal; it has so much to offer in terms of landscape. Northern California is amazing too.
What are your favorite places to relax?
That’s a bit tricky. I have a hard time relaxing, ha! I think if I’m with my family/friends in SF or DC, then I’m usually pretty content. Somewhere quiet, where I can have one-on-one conversations.
Is there anywhere you want to go, but haven’t been?
I’ve been all around the U.S., but I’ve actually never been to New Orleans. I wish I had gone there before the hurricane, I’d also love to go to Cuba. Iceland is also on my list.
Where do you like to spend down time?
When I’m in New York City, I like to hang in my hood (Carroll Gardens). It’s quiet, peaceful. There are great restaurants, and its low key. So, I hang out around home quite a bit when I’m not working.
What’s a good day for you?
Sometimes it’s a day when I’m shooting and everyone on set is enjoying what they do and the vibe is just right, creativity is in motion. And, it’s beautiful outside. Other times, it’s just a day when I wake up, the sun is out, and I’ll listen to NPR, and step outside for coffee, meet a friend and have a good conversation.
What should anyone who visits New York City do while they are here? Do you have a guide for taking in the city?
Well, the main thing that I would suggest is to just wander around. Each corner of New York is so different from the rest. There is no other city like New York; its the ultimate laboratory. It’s the first place that people from all over the world came to inhabit together. The history of New York is fascinating and the energy is seductive. I would try to grab a few slices. I recommend, Grimaldis and Lucalis are my favorites (both in Brooklyn).
But, the main thing is to just go explore and avoid Times Square at all possible costs.
What is the best advice you ever received?
One lesson I learned from skateboarding is that when you fail, you have to get back up and try it again and again… and that your own particular style is what sets you apart from others.
What is your best advice for someone who hopes to find a career in the arts?
It won’t be easy. Finding your own way is very challenging, and you will have to make considerable sacrifices, but ultimately you have to be still and listen to what your heart tells you. You have to keep moving forward, keep evolving, and accept that it’s not something you can just rush through.
It’s a long road, and there will be periods when you think your just wasting your time. But, you have to just keep going and believing in whatever it is you do. Don’t compare yourself to anyone, and surround yourself with people who share your passion to create and think.
Take time to develop yourself. And, really get to know who you are; that’s crucial. I think part of being successful is also understanding and developing the skill of looking at what you do from other people’s perspectives which can help you find a way to make a living doing what you love. And, don’t make big decisions based on money or fear.
Are there any specific words you try to live by?
Always do your best, and treat people with respect.
How do you define success?
Doing what you love, and understanding who you are.