This weekend’s interview is with Steve Korn, a photographer and musician living in Seattle. I think you will find his work and his words interesting. Being a creative person in music and photography can bring a different perspective to things. Steve presents his work in a very direct, exciting and yet somewhat understated way. Nuance and style.
Before we get going, I want to point out some older posts you may find interesting. There was a series on using your small strobes for professional results and a few other posts that may be something to try this weekend. Be sure to hit the Archives button on top… there is a LOT of information here.
Speedlights: Unleash their Creative Power
Using Your Small Strobes for Professional Results Part One
Beating the Sun with Small Flashes
Simple Setups for Dramatic Lighting (with a long video)
One Speedlight: Some Examples
And another announcement: Midwest Photo Exchange (MPEX) is now offering 10% off a selected group of items. I selected them and we call them “Essential Gear”. The list includes Dynalite and ProFoto kits, stands, reflectors, booms and more. And with 10% off, simply for being a reader of this site… hey, that’s pretty cool. So check ‘em out by hitting the banner ad on the top of the stack to the right. And remember if you need to borrow a lens, keep BorrowLenses.com in mind. Great service and wonderful selection.
Well, let’s head out and meet Steve Korn. We asked him the now famous 12 questions and he responded:
How long have you been in business? Was it a slow transition or did you just open shop?
Iâ€™m really just getting started. I shot my first gig for pay in August of 2006. I didnâ€™t really actively start marketing myself until the summer of 2007 however. And even then, I havenâ€™t aggressively marketed myself, stuff seems to find me as a result of my connections. Even when I go to show my portfolio, it always seems that the appointment is the result of another job I did.
How did you get started? Any mentors or great stories here?
I became interested in photography in 1985 when I spent a six months in Europe after high school. I had a rangefinder and a ton of film. I think I had developed my sensibilities for composition when I was younger because my father and brother were both amateur photographers and we used to spend at least one weekend every month in Yosemite and every Sunday night looking at their slides. There was always a lot of discussion of what made a picture work or not. It was also my introduction to Ansel Adams. In Europe, I was not only interested in the beautiful landscapes and urban scenes, but in the people. I remember taking a picture of a crowd of people in a narrow alley in Venice and dug the fact that I had captured a moment in the day of all of these people, without having stopped them or posed them for a portrait. They were interacting with their environment in a natural way.
Another important early compositional influence for me was the paintings of Andrew Wyeth. At about 10 or 11 years of age, I remember my parents showing me his work in a book they had, and particularly his piece, â€œChristinaâ€™s Worldâ€. The question of the womanâ€™s stance and the movement of her hair raised questions that I didnâ€™t realize a picture could. I liked the idea that the serene landscape was interrupted by her seemingly startled stance. A story played itself in my mind that something had happened at the house and that she seemed on the verge of jumping up and running. But, most of all I loved the fact that I didnâ€™t know, the painting engaged my imagination.
When I think about it, most of my favorite images have this quality. Itâ€™s not just a point in time, but rather my imagination is engaged to think about the moments before and after the shutter was clicked. I guess thatâ€™s the narrative quality that appeals to me. I donâ€™t like static images or images that look especially posed or that lack any real engagement from the subject. Even with inanimate objects, like a martini glass, I want it to look like itâ€™s alive.
Describe an average week at your studio.
I guess there isnâ€™t an average week as some weeks are spent working on generating work, showing my book, meeting with prospective clients or shooting photos. There is a mix of time spent at the computer processing images, updating the website, and if none of that is happening I focus on developing my portfolio. If I donâ€™t have a specific job, I try to work on portfolio development first and foremost. As for a physical studio, I donâ€™t have one but rather rent when the need arises.
Why Seattle? Have you considered anywhere else?
Seattle is a great city. There are a lot of opportunities here and for someone like myself, just starting out, the doors seem fairly open. It would be nice to be somewhere that is easier to shoot outdoors on a more consistent basis.
What motivates you, or gets you going? What do you use for inspiration?
My main focus is people photography. People are what get me going. I find everyone to be an interesting potential subject. Everyone has a story and I love trying to communicate some of what that is. I like other types of photography as well and do dabble in them. But, regardless of my subject, underlying everything is a love of form and color. Iâ€™ve always had strong reactions to color and I love seeing the lines and juxtapositions in an image.
What is it you like the most about being a photographer? Do you do anything else for a hobby or avocation?
I love the creative process. I love envisioning something and then trying to make it come to fruition. I like that, try as I might, intangible elements will always have an influence on the outcome. Whether itâ€™s how my subject will respond, the weather or a technical problem I have to solve, all of these elements bring vitality and a bit of the unknown to every situation.
My main vocation of the last 23 years has been working as a professional jazz musician. I revisited my interest in photography in 2003 as a hobby because I didnâ€™t have any escape from music. Music was my job and my hobby. In the subsequent years I became more deeply interested in photography to the point that it eventually consumed all of my non-music time, which was about eight hours a day of constant study and practice.
Having been involved in an artistic discipline for 30 years, and being a teacher has really influenced they way I have gone about developing as a photographer. Iâ€™ve always been very philosophical about art and my role as a practitioner and as a result I think I have avoided a lot of the pitfalls I might have hit had this been my first go around in an artistic discipline. I think I come to the art with a more mature understanding of where I fit in the big scheme of things and am not hung up about a lot of things that plagued me as a young musician.
My attitude about working, getting work and dealing with clients is heavily influenced by my career in music. The industries and functions are very similar itâ€™s just the scenarios that are different. I think my music business experience helps me get through some of that stuff more easily than if I had come from a different field.
Are there any downsides to being a commercial photographer that you would like to change? How would you change them?
I guess it would be nice if everyone thought the value of good images and the work involved in achieving them is worth what I think theyâ€™re worth. Itâ€™s kind of a drag because people always want to get as much as possible for as little as possible instead of respecting others and paying people what theyâ€™re worth. I donâ€™t know how to change this attitude except to try to make images that they just have to have, whatever the cost!
What was your most memorable assignment?
Well, this wasnâ€™t memorable in an idealic way, but Iâ€™ll never forget it. I was asked to Photoshop a picture of a baby who had passed away at birth. The babyâ€™s skin was very fragile and had torn in places. The photo was going to be reproduced for the memorial. The father was there while I did the job and it was such an emotional thing. I asked him every step of the way if what I was doing was ok, almost as though I were preparing the babyâ€™s physical body. It was heart wrenching and difficult. I donâ€™t think you can really prepare yourself for something like that.
Any ‘war’ stories you would like to share? You know, the ones that always start with “There was this one job where….” Well, I guess Iâ€™m learning a new lesson every time. The latest is not to give an inch to the art director if itâ€™s your project. I inadvertently allowed an AD take control of an article/shoot I was doing. I assumed too much. It was a good lesson for me in being clear from the beginning about what role I will play in a project. In this case, I was hired to do a magazine edition of a personal project Iâ€™ve been doing for the last year. I assumed that when they hired me to do â€œmy thingâ€ that we all understood precisely what that means. Next time Iâ€™ll be clear from the start not leaving anything unspoken or assumed. The good news is that the images are good, I just feel weird that in an article representing my photo project, I should at least be involved in the discussion of which images will be used. Had I been hired to do something for the magazine that wasnâ€™t my project, I would have been happy to let the AD do their thing.
What would be your ideal assignment?
I would love to take the Trans Siberian Railroad or travel across Tibet taking portraits. I donâ€™t know if thatâ€™s my ideal, but itâ€™s what comes to mind at the moment. I really like taking pictures of ordinary people. Combine them with a fascinating environment and Iâ€™m pretty intrigued.
Future plans for Steve Korn and his photography?
I just want to get better. I think thatâ€™s the key to staying satisfied with anything, maintaining a desire to grow. As soon as you become indifferent, you might as well do something else. I think by focusing on improving the quality of my work, I also am more likely to get work.
Tell us a little about your new work…
The area I really want to delve into and expand my portfolio in is sports photography. Itâ€™s an obvious link to the music and dance stuff as all of these areas are about the pursuit of a discipline. I want to try some different things with sports than what Iâ€™m seeing right now. I want to juxtapose the mythology and fantasy element of sports with the reality of being an athlete. It might evolve into a separate project, but itâ€™s something Iâ€™m thinking about.
Oh, and what is on the music box right now at your studio?
Marcin Wasilewski Trio â€“ January. And, the Foo Fighters.
BTW, you should check out Steve Korn’ jazz here. He is a fantastic composer/drummer.
His music fills my studio on many occasions.
See you soon.