(All photographs copyright Sid Ceaser)
Sid Ceaser Photography
1. What brought out your interest in photography? How’d you get started?
When I was a kid, I would take my mom’s old Polaroid camera and set up my action figures and toys into battles and then photograph them. Then, when Fisher Price came out with the PXL-2000, a grainy, low rez video camera that recorded onto high-bias audio cassette tapes, I’d film battles with my toys, and make music videos with puppets. I’ve always gravitated to things that capture images in some fashion. After graduating high school in the early 90’s, I spent my 20’s working in various record shops. Throughout all of those years, I was still making images in one way or another. Finally, as I approached my 30’s I figured it was time to buckle down and go to school to really devote time to the craft of photography and getting a solid foundation in the arts.
2. What is your favorite subject matter – and why?
People. God do I love making portraits of people. When I’m not photographing real people, I’m photographing toys and figures that look like human beings. I love having the human figure, real or fabricated, in front of my lens.
3. How long have you been pursuing a career (or part-time career) in photography?
The first thing I did when I graduated the New Hampshire Institute of Art in 2004 was secure a small studio space. I needed a place to go to so I could tune out the rest of the world and concentrate on my work. It took a little time after getting out of assignment-based art school to figure out what I really should be doing, and I’ve niched myself into two main categories: 1. headshot photography for corporate, business musicians and actors, and 2. band and musician photography for promotional, press kit, publicity and cd/album artwork. I will do other things, like high school seniors, but it isn’t anything I advertise.
4. Who or what is your greatest influence?
Everything that I’m interested in influences me; from music to comic books to puppets to sci-fi to movies and cartoons and toys and video games … I jumble all of that stuff into a big soup and I try to let all of it influence my work by bringing what makes me unique into what I photograph.
Even if it isn’t apparent in the image – it forms the background and the foundation of my work. Just being able to discuss those kinds of things with my clients helps me build a rapport with them; helps relax them and build more trust between me and them.
So in that aspect, tons of movie-makers and comic book makers and video games have had some kind of influence on me as well; all that stuff I ate up as a kid.
5. Describe your dream photography gig. What makes it so?
Dream gig: a magazine hires me to fly out to Harrison Ford’s ranch for five days. It gives us ample time to establish a relationship and trust, so that when we start making portraits, everything flows more smoothly, and neither of us feel rushed to tied to an immediate deadline.
I book my sessions loose because I never want the client to feel rushed. I’m not an assembly-line photographer, and I never want the client to feel like just another face. To me, rushing never produces a well-crafted photograph.
I think getting to know the person is just as important as the portrait. I have to make that connection. That takes time.
6. How do you think your work is unique from others? What makes it yours? Style? Subject matter? Context?
I love photography, and creative expression because every single person is unique. Every interest you have; everything you’ve experienced and all the stuff you love should help form you as a creative person. I was raised on film, so I try to shoot like I’m still shooting film; low numbers of frames, get everything in-camera as much as I can – avoid visual clutter. My “style” I think is a result of an organic process that involves the client just as much as it does the photographer, sitting on top of layers of strong technical and creative skill. I’m always striving to create a portrait that not only shows the character of the person but also puts them in a position of power with added drama to the image. I’m a fine art school kid, so I have to add a little drama when applicable to my images.
Intrinsically, my work is unique because no other person on the planet is me; they don’t have my eyes and they don’t see things exactly the same way – they aren’t bringing the things that float around in my big fat brain to the table when I create images. I’ve learned to step back and not concentrate on my “style”. I’ve found that only other people can visually determine your style. I shoot intuitively – and it isn’t until a client says “I’ve been looking over your work and I like your style” that I step back and say “Okay, people are identifying some kind of visual pattern of some kind.”
I love seeing photographs by other photographers, and art by other artists and musicians that just knocks the wind out of me. I could be looking at the same subject, but this photographers or artists brain works so differently than mine, and they made this awesome piece of work. I love that everyone is so varied from one another creatively. Everybody’s brains work different creatively. It’s so awesome.
7. What is your most effective marketing strategy so far?
I’m not good at networking at all – word of mouth has been good, and establishing connections and trying to nurture those connections. Some times it might take years before a connection really comes to fruition. In once case – it took four years and a series of small jobs before the creative director was confident enough to hire me for the first really big commercial job. These connections don’t form overnight. Not only is it being able to provide a spot-on service, but it’s developing trust with those who hire you.
I also place importance on sharing things you make. Get the stuff out do out there. Don’t be afraid of ridicule. Be honest and genuine about what you make and share. I like to make stuff with puppets. I’m not ashamed of that. I’m expressing myself in my own way.
I’ve found that being genuine and honest works best for me. People might point and laugh, but at least I’m comfortable being myself and I’m not worried about trying to please anyone else.
8. What is your pet peeve about photographers (or photography)? Or do you simply not have one?
Oh, man, how long do I have to list? Ha!
I think the biggest peeve of mine is people that are under the guise that you can do this “photography thing” overnight. It’s a craft. It’s a vocation. I feel most of it is figuring out who you are with a camera in your hand and what unique angle you bring to your images than anything else. There is no silver bullet. Not only are you developing your technical skill and the ability to problem-solve creatively on the spot, but it’s about not being afraid to bring who you are to your work. The latest Westcott Gizmo or the current hot Photo-Widget won’t do that for you – it’s introspective. What makes your work unique is YOU – it’s all that silly shit in your brain that you think about and collect or watch or celebrate.
Also: just be nice. Just be a good person. Tearing down others work doesn’t do *anything* for you. Just be a good person and follow the Golden Rule.
9. What personal projects are you working on at the moment?
(www.sidceaserfineart.com) I love photographing toys and action figures – that is the basis of my personal work. I’ve slowly been working on various series’ based on toys. My last was my “Plastic Erotica” series. I’m also a big video game and anime and movie fan, so when possible I like to photograph people based on games or comics. I’m trying to make images that are tied to my interests and childhood. Things that have formed me to be who I am.
10. Your most favorite 5 pieces of gear are?
- C-stands. Seriously, those things rock. Next time you want to get a light stand, save up a little extra cash and get a c-stand.
- Hasselblad 500C/M. My favorite camera ever made. The perfect combination of function and art and sculpture. It’s so beautiful. I recently picked up an old Phase One P30 back for it and I’m re-learning how to use the camera in a more unforgiving digital world.
- Sunpak 120J flash – I use large moonlights usually, but I’ve had my Sunpak for forever – it’s a mess; held together with gaff tape and balsa-wood and J.B. Weld – I’ve been through World War III with that flash.
- HoldFast MoneyMaker camera harness. I hate the name, but I flipping love my Holdfast.
- Westcott Apollo 28” softbox. I’ve had this sucker over a decade. It’s a mess, but it still works like gangbusters.
- Rock ’N’ Roller R12 cart – I work alone a majority of the time. I got my first R’N’R a few years ago and it was like the Heavens opened up and Angels started singing. This thing holds so much gear and makes running back and forth to the car a thing of the past.
11. Bonus: What or who are you currently listening to?
Lately, I’ve been listening to Michael Bellar and the AS/IS Ensemble’s “Oh No, Oh Wow” (Jazz out of NYC), and Berklee grad Alice And The Glass Lake’s “Chimaera”. Electronica band Leftfield just re-released their debut album “LEFTISM” celebrating its 22nd anniversary and it’s just as good now as it was back in the mid-90’s. The new Jamiroquai album “Automaton” is fantastic and keeps my head bobbing while processing images in the studio. Also singer-songwriter Jennifer Kimball just came out with her new album “Avocet” which is an absolutely beautiful record. Beautiful woodwinds throughout the songs.
SID CEASER GALLERY