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A studio visit with Elizabeth Weinberg
photographs by Nathanael Turner
Where is your studio exactly and how long have you been working there?
My studio is in my house in Eagle Rock, Los Angeles. I have been working here since I moved from Brooklyn at the end of November 2012.
What are the pros and cons of your studio?
Pros: amazing light, lots of room, a private space. Can’t really think of any cons, maybe this carpeting that I’ll eventually get rid of…
How many hours do you usually spend there per week?
Depends on if I’m shooting or not: generally I am here when I wake up and it’s the last place I go before bed. Sometimes I work late into the night and other times I get it all done during the day. That’s the benefit to Los Angeles to me—I can go on a hike when it’s light out and then come home to finish up working. I love the flexibility.
Do you have your own daily routine within the studio? For exemple, do you usually start by answering your emails then get to work etc?
Usually I wake up, make some food, go get an iced coffee, and head to the computer. I usually check my emails on my phone right when I wake up, because a lot of things happen on east coast time. So then it’s to the computer to go through emails, and editing/color correcting shoots, or digging through files for various projects. I don’t really shoot much in here, but this is where I do all of my desk/computer which ends up taking the vast majority of my time, as any working photographer knows! I have so much more space now than I did in New York so I shoot a lot in my backyard or around the neighborhood.
Are there things you deliberately forbid yourself to do/have within the studio in order to be more productive?
Not really - I think it’s such a treat to be able to make my own schedule that I have been pretty good about getting to work when needed.
Do you sometimes wish you shared your studio with one or a few other artists?
When I was living in Brooklyn and had an office in my apartment, I really wished I could have had a shared space with others. I even looked into it for a while. There’s something about New York that made me really feel like I needed to be around other people all the time. Now that I live in LA, you spend way more of your time at home, so I don’t mind being solo at my studio. You also have to make way more of an effort to go out, so there is less distraction and I find myself being far more productive here in LA than in NYC.
What is your favorite track to edit photos to?
for more of Elizabeth’s work, please visit www.elizabethweinberg.com
ELIZABETH WEINBERG, 29, BROOKLYN
How did you first get interested in photography and what was the first photograph you took you were proud of?
I didn’t know I wanted to be a photographer until I was already in college. I had been taking pictures since I was a kid, but I always just thought I’d be an artist of some kind; a graphic designer or illustrator. I had a revelation between freshman and sophomore years of college that I wanted to do photography instead. I am not sure what pictures I am most proud of from those early years; I tend to associate them with my memories of the time and they might not be the creates images. But I think a lot of photography is like that. We photographers have a hard time being objective about our work because the thing we saw and shot came in through our eyes and hit our brains and made us grab the camera and click the shutter, and we are the only ones who have a memory of doing that and having thoughts and feelings and experiences related to that moment. The best thing is when other people respond to that picture, but the picture can be really banal but can remind us of where we were the minute we grabbed the camera. I really love a lot of the photos I shot on Ben Kweller’s 2004 summer tour (right after I graduated college). I think that not only do the pictures look good but they remind me of a really great and strange time in my life.
How did you transition from being in college to regularly shoot for magazines and ads? Did things happen easily or did you have to fight to stay motivated and sometimes wanted to give it up?
That transition was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I still feel like I’ve barely started and I graduated college eight years ago! I had to fight to stay motivated every day. In fact, I still do. It’s really, really hard. Things are always up and down. I was actually talking with a photographer friend recently and she said “A photographer’s job is actually to GET a job.” And that is completely true. It gets really discouraging, though, when you are really confident in your work and no one seems to take notice. I take things far more personally than I should, and I am really hard on myself. How can you not, when something is your passion? When I’m shooting, though, all of the stresses of the rest of the time melt away and I am completely in my element. Nothing can bother me! It is the absolute best. I had to work a full-time job for years after college. Money was really tight. What I never realized at the time was that a lot of photographers come from money. They don’t have that constant anxiety about whether or not they’ll make it. They have the resources to shoot all the time and get a career going. I had seven credit cards, all maxed out. I used them for groceries as well as for film and cameras. I had to balance working all day with trying to get a portfolio made, with trying to muster up the energy to shoot after a long day of work, with trying to get in touch with people who would possibly hire me. I wouldn’t do it over again for anything. Photographers don’t often talk about those kinds of struggles, but if you don’t have the luxury of not having to live paycheck to paycheck, it can be really rough. But it’s then really rewarding when successes happen. Little ones happen over time. They add up slowly. I feel much stronger for all I’ve gone through in trying to do this. Sometimes I wonder why I put myself through it all. But then a great shoot will come along and I’ll know why I stuck it out.
What is the best thing that happened to you thanks to photography?
Getting to be my own boss is the greatest thing in the world. I remember being in college and dreading graduation because I knew I’d be stuck inside somewhere all day once I got a full-time job. The thought of it terrified me. Not even being able to go sit in the sun for lunch without watching the clock, little things like that. Now I am finally in a place where I make up my schedule. It requires a lot of self-discipline, which is good to have. I also get to travel and see places and meet people I never would have gotten to before. Also I get messages and emails from people all the time saying I have inspired them through my work. I think I am very lucky!
You were selected as one of PDN’s 30 Photographers to watch in 2010. How did this affect your work / commissioned requests etc?
I had wanted to get into the PDN 30 ever since I became aware of it. I had no idea how to go about it. I was nominated twice and finally got it the second time. It was one of the best things that could happen to my career, because I was still trying to get meetings with people and it was a sort of validation; it’s a list that everyone in the industry checks, so if you’re emailing someone and asking to meet with them, you can get your foot in the door a little more easily.
If you could photograph anyone, who would you want to shoot?
Jeff Mangum. He doesn’t like to be photographed so I don’t think that will happen. Maybe Bill Murray? I don’t like studio set-ups. Most famous people are often shot under very controlled circumstances, and a lot of shoots have high production value. I believe in stripping that all away and making an honest picture of someone as if they were my friend. This obviously isn’t easy to do so I relish the opportunities I had to work that way. I don’t fool myself into thinking that someone I’ve just met and have to shoot is going to be as easy to shoot as a friend, but aesthetically, I would treat the shoot the same way.
How do you plan a commissioned portrait or shoot? Where do you look for inspiration?
I don’t really plan much. I enjoy the challenge of arriving somewhere and seeing what the light is doing, or what little corners of the space look interesting. I am a very spontaneous person, and work fluidly. If something isn’t working, I’ll move along and try something else. I think it also keeps the subject engaged and interested. I hate overshooting. When I know I’ve gotten it, I stop. There is no point in ruining something magical by overdoing it. I took a lot of drawing classes freshman year of college, and they were all life drawing. I had the tendency to really get into a groove and start to get a great drawing done and then I’d get caught up in it and keep going. And then it would fall apart. It was a good lesson to learn.
What is next for you?
I am driving to California from New York beginning this Saturday, with a friend. I have a shoot in LA, then I will be driving back with my boyfriend, who is flying out to meet me. Very excited to get away from my desk for a while and see the country and take pictures purely for me.
What was the best advice you were ever given concerning photography?
“Don’t try to make money, just take good pictures.” At the time, this advice bummed me out, because I was still working full time and was desperately trying to get out of that situation. Of course I wanted to make money! But the career doesn’t come until the work is good enough, and until you know how to run a business. So I focused on becoming the best photographer I could be. Now that I am a full-time photographer I always make sure to keep it in perspective; I make a living through photography but that living affords me the opportunity, time, and resources to shoot for myself. The more you shoot the better you get!
What makes something worthy of being photographed for you?
This is something I try not to think about too much, actually. I recently heard a This American Life story about athletes who sabotage their performance by thinking too much about the mechanics and not letting instincts take over. I feel that that applies very aptly to photography as well. I just shoot what I believe will make a great picture. Sometimes I will have a photograph in my head that I want to take (there are still a few that I haven’t been able to do yet because they require just the right light and setting), and other times the situation just presents itself.
You self published your book “Of Reckleness and Water”. What did you learn from the experience and what were the things you most like and dislike about it?
Printing ORAW was fun. It was the summer of 2010 and I was feeling really inspired by the adventures I’d been on recently so I tried using MagCloud to produce a little photo book about swimming. The thing with MagCloud is that, at the time, they only printed books in one size and on one paper stock. I am not a huge fan of that particular size or paper stock but at the time it was my first foray into self-publishing so I was just happy to see the pictures on paper instead of on a screen. It was really well-received, and people still buy it, so that’s good enough for me. Getting work into peoples’ hands is what photography should be about. The other thing that’s cool about print-on-demand like that is you don’t have to buy hundreds of copies up front, and MagCloud ships them for you. For my latest zine, Track, I used a different printer that allowed me a lot more customization in size and paper stock and I ended up selling those myself. I am still experimenting with printing styles and I think it’s a really exciting time for print in general. Zines and printed matter are definitely making a comeback since we are so saturated with purely viewing images on screens.
You have a blog that you update very often. What photo-related blogs or websites do you follow?
I generally don’t like answering this question with a list because I will always accidentally omit someone. I also feel like if I don’t check Google Reader or my Tumblr Dashboard often enough I will miss something, and that stresses me out, so sometimes it’s just easiest not to look at all. For a long time I didn’t follow many people on Tumblr; I just subscribed to Tumblr blogs via RSS so I could read each one separately when I had a chance. The Dashboard makes me feel like I have to keep scrolling down in case I missed something! I think a lot of blog posts get missed that way. I wish Tumblr would integrate some sort of “read later” functionality. One blog that I have been reading the longest is A Photo Editor. It is by far the best resource for professional photographers working today. Je Suis Perdu by Winslow Laroche is a great Tumblr blog that features well-curated photography and is great for a quick dose of inspiration. Another is Jennilee Marigomen’s Happy Accident.
Interview: Elizabeth Weinberg
When I first started thinking up the ideas of how this site would work, and the fact that it would revolve around bi-weekly interviews, I immediately knew I wanted to interview Elizabeth Weinberg if I could get her to agree. At 29 years old, this Brooklyn, NY resident already has a lot of amazing work under her belt. I have followed her work for a while now, even before I knew it was her creating it. She did promos for Dr. Dog (and if you don’t know who Dr. Dog is, you need to go check them out NOW), she did a kick ass look book for KR3W, she put out an amazing photobook called Of Recklessness and Water (which if you have a tumblr, I am sure you have seen photos from it reblogged time and time again), and so many more awesome shoots. She’s pretty well known, and questioned time and time again, for how she makes her digital images look so much like film. She also likes The Get Up Kids, and owns a Descendents holiday sweater, so you know she’s rad. Ok enough gushing, here is the interview.
What really sparked an interest in photography for you?
I am not really sure where my interest actually began. It’s not something I’ve ever really thought about… it is just what I do, I guess. We have piles and piles of photo albums all over my parents’ house.There was definitely an emphasis on the visual representation of memory in my household growing up. I guess it just became second nature to me.
How important do you feel it is for aspiring photographers to get a formal education in photography?
It’s hard to tell. I never went to straight-up photo school. I have a Bachelor of Science in Journalism with a concentration in Photojournalism. I think it is important to learn how to interact with people. Technical knowledge is also good, but you can learn a lot of that yourself. I think working in the field is the best education you can get. I learned more in the couple of years that I worked in high-end pro photo labs than I did in all of school. But then again, I wasn’t going to the kind of photography school that teaches you about the kind of work I do now.
I’ve read a few different places you feel it is important for people to learn to process color film, could you elaborate on why you feel it is a good skill for aspiring photographers to learn?
I feel it is important for people to learn how to print color in the darkroom. They are starting to phase out teaching that sort of thing in schools, which I understand in terms of keeping up with the times but I think it puts kids who are just starting out at a real disadvantage in terms of color theory. You need to know that taking out yellow makes something more blue. You need to know that taking out green makes something more magenta. You need to know about cool light and warm light, and their shadows respectively. You need to know how certain films look on certain papers and that different papers produce different contrasts… and that NOTHING compares to seeing your negatives enlarged onto photo paper. It’s just something so satisfying that scanning and printing digitally can’t replicate. I learned a lot about color in freshman painting class, actually.
This is a huge problem with people trying to get their digital to look film-like. There’s a little piece of the puzzle they can’t quite figure out. I get emails constantly from people asking me to help them with this. Some of it is based on a knowledge of color theory and Photoshop wizardry and comparing photos on the screen to those that they have printed with chemicals but I also think that part of it is either you having the eye, or you don’t.
Do you have a favorite editorial/advertising assignment you have worked on?
It’s hard to pick favorites. Generally the jobs I have the most fun on are the ones from which I like the most pictures. Funny how that works out isn’t it… I shot the musician Madi Diaz’s album artwork packaging and press photos a few months ago in Malibu Creek State Park. It was such a beautiful day with the greatest crew and no particular shot list; I just love every photo from the shoot. I also loved the KR3W shoot, but for totally different reasons. Every shoot is different. I guess the only constant is that if I remember enjoying it and it was drama-free (and if the light was good), then I’m probably stoked on the results.
I looked through your series of your younger sister Abigail and I noticed she seems to be clinging on to cameras of her own in some of the photos, is she trying to follow in big sister’s footsteps eventually?
I don’t think she’s in it for a photography career. She wants to be a writer. I got her a 35mm SLR for her birthday a couple years ago, the same one I learned on. I think she just likes taking pictures.
What would be your ideal photo assignment?
Nothing specific. I did a shoot this summer that I would consider ideal; I flew down to Georgia to shoot a sort of utopian planned community called Serenbe for enRoute Magazine. I had a shot list to nail but I was also told to just shoot anything that caught my eye. Having a photo editor put enough trust in me to let me go off and capture things in my own personal way is just the best.
What/who inspires you in your work?
I never know how to answer this question. I guess traveling inspires me the most. I hate feeling stagnant. That’s why I was always so intent on never having a 9-5. I can’t imagine living life that way. That’s just me. I need to get out of town every so often. And the photos will follow!
For your photo book Of Recklessness and Water what kind of cameras did you use and what inspired the project?
I used an old Canon G9 and an underwater housing. Both of those things are currently broken so I’m figuring out a new system. I have an underwater bag for my Canon 5D Mark II but I don’t really trust it in heavy surf. I might invest in a dedicated housing.
Where would you like to see yourself in ten years?
Still shooting, always improving!
Musically, what are you jamming while you edit/shoot or do you just prefer silence?
No silence. I need music on all the time, especially when I’m working at the computer. I don’t really have a “photoshoot playlist” or anything. Something upbeat and catchy. I could totally nerd out on some Get Up Kids for like 4 hours like the aging emo kid I am…
What gets you most excited about photography? Is it shooting a big name person, shooting somewhere cool, or something/anything else?
Shooting big name people can be a major bummer as often as it can be really awesome. I don’t think that really does it for me. I just like making a really great picture, regardless of the subject. Locations can make a difference, but then sometimes they don’t even matter. For example once I was shooting a band and we literally had nowhere to go but the crappy part of Manhattan near Madison Sq. Park, where there isn’t really anything cool, and it happened to be winter when the light is low and bounces off of buildings in great ways—so I found a spot under some scaffolding that had really great bounced light, and shot a tightly cropped portrait. It’s still one of my favorites. I guess it’s just when all the elements align just right.
I’ve lurked some other interviews you’ve done and I notice you mention caffeine in a few of them, so be honest with me, have you just ever been so caffeinated you thought your heart was going to explode? This shit happened to me last week.
Once on a flight from Barcelona to Hamburg or something I was so hopped up on caffeine that I felt like I was writing entire novels in my head faster than I ever could have typed or written them down. We were flying over the Alps or something and I was looking down and my neurons were like, doing cartwheels. I had had to wait at the airport for my flight all night because I had nowhere else to go so I ended up doing like 15 shots of expresso while reading some dumb Crimethinc book (hey, I was 21). I have never felt so completely insane and sped up in all my life.
Nowadays I do one or two cold brewed iced coffees a day but I drink them over the span of like 3/4 hours. I also drink them in the winter. Some places don’t do iced coffee in the winter so I get an iced americano. It has to be iced all the time for me.
Your shoot for Kr3w got me so amped, when I saw it all I wanted to do was shotgun beers, skate mini ramps, light things on fire, and drink till I puked (is that weird?). How did you go about coming up with that shoot? Was it directed by someone else or did you have creative control over it? Either way you really captured a lot of energy, and it got me pumped up.
That is not weird and I’m glad you felt that way, because that was the intent! The concept was thought up by their art department. By the time I got there, most of the dudes I was supposed to shoot were drunk and our shot list kind of went out the window. We did go from specific scenario to scenario but it wasn’t without a bit of wrangling. I sort of came up with shots as we went along. That’s how I like to work anyway. You have to do a lot of thinking on the fly to see what is working and what isn’t. We were also losing daylight fast so I wanted to get the vast desert background shots out of the way first, so I went in that direction to start. I guess you could say it was loosely-outlined chaos. I got gasoline in my hair during one of the Molotov cocktail-tossings and I was pretty sure I was going to die the whole time, but the whole thing was a total blast (pun) and I love how everything came out. One of the most ridiculous and fun shoots I’ve ever been on.
How important do you think social networking is for up and coming photographers, and I don’t just mean facebook/twitter/etc. but networking with people in the real f’in world as well?
Super important. At least if you’re “emerging” or whatever you want to call it. Going to openings and talking to gallery owners or other photographers or going to “industry” things and talking to photo editors is helpful. Especially if everyone has had a little bit to drink and you can hang with them without the office-formality vibe. I don’t really like schmoozing so I don’t go to a ton of these things, but there are a select few photo events I hit up. It’s nice to feel part of a real community instead of being holed up on the computer staring at Photoshop all the time.
Any final words of wisdom/thoughts/rants you would like to get out?
It’s really easy to get discouraged in this business. One of the biggest obstacles one can overcome is to have pure unadulterated confidence in your work even when things seem like they’re in the gutter. I struggle with that myself. Take breaks and shoot for fun. And don’t lose track of why you’re trying to do this in the first place!
For more of Elizabeth’s work check out her portfolio here: http://elizabethweinberg.com/
Or you can follow her blog on tumblr here: http://scrapbook.elizabethweinberg.com/