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Interview: Photographer Jim Lewis (USA)

Can you tell us a little about you?

Born and raised in New York, but lived in many different places such as Texas, Virginia, New Jersey and now Florida. My photography career had its beginnings in 1996, well entrenched with small group of photographers and models that participated in ground breaking modeling websites such as Hello Beautiful, One Model Place and Glamour One. I expanded my genre of "photography untypical" not just to domestic and international print, but also to television and art galleries.

How and when did you get into photography?

I was sitting with a friend in an old college haunt. It was the days of local model calendars to raise funds. We were looking at one that featured students that attended the university. The photos were abysmal. I said to my friend, “I can’t believe how horrible these photos are. I can do better.” A pause, then I said…”why don’t I?” Shortly afterwards, I picked up my father’s old Minolta film camera and hired my first model.

What does photography mean to you?

It’s an inherent responsibility. I’ve had experience where my work will hang in someone’s home as an immortalization of a loved one or the memory of their youth. In some cases, they serve as capturing a moment in time of someone who maybe passed away later in the future, some time after the photo was taken. It’s a gift that’ s unique, art only you made with the flicker of your imagination translated through the fluency of your eye and your finger pressing a button in synapse. It’s artistry wrapped in all those things.

Please briefly describe your photography style for our readers.

I like available light and embracing the shadows, partly because I’m good at it and also I’m inherently lazy when it comes to strobe lighting. The challenges of available light are maddening to the tech saavy but fun for me as things can change in an instant. I embrace its inevitable chaos. I ialso believe in shooting the gamut…polite fashion one day to disruptive glamour the next. It’s hard to nail down a moving target.

Where do you get inspiration from?

I used to tale ideas, rip them from magazines and swear I would copy them. I’d take them to shoots…and completely forget I had them. I get inspiration from the model and who she is while in the privilege of youth. I try to avoid contrived and find out what ticks inside her, and bring it out. That makes every shoot unique because every model is unique. Humans are beautiful, and everyone is beautiful if you can draw out what gives them a sense of happiness. That’s why I say that external beauty is an algorithim and physical symmetry. You can make any photo of anyone beautiful just by telegraphing their soul – and capturing that.

Do you think in advance what you want in the picture?

Yes. And it never works out that way, thank God.

Studio, on location or both?

Usually location to keep things fresh, off balance and new. I like working in studios, but they eventually become stale and repetitive. Like one shirt said, “studios are for sissies.”

Would you consider yourself a hobbyist or a paid professional?

I hate the word “hobby”…like I’m building model airplanes or collecting stamps. When you create art, you’re the ethereal to create something physical. That hardly sounds like collecting stamps. I do get paid but I’m an artist, pure and simple.

What has been your most memorable session and why?

I can’t do just one…here’s three:

Early in my photography career, I was terrible and ready to hang it up. I was at the Whiskey Blue bar in the W Hotel in Manhattan, and was depressingly chatting it up with the bartender about this. Her name was Nikki. She asked me what I did. I said I was a photographer, but I wasn’t doing so well. She said I could photograph her….I said, really? I wasn’t enthusiastic, but she had a great look…fine, one last try and hang it up. We set it up to shoot in her place in Queens. Day of the shoot comes, and I was nervous…what if I blow this one again? I’m done with this photography shit. I run out the door and I realize half way to Queens, I forgot my lights. All I have is a film camera, with one lens and TMAX 1600 film. I was dejected and ready to turn around. I went anyway and knocked on her door. “Here’s the deal”, I said, “all I have is this camera. We’re gonna make this work.” I took off every lamp shade, turned on every light and opened every window in her old Queens apartment. I shot available and ambient light where I could find it…we spoke in hushed tones, and I followed her around for a bit. Capturing her every mood from the sublime, weird, sexy and beauty that spoke silently from a distant shore. In short, it was my best shoot ever and forever changed my style of photography.

The second was when a good friend asked me to photograph the only moment he would see his still born child in the hospital moments after her expected death. By this time I was an experienced photographer, and for the first time in a long time, I had no idea what to do. Again, I used available light in the room while the family watched me in hushed tones. How do you make death, especially like this, look like a worthy memory? Somehow, I accomplished it, and it’s a forever, sacred gift to that departed angel’s parents who will never see her again.

Last one: One model I knew was going to pay me to shoot her images for her husband. When I hadn’t heard from her in a month, I called her and asked when we were doing the photos? She told me her husband died tragically over that period of time. She still did the shoot because she wanted to feel beautiful. About 15 years later, she has a new life and family when we reconnected on Facebook. She revealed to me that the day I called her she was going to commit suicide and that my phone call to do those photos despite the death of her husband her changed her mind, and gave her reason to go on.

The lesson: never forget what your photos means to you, but my God – what they can mean to someone else! As photographers, we should never discount that gift we give to others in the form images that preserve something/someone deeply treasured by another. It’s an amazing gift that transcends words, heals and fills the voids left in some souls.

Nikon or Canon? Favorite lens?

Canon, fave lens is the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM

What is one piece of advice you would like to offer a new photographer looking to start their own business?

Have a business plan in the age where most photographers are getting decimated, as everyone with an iPhone thinks they’re a pro. Prepare to shoot the ugly things that feed the bulldog like corporate events, weddings and families. No one is getting rich working for major print magazines any more as they’re vanishing too.

What do you think of our new magazine?

It’s stylish, disruptive and darn cool. Keep it up.

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