I was interviewed again by Voyage LA, and this time took a different tack so I could provide different answers. As anyone who knows me knows, I repeat myself – yes, repeat myself – on occasion. Not so much this time. Here’s the link, or read the whole thing below.
Today we’d like to introduce you to Barry Schwartz.
Hi Barry, thanks for joining us today. We’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
As a kid, I loved looking at the annuals of photo magazines, the occasional book like The Family of Man, which was everywhere, and of course Life magazine – the gold standard. My first camera was a bellows 35 MM Zeiss that was entirely mechanical, loud, and needed a light meter; it was not very good, but neither was I. I graduated at 16 to a used twin-lens YashicaMat and that was a revelation; I got more serious about making good photos because this camera would help me produce them.
I figured out early it was not the camera that mattered: it was my taste and ability to stay focused to get a good picture on location and then print it on paper. This has not changed, except for how photos are viewed, now, mostly, on screen. I still love to print, however!
Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way? Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
Working as a creative entrepreneur is never a straight, let alone, a smooth road. Until I turned pro after another career, I shot mostly for myself, and was published on occasion, but never thought I could make it professionally, so did not try; I just kept at it. I worked for myself as a contractor and kitchen designer, documenting my projects for my portfolio. Then I got carpal tunnel, and it was a natural transition to become an architectural photographer. My work had always included portraits and documentary work, and I chose to include it all on my website and in my printed portfolios. This hurts me with some architectural designers about who they hire to document their work, but it also gets me to work where a broad range of skills is important.
My taste and people skills were already in place and I even had some business chops, but learning basic digital processes was a big adjustment: being my own IT person, printer, and retoucher. I never thought I’d be that kind of gearhead, but work is work. Digital is just another tool – it does not change the fundamentals it takes to produce a good photo.
One of the great things about being a photographer is access to places and people you would not encounter otherwise; this is a continuing thrill (and not news to my colleagues!). I’ve been in fantastic buildings for pay, and in others where I just talked my way in. Being around people you’re being paid to photograph, or on a self-assignment has many pleasures, chief among them being being surprised by where you are and who you’re hanging around with – and that you get to capture part of the experience and haul it away with you on a camera.
Later, you get to experience it again in a different way in the privacy of your studio and present the results to people who were never there who get to see a bit of what you saw, and perhaps get a little of the same tingle you experienced on the spot. A nice part of the gig.
Great, so let’s talk business. Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
My specialties are architecture, interiors, landscape architecture, hospitality, portraits, and documentary work.
Being able to work in different specialties – sometimes on the same project – is something I always look for. In one sense, each kind of specialty uses a different brain, but that’s not really it; I mean, you only have one brain, right? Anything that keeps you on your toes, thinking on your feet, and keeping an open mind, affects everything else you do, including different kinds of photography.
I write a bit – non-fiction – and teach more than a bit: professional practices for photographers at the college level, in workshops, including, since the pandemic, in webinars.
Do you have any advice for those just starting out?
I love teaching. I have a lot of contact with photographers at all levels, students, emerging professionals, and established professionals. I learned early that effective educators are always learning. Teaching is about being useful, and it’s a give-back.
I discovered not to take a student’s seriousness or capabilities or even their experience for granted. In my workshops and classes, there are always people who are more successful or experienced than I am, with deep knowledge based on practice in their area of photography. That being said, everyone has a different pain point or a reason why they are in a class or workshop: something in the profession they are puzzled about, intimidated by, or perhaps they want to move into a different specialty and need more grounding than they have. These folks understand that continuing to learn can help keep careers from bottoming out; I know this as well as anyone, and since teaching requires learning, it applies to me, as well. It’s only fair.
For emerging and younger photographers, being in the same spaces with professionals can make practices that seem abstract more real and attainable. Anyone who has gone to a talk given by someone they admire has experienced the same kind of thing.
Creative careers operate on pathways that may not be clearly defined, because being a creative person, by default, means that you spend a lot of time making it up as you go – hopefully at a professional level. One of the things I teach is this process is not only OK, but it’s also sort of required.
The easy stuff in teaching professional practices are the things that seem so intimidating to students at first: contracts, negotiating, pricing, marketing, and digital workflow. But these are learnable skills; the more important things in successfully working for yourself – or as an employee – are people skills, and learning how to produce good work reliably; this is a never-ending process. In the end, it’s about being nice, having flexibility, and open imagination, and, more than anything: it’s about the work. The late designer Milton Glaser had a sign above the entry door to his building: Art Is Work. That’s it.
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