Monday, 16 January 2012

Interview with Eric Schwabel

Hello Eric! Would you like to introduce yourself to my readers and educate us in how to pronounce your fancy surname?
My name is Eric, and I get paid to be a voyeur.

My last name is pronounced Shwah-bull. It's German, though it was altered when they came to America way back when. I think it used to be Schwöbel.

How would you describe an ‘average’ day in the life of you? I bet it’s better than the average person’s day?
It's come to my attention that my life is not "normal." So, let's see. I live in a pretty cool house in Hollywood with my boyfriend and his 8-year-old kid. A former pro-athlete friend of mine lives downstairs with his boyfriend and I don't think they own any shirts. One of my Shooting Male models lives in the guest house.
So it’s pretty much a gay Melrose Place?!
I have an office here and a studio in Venice Beach. My friends are primarily actors and artists from famous to "underground..." If I'm not shooting I usually work in Hollywood - creating this career of mine is a never-ending evolving process. I'm lucky to have a great manager-slash-rep who, for the past few years, has been guiding me through the business end of things so I can focus on creating more and more and more.
But my day to day, there is no "average." Living with a child that I'm helping raise has forced me to be a little more consistent with my days, but it's still like, one day I'm working from home, another day we're location scouting or working in Venice, shooting a celebrity or an ad. I like being on the move all the time and I'm hoping to travel more. I'd like to work in NYC more.
I hope you make time for reality tv???

Describe Eric Schwabel as a young boy?
I was a nerd and/or a dork. I don't think of the past much. I lived in Minnesota and my childhood was supremely normal-feeling. I was generally bored as I grew, but enough opportunities were made available to me to allow me to pursue photography professionally at a young age. My parents and a few teachers really helped me go where I wanted. From Minnesota I went to RIT in upstate NY to study photography, then Paris for a bit more study, back to NY and was mentored by photographer Len Prince, and somehow landed in Los Angeles with nothing but a car full of camera gear and about $1000.
Has much changed now that you are I presume, longer and wider?
Living in Los Angeles takes its toll on a person's sanity, which is why I want more work in NYC - to even me out. LA is a fantasy land where you constantly have to check yourself to be sure you're not floating away. But I think the world has changed a lot in the past few years, and that has created a lot of challenges. I keep reminding myself to look at it all as new opportunities. It seems like you can kind of do whatever you want to do right now. The Industry isn't going to stop you, because they don't know what they're doing anymore, you can kind of create your own reality. Like, if I wanted to start a magazine tomorrow, I could do it, and it could be published on sexy paper or unearthly glowing screens. The old behemoths don't have the power they used to, and quick creative thinking is what is successful now. This all seems an accurate description of industry and technology as well - except of course in that we are all slaves to Apple and must do as they say.
If Siri says jump… we jump!
You first published book, Shooting Male was originally released back in 2008 but has now been re-released with 3 limited edition covers – and very nice they are too. Why the re-release (is it the money Eric, be truthful) and which cover do you prefer of the 3. You can only pick one now, I don’t want one of those standard diplomatic answers that you photographers like to throw around freely.
Thank you. They are nice! I like them better than the original - and I love LOVE Johnny Hazzard, and I love the original shot with his dog, but I didn't understand what it meant to shoot a cover back then, and that image doesn't make sense as a cover.

My team and I heard one thing from every bookstore owner when it was released. "This book is better than anything else in its category, but the cover sucks and nobody will even pick it up." I have a healthy ego but I'm not exaggerating. I'm surprised Gmünder didn't make me change it - the original cover has nothing to do with the content of the book.

My original choice was to use the model painted in Silver. In fact, that was shot right around the time the book was released for that reason. But I sat on it forever, and I wanted to do something with Matthew and Trevor (the other two covers). I wanted something for everyone. But there are only 100 copies of each, so, this is the last push and then I'm done with "Shooting Male."
The re-release was originally to fund my Burning Man photo project ( I have this habit of spending any money I've accumulated on personal / unpublished projects.
Oh, and while we're at it -- the limited edition version of the book, of which 100 of each cover were produced, also includes a limited edition 8x10 photograph, all of which are signed and numbered.
Okay now, enough with the hustling.
Matthew Stephen Herrick features on one of the new limited edition covers. I know him already from my blog; he’s a total pain to work with to say the least. So that must have been a tough shoot for you, he’s a very difficult personality to manage isn’t he?
Matthew is one of the most unique individuals I know.
Ugh, go on…
I'm very intrigued by him and only want to work with him more. He's sort of got this Superman/Clark Kent thing going on that we need to explore more in a shoot (this has been discussed; the idea just hasn't come to me yet. Maybe someone else will go with it now). I mean, the man (boy? manboy?) is hotter than hot and can pull off looking like a Tom of Finland character, but he's just as good at being a goofy suit-and-tie guy in a cubicle. He seems totally grounded and easy going. He's perfect for this town; I just hope he'll still talk to me when he breaks out into some huge movie roles.
Aside from your Shooting Male project, you have photographed many a talented face, many many many talented faces. So who have been some of your favourites to work with?
Well the biggee I just shot was Adam Lambert, and he was a dream to work with. I didn't know much about him other than the few things that make it onto the "entertainment news." What I found was someone who was very focused, easy to work with, and all about working to get a great image - which is a dream. But I've been lucky with almost everyone I've worked with being great. I wish I could have spent more time with Chris Pine, but the portrait we got out of our quick session is one of my favourites.
With my personal work, Willam Belli, Trevor Wayne and Calpernia Addams are 3 of my favourites. I work with Trevor a lot, I need to work with Willam more (Willam introduced me to both Trevor and Calpernia). I feel like we all need to do a short film, with Matthew as well.
The great and horrible thing about LA is there is no lack of new beautiful people that want to show off their goods and no lack of photographers and directors ready to exploit them. And I don't think that's a secret, so I don't see anything wrong with it, but I prefer to work with people who are a little more focused and know why they want to work in this industry. If your model has no depth, or you're unable to coax it out of them, then that's probably how your photo of them will look.
How would you describe your photographic style? And is it something that took you a while to work out?
My style is all about the lighting and creating the image in the camera. I can't use photoshop for shit, I don't know it and I don't want to know it. My stuff gets retouched by my clients for sure, but my goal is to create the image, which is a fantasy, within the structure of reality. All that means is doing everything live, and that means relying on a team of brilliant people to help with the makeup, styling, set creation, etc. Or on the simpler side like my close-up faces, it's literally just me and a camera and a few perfectly placed lights.
I’m just popping out for some milk!

I shoot everything medium format digital, which gives me more creative control than film used to, but I treat it the same way I used to treat film. I look at processing through Capture One or Lightroom just like going to a lab and telling them how each roll needs to be developed. Like, I could have cross-processed all my old work and had these crazy colours with film, but I preferred figuring out which emulsions I could push or pull in different ways to achieve a more subtle change. I never liked straight black and white digital, and my faces photos originally reflected that, but the processing on the old gear I used to use was heavy. On the newer gear I'm shooting on though it's surprisingly minimal and I'm happier with the look.
So, I feel like it's all about the lighting and the interaction with the models.

Oh great you’re done. And how would you describe your personal style? (Think walking down the street, going out to dinner, sitting in a park thinking about dinner…)
I don't know, I need a stylist. If I had bigger balls I'd dress like I was at Burning Man every day, but I like being able to blend in sometimes. Give me $1mil to spend on style and I'll get back to you. I'd wear 3-piece hand-stitched suits most days if it were in the budget.
Which photographers (dead or alive) have inspired you/continue to inspire you through their work?
Peter Beard, Avedon, Salgado, Herb Ritts, Helmut Newton, Gursky... Everyone I was introduced to as a teenager or in college I guess. I'm not sure I've seen more modern work that has intrigued me as much (Gursky being the exception I suppose) - but of course, these are photographers who have huge catalogues of work. I made a conscious choice to stop looking at magazines and photography a few years ago, I'm far too impressionable and I wanted to find my own voice.
A smart move.
What is there left to accomplish with your work? Do you keep a bucket list?
For Christ's sake I'm only 31. I haven't even started. I'm definitely moving into video, and at some point I need to work with Björk. I don't care if it involves photography or not. Wait... yes I do. I'd like to do a weird little book every year like Araki.

Can you talk about any projects you are working on at the moment or have in the pipeline?
I don't want to jinx anything. I'm trying to get to Occupy Wall St with a 2-person crew but I don't have a client backing it. And there is a music video for a girl punk band happening soon...
A guilty pleasure you can’t seem to quit?
Esther Hicks

If your life were a film it would be?
Somewhere in between Zoolander and 300.
If I was to bake you a cake for your birthday what flavour and type of cake would you like?
Frosting is the most important part. Fudge frosting, on the firm side. The cake is just a holder for the frosting. My mother has the recipe; I can get you two in touch.
That would be great. I wouldn’t want to f*ck up your Birthday!

What never fails to make you smile?
A fat man tripping and falling. That's comedy 101.
Eric – it’s been a pleasure!


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