I recently took part in an interview about my photography for a Czech photography website, centered specifically on my 52 Weeks of Suki photo project. The interview answers some frequently asked questions I receive about the project, and now that I’m only three weeks away from its completion, answering some questions about my work has given me an opportunity to pause and reflect on what sort of impact this year-long adventure has had on myself as an artist.
If you follow my work but don’t speak Czech, you’re obviously not going to get very much out of the interview. Running the link through Google Translate helps a little, but you’ll run into some weird translation here and there (example: it translated “I come back from every shoot with soiled clothing” to “I’m always a dirty house”). Therefore, I’m publishing the full English interview here on my blog. The following is the interview in its entirety:
Being a photographer, what makes you push the trigger and what are your influences?
I’m very much drawn to exaggerated perspectives. I love using super wide angle lenses as well as long focal lengths to manipulate the sense of space and depth in an image. I also try to seek out colors that resonate well together, like a warm-toned subject against a cool background, which makes for great contrast. Most importantly, it’s beautiful and interesting light that really makes me excited about an image, and I think photographer Joe McNally has probably been the most significant influence in my study of how light behaves. Studying his work has taught me to not just seek out good light, but to create and control it myself.
What inspired you to start your 52 weeks of Suki Project?
There’s a group on Flickr called “52 Weeks for Dogs.” The idea is to post a new image of your dog every week for a year. The image has to be taken and submitted to the group within each calendar week as well, which means I have to come up with something new every single week. A fellow Flickr contact invited me to join the group and give the challenge a try, and that’s how it all started.
Are you trying to pose your beautiful dog or do you have a more relaxed approach? Is it difficult to pose a dog? Has something funny ever happened to you while taking a portrait of her?
I often receive comments on Flickr or emails asking how I work with Suki to get images for the project. Some wonder how I get her to “pose,” others ask if there is a safety risk since she doesn’t appear to be on leash in most of the photos. With a few exceptions this year, all of the photos of Suki were the result of a team effort. My wife actually plays a key role as Suki’s handler as well as my lighting assistant during each shoot. Suki is always on leash to ensure her safety, and we either conceal the lead in the terrain or clone it out in post. As far as posing, we just place her in an ideal spot and she’ll sit, stand, and look around while my wife tries to keep her attention. Somewhere in between all that movement I try to time my shots to capture a look that gives the illusion that she’s striking a pose. More often than not, it’s a very difficult process, and I have a ton of failed images of her closing her eyes, looking away, or walking right out of the frame to prove it!
The funniest thing that happens to us when we’re shooting is that people will gather around and interrupt the shoot to ask what we’re doing, what kind of dog she is (for the record, she’s a Shiba Inu), or to comment on how much she looks like a fox.
What has photographing Suki for more than 40 weeks now given to you? Has it changed your perspective of her or your world?
As far as my photography is concerned, this project with Suki has given me everything. It has helped me shape and define my style as an artist. It has helped me increase my skill set because it pushes me to try new things and adapt to different environments and circumstances week after week. I don’t think I’ll ever take another photo that isn’t in some way influenced by my work with her this year.
What are the main differences between taking photos of dogs and people? Are there any?
You have much more control over the final image with a human subject, primarily because you can pose them and give them very specific instructions. You can take your time getting an exact placement of lighting and composition with a person because he or she will collaborate with you and work with you towards a common goal. Of course, on the flip side, Suki doesn’t feel awkward or self-conscious in front of a camera like a human might. Another difference is that to take an eye-level portrait of a human, you don’t necessarily have to be very low to the ground. Taking an eye-level shot of Suki requires my camera position to be almost all the way at ground level. Probably every single shot of her this year required me lying flat on the ground, which means I always come back from every shoot with soiled clothes!
Has the Flickr community helped your photography?
It most certainly has. Without the Flickr community, I never would have started this project with Suki, a project that, again, has had a tremendous impact on my photography. I’ve also been able to connect with many artists who are extremely supportive of both the project and my photography in general. Flickr is a fantastic resource and support system for artists.
What is more important in taking pictures the gear or the photographer?
Well, both need each other to create images, so I believe both elements are very important. Of course, a good photographer will create compelling images with any camera, but the right gear can allow you to push boundaries and do certain things that you couldn’t accomplish otherwise. That being said, I believe a photographer’s main focus should be, not on gear, but on the image. He or she should select the appropriate gear for whatever they are trying to accomplish. The “right” or “best” gear therefore varies from one artist to the next.
That’s it! Hope you enjoyed reading the interview. To see the entire 52 week project in full, head over to my flickr page. You can also see a high resolution gallery of the project at my website’s gallery page at www.jonathanflemingphotography.com.
Also, check out other interviews of some amazing photographers at the website’s interview page.