DJ Cobalt 60: What do you consider beauty to be?
Chris Fitzgerald: It’s something I can’t always put my finger on, but something I just gravitate towards in my photos. Sometimes it’s symmetry, sometimes it’s the opposite. Confidence, always, but then vulnerability is really attractive too. I wish I had a better answer for you. I’ve always been interested in pairing the grotesque with something attractive, with the intention of creating anxiety or tension in the viewing experience.
DJ Cobalt 60: Has your idea of beauty changed much since becoming a photographer?
Chris Fitzgerald: Probably. I often think of beauty in terms of how it will photograph, in sort of a technical way now as a photographer. Or, how I can translate that beauty into something more confusing, or if I can corrupt beauty in some way.
DJ Cobalt 60: Did you associate a particular look with beauty?
Chris Fitzgerald: Not necessarily. It’s said that symmetry is very instinctually beautiful which I think is probably true on some subconscious level. I’ve always been attracted to unconventional faces though. Sometimes it’s someone’s chin, or mouth, or birthmark that I’m interested in. Or the shape of their face makes me wonder how it will photograph. If I see someone out and I can’t stop staring at them but I don’t know why, then I probably want to photograph them. And then if I feel brave I’ll approach them.
DJ Cobalt 60: How does beauty relate to the images you create?
Chris Fitzgerald: This is a hard one. Beauty is a very relatable way to connect with art. It’s also the easiest. “That’s a beautiful painting of sunflowers,” or “The Pieta is a gorgeous statue.” Those statements are both true but who cares? Beauty can be obvious and cheap to a certain extent. A dandelion is beautiful. I do take photographs of beautiful people but I always try to connect with something else when at all possible. Can I create a conflict inside the photo to give the viewer pause? Can I take an ugly photo of a beautiful thing? I think more than anything that I want to take photos that people need to digest. I really like complex relationships. I’m a little nervous about art or anything that everyone seems like they can agree on. I worry that there’s no substance.
DJ Cobalt 60: What is the most beautiful thing you have ever seen?
Chris Fitzgerald: It changes from day to day. That’s the problem, really, that it’s just so fluid.
DJ Cobalt 60: Photography was initially only a hobby for you, what made you want to take it more seriously and go back to school to get a degree in it?
Chris Fitzgerald: Just doing it more and more, realizing that I could make this a job, and on some level I wanted to go finish my degree, but only if I could get it in something I enjoyed. I was 3/4 through an English degree, and I still enjoy writing, but ultimately an English undergrad is useless. And I just loved taking photos more than anything else.
DJ Cobalt 60: When you were in school you couldn’t just major in fashion photography you had to major in photography period. What work by another artist moved you the most during your time as a student?
Chris Fitzgerald: So many…Marilyn Minter, Gregory Crewdson, Terry Richardson, Juergen Teller, Odd Nerdrum, Lucien Freud, Rauschenberg, Ed Ruscha, Serrano, Leibovitz… just a few.
DJ Cobalt 60: Why do you think you gravitate towards fashion photography more than any other genre?
Chris Fitzgerald: Fashion photography is this perfect mix of fetish and objectification and beauty and sculpture and excess and working and directing a team…all things I really like. Commercially, it seemed like the best fit for me with the way that I seem to photograph. Secretly, I don’t really care about the clothes. But I love to direct, I love working with a team to create something great. Working hand in hand with designers is fantastic. Sharing visions, getting inspired by one another—those things really pull me in.
DJ Cobalt 60: I know you have an appreciation for all types of photography and art in general, it’s crazy to me though that as accomplished as a fashion photographer as you are, you can go do something like your “Mattress” series of photos or the ones you took of the Salton Sea because when I saw those images I initially thought they were taken by a different Chris Fitzgerald. I had to double check to make sure it was you. I didn’t believe they had been shot by the same person. It was like learning that the man responsible for “Black Hawk Down” was also responsible for “Thelma and Louise”.
Chris Fitzgerald: Ha-ha, thank you! I’m glad I can keep people guessing. The opposite view of the question above is that in order to pull a good shoot off you have to have a lot of people, or at least a model. I really like to go out and photograph things where I don’t need anyone else, where I’m not waiting on a makeup artist or studio to rent or a model to be available. There’s something meditative about going out and trying to get lost with my camera. I don’t do enough of it. And those photos are just portraits to me. It’s the same idea really. How can I make ugly, gross, old mattresses compelling? The challenge is the exciting part.
DJ Cobalt 60: Does being a fashion photographer mean you need to be aware of all the latest fashion trends within the modeling industry?
Chris Fitzgerald: Yes and no. I don’t try to look at what’s hot right now. I just try to do my own thing. I do get caught up every now and again with trends, but for the most part I try to shoot like I want to shoot and hope people like it. A lot of times a client will ask for a look that’s in and I’ll have to tweak my style and that’s ok. Clothing wise I do try to be aware, but the industry is so fickle and it’s all completely designed to keep you spending money. I love it, I love the pageantry and how seriously you can take it and the audacity of some designers, but you can kill yourself trying to stay up or stay ahead. I don’t want to be the kind of photographer that gets hired for a year because I’m shooting what’s in. I want to be more substantial than that.
DJ Cobalt 60: You advocate for new photographers to hone their skills using film before moving onto digital, looking at the current state of film photography, do you think there will ever come a day in your life time when you will no longer have the option to shoot with film?
Chris Fitzgerald: Sadly, yes. And I don’t shoot nearly enough with it. I think the most likely scenario is that we’ll get priced out of shooting film. It will become too expensive and the buying market for photographs won’t respect the medium enough to pay for it.
DJ Cobalt 60: Would you shoot all your work with film if you were allowed to?
Chris Fitzgerald: Good question. I love what digital can do. There are definite advantages, but with that, respect for the industry has faltered. Film makes you slower, more contemplative, and more aware of the medium. It’s a solid way to remind you of your roots and how you got here. If clients would pay for film, I’d certainly shoot it for them. In my personal work, I shoot it when I can. I have 6 rolls on my desk right now waiting to be processed.
DJ Cobalt 60: Is film photography a dying art form?
Chris Fitzgerald: I believe it is.
DJ Cobalt 60: What is an image of yours that you believe best represents your style and aesthetic and what was the situation surrounding it?
Chris Fitzgerald: Oh man. Tough. It would depend on the day.
Some days I think the “Flat World” series I did is the best representation. There’s a melancholy, a quietness, a stillness and loneliness that is so pervasive there, it really nails what I’m trying to get at sometimes.
I shoot a lot of bondage and fetish and there are a handful of those images that really stand out as a mix between anxious and compelling. It’s a hard balance to make and it doesn’t always happen.
There are one or two portraits, too, that fall into this category.
DJ Cobalt 60: Preproduction is an important aspect of your success especially for fashion shoots, how do you manage your time so that your prepared but, things still fresh the day of shoot?
Chris Fitzgerald: To be honest I’m trying to get a bit further away from pre-production these days as far as booking locations, models, etc. It’s a lot of time on my end and hard to charge some clients for it. It doesn’t always translate as “work”. In a perfect world I would communicate with the client about the shoot, do research based on that meeting and then prepare myself for the shoot to avoid that not-so-fresh feeling. If I have to do pre-pro I try to do it way before, a week or so in advance so I can have a few days between all of the paperwork and the actual shoot.
DJ Cobalt 60: What are the questions you ask yourself during the pre-production stage?
Chris Fitzgerald: So many! It centers around what the client ultimately wants and what the best way to achieve that is within the budget and time that they’ve allotted. What kind of model, what kind of location, will I need a permit, how many more people will I need to hire for the crew, what supplies I’ll need, gear, etc. They are boring but necessary questions.
DJ Cobalt 60: You have collaborated with a lot of very talented models over the years like Rivi Madison, Jordan Bunniie and Brooke Eva, what do you think the best models bring out of you as a photographer that you can’t on your own?
Chris Fitzgerald: That’s one of the best aspects of the job, working with talented models and forming those creative relationships. I prefer to work with people I like over and over, that way the work evolves with the relationship. Rivi and I have worked together maybe 5/6 times. Brooke and I at least 4. I feel like the shoots get better and better, there’s a building of trust, a willingness to be vulnerable in front of the camera. It also opens the door for me to be more open and vulnerable as well as far as broaching certain subject matter or what I’ll ultimately be displaying to the public. Really good models will show me different viewpoints on ideas that I want to shoot, they’ll add their own personality to it, and they’ll encourage me to push past my own walls.
DJ Cobalt 60: Do you approach every model differently and adapt to their style of shooting or adapt them to your own?
Chris Fitzgerald: It’s both. I reach out to a lot of models with just a quick email. Nothing specific. Usually just my links and a few words about how I found them. I like to try to start a conversation before we shoot. I always ask how models like to work and then I tell them how I work and that seems to be the best way for me. For the darker, more erotic work, I just like to be the gateway to that world. I want to create a safe enough space for people to explore that territory without interference. That being said, if someone needs a gentle push in that direction I’ll provide it, but usually it’s just a matter of navigating to that place and holding it as long as you can. Some of the direction happens before in our conversations about the shoot so we know where we are both coming from.
DJ Cobalt 60: One model who you have photographed and produced some very powerful images with is Valerie Shade. I mention Valerie specifically because she once said of a photo you took of her that “There couldn’t be a truer photo of me. This is a portrait of me. This is who I am.” I was wondering if you could talk a bit about your shoot together and why you think the photos struck such a chord with Valerie.
Chris Fitzgerald: That was our first shoot. I think we met on Model Mayhem and she came down to LA with her husband. Sometimes those moments just happen. It’s almost impossible to script them, nothing that can be forced or planned. Ultimately that’s one of the things that’s so cool about photography, is that you can inexplicably get an image that really resonates with you, or with the subject or the viewer. It’s so ethereal and fleeting. I’d never met her before, she had no reason to show her true self, why did it happen? No idea. We were strangers, shooting in an intimate kind of territory, and she’s strong enough to let her guard down and exist in that place for that moment. There’s a certain amount of photography that I cannot explain and I think that’s why people are so fascinated by it. Myself included.
DJ Cobalt 60: As an artist the highest compliment you can receive?
Chris Fitzgerald: Basically what Valerie said. If someone tells me that they think I capture the truest version of themselves then that is the best thing they can say to me. That’s what I always want. The truest version of someone stemming from some relatively false circumstances…photo shoots are entirely constructed, manipulated, and fabricated situations where a complete stranger (sometimes) asks you to be real in front of a camera. If we, together, can pull it off, where I can make photos that the model relates to, then I feel like I’ve nailed it.
MY DREAM CAMERA you know, I’m pretty happy with my camera set up. If my DSLR would shoot medium format that looked like my Bronica, that would be cool. Otherwise, I’d like film to be cheaper to process. I’d love to get my hands on a medium format with a digital back someday. All in all I’m happy with the tools I have, and in the end they are just that. For the gear geeks, I shoot with a D700 and a Canon 5d MIII. Various lenses, of course, but mostly a 24-70 and an 85mm.
EVERY PHOTOGRAPHER SHOULD keep shooting. Explore new territory. Push themselves. Fail. Embrace failure. Print. Push past your comfort zone. Be alone. Read. Go to museums. Develop a creative circle of other supportive artists. Buy lots of crappy film cameras and shoot with all of them. Ask questions.
A MODEL SHOULD NEVER yikes, I don’t know if I want to answer this, ha-ha! I personally wish models would not worry so much about looking pretty. Sometimes the more interesting shot is the one where they aren’t looking conventionally pretty, or they are off guard. But not all photographers want that. In my work I ask that they be as relaxed as possible and try not to be too posey. If a model can lose herself and be less aware of the camera, I get really stoked about that, too. It’s almost like I want them to not be so present. 50 photographers would want 50 different things though.
GOOD PHOTOGRAPHY IS it just is. It’s too big to be one thing. Good photography just is.
DJ Cobalt 60: For people interested in your work where can they go?
My website http://www.cultnoir.com
DJ Cobalt 60: Is there any you would like to thank who has supported you throughout your career or been instrumental to your career?
Chris Fitzgerald: My wife is hugely supportive and understanding and patiently listens to me have a very stereotypical artist-type freak out once a month. At least. There have been a ton of models who really crafted the way I shoot and who I’ve formed really good creative relationships with and I owe them all a huge debt of gratitude for having the courage to explore brave new territory with me.