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Member Spotlight - Ric Frazier


[ December 12th, 2005 ]   Not everyone can attribute their success to skateboarding and hanging out at the ocean. But it was these teenage activities that parlayed photographer, Ric Frazier onto his current career path, quite successfully as a matter of fact. His compelling use of light and the serene quality in his images has earned him a client list that includes: MTV, McDonalds, URB, Flinestones for Bayer, ESPN, and Shape as well as world class swimmers Michael Phelps and Natalie Couglin.

For the Texas native the transition seems natural, "Skateboarding is a sport in that most everyone in it is trying to express themselves creatively." I was always taking photos. I started to play around with them to get better shots of my friends skateboarding and eventually started looking at wide range of magazines particularly Thrasher."

It was at the Brooks Institute of Photography that Frazier's two passions melded. "I started shooting underwater photography and loved it. I couldn't wait until the next shoot or chance to be underwater." Since graduating Frazier has logged over a thousand hours underwater with some stints lasting up to ten hours in the water. In addition to developing his lung capacity Frazier is a wiz at problem solving. "There are so many variables underwater it's easy for something to go wrong, it's my job to eliminate as many variables as possible." Take the editorial shoot for Shape. Frazier showed up on location only to find the pool they were to shoot in was cloudy and the time schedule was tight. Frazier simply changed the lighting to get the shots.

Despite the constant variables, additional prep time, and obvious dangers, particularly when shooting in the ocean, Frazier finds the whole experience Zen like. Before he even starts a shoot he's in the water without his camera by himself sitting at the bottom of the pool to observe the light, ripples and shapes created the pool. "For me it's like a meditation. I use it to calm down and feel the water and feel the serenity of it."


What have you been working on recently?
I recently shot and directed all the underwater interstitial footage for 2005 MTV Video Music Awards. We shot on 35mm five different models in high fashion wardrobe for 13 different category bumpers. I'm also redoing my reel with six new spots and will have them complete in the next few months.

What do you like most about shooting underwater?
I like that element that is organic. The ocean is so familiar and yet it's not, like two polar opposites. Water is so much a part of our lives. We're made up of mostly water, we drink water to survive, life revolves around water. It is something that supports you but can completely devastate you. To me it is kind of a pendulum swinging back and forth. That's what I like about it, it's calming but if you don't respect it and don't watch it you will be hurt by it.

What are some of the technical considerations when shooting underwater?
You have to be a completely comfortable diver so the diving aspect doesn't affect you. You need to be able to shoot without having to worry about surviving, and vice versa, you need to be extremely comfortable with your camera. An underwater camera is quite different. You put the same camera you use in the studio in an underwater housing and it is going to be completely different than what you are used to. As far as fashion goes, with wardrobe it is hit or miss. You may think some fabrics will work underwater and they don't flow instead they float, shimmer, or have air bubbles. I try to get the wardrobe beforehand and play with it underwater. We often put $4000 one-of-a kind dresses underwater and it's always interesting. Most of them are very delicate and you are not always positive how they react. There are so many variables as far as underwater goes you try to contain them, but then you just have to go with the flow. It's all about being familiar and comfortable with your equipment and your surroundings.

Have you ever felt uneasy photographing?
Yeah, there is always some type of danger especially out here in California with the great whites. There is always that slim, slim chance a great white could come out and attack you. I have been in the ocean when you can't see 10 feet in front of you and the water is green and the light is low and you're always looking over your shoulder for sharks behind you. Your heart just races and it is not a good place to be.

How is it working with models underwater?
Every person is different and everyone has their own idea of how well they can swim. It is all relative because you get someone in the water who says they are comfortable and they've been swimming their whole life but then they can't even tread water. Every time I shoot I do an underwater casting. Obviously, you cut them out if they can't swim but it is also how comfortable they are, how they flow, how they move with the water. That is really important as far as whom you are shooting.

You shot the band Dakah for URB magazine. Was it difficult to work with non-models who had never been photographed underwater?
Everyone was really happy about doing it and everyone said they had a great time. They had never been underwater models so they were ecstatic about it. But it was funny. One of the members didn't know it was an underwater shoot and she came with her hair freshly straightened. She refused to go under water because she had a job interview. So, I had to quickly think of what to do. We have this great shot of her sitting on the poolside with her feet in the water up close. It turned out to be the best shot of the shoot.

Do you have a favorite image and how does this image represent your photographic style?
My favorite is the surf grass image. I like the light coming in and the movement of the surf grass. There are so many little intricate details you can go in and look and each one is flowing in their own separate little area. The opposite of that is the obscure reflection on top of the water. This reflection is the abstract version of the actual shot which give the feeling of another world. I like the details in the whole photo.

The way I use lighting is a big part of my style. I see it in each of the different angles that I view. I definitely have a certain look that I like. That is another reason why I like underwater because you do have to be so close to your subject. I try to give more feeling of depth and perspective in my images, which is harder to accomplish in underwater photography than in topside photography. Usually I'm shooting with a wide angle, and because I have to be closer and it does add something.

What was your most challenging shoot?
Well anything underwater is not easy. I've treaded water 10 hours during a shot due to the number of shots that had to happen that day. I don't wear a wet suit because I like to be on same comfort level as my models. If they are treading water, I'm treading water, if they only have clothes on then I only have clothes on. Unless I am shooting film footage, I won't be in a tank. It is all about the comfort level of the model and it helps to build a rapport with them. The connection with the model is very important.

Do you have a dream assignment?
I would love to shoot at the Neutral Buoyancy Lab. It's where NASA puts the space shuttles in the underwater simulators. It's a huge tank, 202 ft in length, 102 ft in width, 40 ft in depth and it is crystal clear. Or shooting a car commercial underwater would top my list. A lot of times shooting underwater is about the location and the experience as much as the shot. I think it would be a great experience for everyone involved. I was shooting an underwater show for this casino hotel in Las Vegas and they had a 117 thousand gallon saltwater tank with 4000 tropical fish. You was 15 feet under amidst this underwater show and thousands of colorful fish, and you are looking out at the hotel lobby. Just amazing!

What's next?
Now that I have the commercial side of my work established in both print and film, I've started working a few book projects I've always wanted to do. I'm planning for the release of the first book in the late summer of 2006. Look for more info on my site in the future.


- Contributed by Mary-Beth Holland

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