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Member Spotlight - August Bradley


[ March 9, 2009 ]   August Bradley creates distinctive conceptual images with an artistic feel and a sense of drama and mystery. He works for clients ranging from designer labels to consumer brands to lifestyle magazines, as well as producing images for gallery exhibition. He was recently selected as a "Hasselblad Master" and his work has been included in the 2009 and 2008 editions of the Graphis Photo Annual featuring "The Year's Best Photographs". You can see more of his work at: www.AugustBradley.com


Your lighting has received a lot of attention. How did you develop your lighting style?
I will sit on the subway or in a restaurant and just watch how light rolls across a face - staring at it, studying it. I'm intrigued with light and how it moves, how it bounces and fades and pops and spreads. These periods of observation taught me more about lighting than any amount of time with light meters or studio strobes ever did.

By the time I had access to state of the art Broncolor lighting gear, I knew exactly what I wanted out of it because I had studied how light interacts with a variety of subjects, and therefore how light can become a character itself in the narrative.

We don't actually see objects, we just see light reflecting off of them - it's a second-hand rendition of the object that we see. Then we interpret that reflection. It's not a direct method of experiencing something, so the characteristics of the light will have a big impact on how we interpret a subject.

You're also known for an artistic, stylized look. How did this evolve?
I have always been drawn to dramatic content, and to images that conveyed an idea or depicted a narrative. The stylization evolved in support of the content and the conceptual nature of my work. The content often pushes the realms of literal reality. It's about communicating what's in my head, how I view a subject, what my experiences bring to a subject. So it's helpful at times to go beyond the literal realm, to leave the boundaries we typically view the world from within. The stylization helps enable the viewer to forget about what they have come to expect from photography. And that frees the work to explore.

The look would be impossible without very controlled, deliberate lighting shot in-camera. I create the look that feels right for a given subject, it's not scientific or mathematical. But more imaginative content does lend itself to more abstract stylization.

In graphic art, just as in literature, there can be more truth in fiction than in literal depictions of the facts. I'm referring to fundamental human truths and emotional honesty. Removing extemporaneous noise and visual clutter can sometimes communicate a thought or emotion more effectively, more precisely, and more honestly than an image bogged down with all the literally accurate but conceptually irrelevant details.



From a craft standpoint, how is your look achieved?
It's doing every tiny little thing that cumulatively has a big impact. It's casting, makeup, lighting, composition, posing, camera settings, RAW conversion, and post-production all being done to their very highest potential that ultimately leads to an effective image.

To get that high-impact look, you have to have the cumulative benefit of every little ingredient. If the makeup is bad, I can cover it up in post, but to do so you have to damage the texture which is never ideal. To get the best possible look, one aspect of the process cannot be covering up a shortfall elsewhere, it must be the cumulative effect of every element contributing to a whole greater than the sum of it's parts. There are no shortcuts.

You seem to reflect on your work as a fine-art photographer would, yet you do a lot of commercial photography. Where do you see your work ultimately heading?
I don't know what the ultimate direction is artistically. If you mean professionally, I'm planning to increasingly do gallery exhibitions - in addition to the commercial work, not instead of it. I like all of my work to have meaning, regardless of the intended use. The fine-art avenue lets me explore a different set of ideas and complex emotional terrain.

But I also love creating commercial images. I don't think we've ever before been in a period with such strong commercial imagery that challenges "fine art" museum and gallery work in terms of technical skill, concept strength, and sheer imagination. I'm very happy working in the commercial realm as well as the fine art arena because there is so much creative energy in both areas right now. But, then again, my commercial images are not center-of-the-road in the advertising field so perhaps my view is biased by the opportunity to operate at the more imaginative end of the commercial arena.

When working in fashion, particularly with more prominent designer labels, I can create images that are commercial but still very dramatic and conceptually abstract. But there are opportunities for bold images many corners of the commercial world. It can be particularly exciting to do something innovative with a large traditional consumer brand that wants to re-energize their image or step out of the predictable routine.

And gallery work will let me further to explore complex moods and confront issues that are sometimes antithetical to commerce, issues that go to the root of personal identity and place in the world - detachment and isolation, self discovery, struggles to relate, and sheer curiosity for the spectacle and the diversity of our world.



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