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How did you become a designer/artist?
I was always an avid photographer as a kid, but also very frustrated. I didn’t really enjoy the darkroom and I was frustrated that my pictures weren’t “better”. I gave it up mostly after high school and was an English and Creative Writing major in college. I wrote a novel my senior year in college and the irony really was that the main protagonist of the piece was a photographer.
After school, I struggled for a while trying to find my fit with the working life. My grandfather gave me a job (mostly out of sympathy and because I was an available body) working on marketing materials for his mid-sized engineering company. I decided that the company needed to develop some video presentation materials and set to work learning how to do this. I wrote, directed, cast, partially shot and edited the spots we put together. I’m a geek from the ’80s, so computers and analog hardware are my world and working in the editing suite on the video was a true revelation. I suddenly discovered that my frustration with photography wasn’t a problem with “seeing” so much as a problem of editing and application. My work soon evolved into print and I picked up a camera again. I paired up with my first business partner/associate about 11 years ago and started doing design, photography and marketing for commercial clients and never stopped. I do all the shooting for my seven-person design firm, Studio Two.
Where are you from originally?
I was born in Manhattan and lived there till I was nine, and then moved up to the Berkshires in western Massachusetts. I’ve lived in the town of Lenox, off and on, for most of my life. It’s a great place because it is deep in the country (about three hours from NYC and two from Boston) but we have a TON of culture out here, with theatres, music, museums, art, etc. Many of the local institutions are my clients. It’s a very creative place.
Who were your main influences growing up?
Growing up, the main forces in my life were my family. My father is a serial entrepreneur who lives a global life and took us along when we were kids. My mother is the most creative person I know and can create, craft, stitch, draft or build just about anything. She always has had a profoundly clear aesthetic for the world that she creates and nurtures. I have three brothers who are big influences on my life. They are all creative people in different fields of film, software and business. We see each other a lot. I had a few great teachers in grade school who I still look up to. Higher education was mostly a bore. I did have a great semester at Cornell in the creative writing program with James McConkey, a great writer.
Did you go to art school/college for design or are you self-taught?
I’m completely self-taught. I have been working with design tools on the Mac since Photoshop 1.0 and have always had a pretty clear idea of what I wanted something to look like. It’s just a task getting it done and keeping ahead of the deadlines. I get all the design magazines and look at a lot of pictures. I’m a self-taught photographer, but now after more than a decade I do a lot of very technical studio work and feel capable of overcoming most any shooting challenge.
Any advice or tips to novice designers?
Your portfolio is your life. I interview anyone who gives me a call even if we aren’t looking for anyone because I want to see what kind of work people are doing. I don’t care about the portfolio itself: bring in a box of great work. I want to see things that I haven’t seen before, and I want to see a clear vision and a connection to life. I also want to see that you can use the tools of contemporary design. The drawings you did in art class don’t matter to me. The drawings that you did, scanned in, manipulated, laid out in InDesign, and made a great poster for your friend’s band? Now that’s something I can relate to. Portfolio, portfolio, portfolio. Oh, and don’t “design” your resume. Just type it up and make it fit on one page and watch out for typos.
What has been the most rewarding and challenging project you have worked on?
For ten years now, I have been the agency of record for Shakespeare & Company. This organization here in Lenox is one of the leading lights of both Shakespeare performance and Education. A remarkable group, they have given me the opportunity to design and illustrate their whole “look” for the last decade, including new images for every production, design work for all the different institutional departments and programs, the Web site, etc. It’s challenging work creatively (the third time to you set out to create an image for “Romeo and Juliet” is when things start getting interesting). The budgets and the deadlines are tough; people in charge come and go so you constantly have to prove yourself over again. The rewards are in the execution: when you see the image of “Hamlet” that you created going out on brochures, playbills, posters, Web sites, banners, in the ads, everything. And people start buying tickets and performances start selling out. I like it when my images get out there and do WORK.
What is your favorite design piece? Why?
If I had to choose a single piece that I have done that stands out for me right now, it would be this image for “As You Like It” from the 2004 season at Shakespeare & Co. The actress who is in this shot, Catherine Taylor-Williams, frequently models for me. She has the perfect look for this image, as the character of “Rosalind” in the play disguises herself as a man for a period of time. The play is one of the more surreal ones that Shakespeare wrote, with a metaphorical/symbolic transference between this, the “real” world and a more ideal world of “The forest of Arden”. I wanted to show that sense of the natural world inhabiting or taking over the human reality. The show itself is pretty comic, but like many of Shakespeare’s plays there is a lot of profound emotional subtext, and that’s what allows the darkness in this image to work. All that being said, I like this piece for its own merits entirely, without any context. It’s beautiful, and mysterious, and sexy, and naturalistic. Those are all words that I like to see in my work.
What are you doing now?
I’m working on a personal project in addition to the daily deadlines. I’ve been working on a novel, but an entirely graphic one. Not a comic book or anything, but a book where a narrative is told through an ongoing series of images. I’m undecided as of yet if there will or won’t be a written narrative as well. The interesting thing about this is that I’m not sure you could really have done a project like this before now. What I mean is that the images on each successive page (I expect there will be around a 100 distinct image compositions) are all made up of dozens of other images and layers. I have about 300,000 images on my server here at the studio, and it’s a huge archive to pull from and build stories out of. If you set out to do this without such an archive, you would have to produce a movie. The story in the novel is about a man who has lost his hope, and is caught in the moment between life and death. He encounters a number of entities – including his Muse, who guides him out of despair.
What are your plans for the future?
I’d like to build on the success I have had with my personal work, with more work in galleries, print sales, and working on the book projects I have in mind. I’d like to expand my geography both personally and creatively. When you are focused on running a business you get tunnel vision. I’d like to break out of that.
What American artist inspires you most?
Two artists who I admire are both local acquaintances: Walton Ford and Gregory Crewdson. Both of these guys work on the national level and do interesting, rich work. Walton does these large Audubon-inspired illustrations that are amazing and beautiful in their own right but have, in addition, these allegorical stories embedded in them. Gregory’s photographs speak for themselves, but I like the imagination and craft that they embody.
What unlocks your creativity?
I like a challenge, something intellectual or emotional. I like passion in the people I work with and for. I believe in the creative power of deadlines – nothing gets done unless there is really a reason to do it around here. I like opportunities: last year I did six new large-scale images that I wouldn’t have ever done simply because the opportunity to hang some work in a well-trafficked space came up. A good long bike ride never hurts to blow out the cobwebs, but mostly I like a challenge to get me going.