::watch in hd::
Garrett Geyer is newly blonde and a recent addition to New York City. The 19 year old has been photographing professionally since he was 15 and his portfolio is jam-packed with celebrity head shots, performance photos and imaginative portraits that blur the line between reality and illusion.
I met with Garrett, just days before he flew to New York, to discuss everything from his first camera, to film vs. digital, to what he does (and doesn’t yet) have planned for the coming year.
Auric Magazine: What’s your first memory of photography?
Garrett Geyer: My first memory? Hm, any photography at all? Well, my great grandma had this really old film camera that she took with her everywhere and so she was always taking pictures. We’d make a meal and she would tell everyone to stop and be like “Wait! Wait no one touch anything” and take photos of it from above and then say “Okay, now you can eat”. But the first time I ever took photos for myself, just to photograph something cool, I was at my friend’s birthday. We went on a camping trip and his mom had a DSLR. I didn’t even know what that was and I was 12, but she let me use it. I don’t know who in their right mind would do that, but she let me take pictures of birds or something. I got super stoked on this one picture I took, and that was probably the first time I thought “Wow, photography is pretty cool”.
AM: When did photography become something you want to pursue, not just a hobby?
GG: Maybe a few months after I started taking photographs at concerts. I had saved up for a little Rebel XS back when I was in 9th or 10th grade and I would always just fuck around with it, shooting pictures of my friends. But then I got to shoot my first concert, The Smashing Pumpkins, which was kind of starting out with a bang. I shot that and then I shot Phoenix, Katy Perry and a bunch of other shows that season at The Bowl. I was 15 when I started taking pictures at concerts.
AM: How did the concert photography get started?
GG: Well, my mom works for a non-profit called The Patricia Henley Foundation and they founded this TV show called Santa Barbara Teen News Network (SBTNN). So I worked for them just doing intern stuff, filing in their office and whatever. And they were trying to get a video pass to that Smashing Pumpkins concert, but they could only get a photo pass. So the Creative Director of SBTNN, Peter McCorkle, talked to my mom and said, “Hey, why don’t you have your son use the pass? He has a camera, he’s been working for us for a while. If he takes pictures for the concert, we’ll use them on the show.” So I shot it and I just kept thinking “This is so cool”. It was so much fun. After that I just kept getting the photo passes and it went from there.
AM: Now that you’re doing more planned shoots, how do you come up with ideas for them?
GG: That’s a loaded question. I mean everyone in my family is an artist, so I’ve been around the creative process my whole life, but even then it’s so hard to come up with a good concept. Especially one that I’m happy with personally. Like the one I did a few months ago with you guys (see video) was probably the best work I’ve done and that took me 3 or 4 months to come up with the concept fully. But it’s just really coming up with a concept, testing it, shooting it, tweaking it.
AM: So the forest shoot was your favorite you’ve done?
GG: Oh yeah, hands down. When I was in school I had a lot of concepts that I want to revisit now and I had the resources I just didn’t have the time at all. I was taking 7 courses second semester, so I really had to cram. A lot of the shoots I did then were good, but I know I could have done better.
AM: Do you have a favorite picture that you’ve taken?
GG: A favorite picture, wow. Well there was this one project I did where I took some nude shots of my then-girlfriend when I was in Paris. And I shot them in 35mm film in black in white and scanned them in color. But when I was scanning them I’d drag them so they were kind of distorted, it’s really kind of trippy looking. I liked those conceptually too, because it was taking something physical and making it digital and flip-flopping back and forth.
AM: To you what’s the most important part of photography?
GG: Well I think photography is just kind of a medium more than anything, so I think the concept is always the most important thing. And then your technique and technical prowess is secondary to that. Photography is kind of interesting because it’s so technical, you have to know what you’re doing to get what you want. I mean, I’ve been doing it for 4 years now and I still can’t get it right all the time.
AM: Film or digital?
GG: Both have their merits, but I like using film because it’s so… Well for the first time in Paris I shot film and I got it developed in a dark room. And when you look at it, it’s never been through anything digital, it’s such a physical thing. You can think about when you loaded the film and when you took the photo, the development–it all kind of brings it back to its roots. But at the same time there are a lot of things that I couldn’t shoot with film that I do shoot digital. But my downfall when I was younger was that I’d just take like 400 pictures during one song set at concerts. And with film, I had 12 shots per roll and it’s 20 bucks to develop so you have to make sure they turn out well. But I’ve fucked up so many rolls, it’s definitely a learning process.
AM: It’s pretty easy to just take tons of pictures with no thought, how do you keep that number down?
GG: Well shooting people for instance, you have to get the timing right with their pose and their facial expression. But you try to control it and compose it rather than just wait for it to happen. Which has always been difficult for me, I’m not one that just takes control of the situation, but I’m trying to learn how to do that.
AM: Okay, do you have any role models?
GG: I’d definitely have to say my parents. My dad makes contemporary jewelry so he’s always working on the creative process of coming up with designs, which I’ve had to focus on especially this past summer because I had really bad creative block. I learned a lot from him because I was always trying to come up with that one idea that was “the one”. I was pushing myself a lot and I would come up with an idea and just think “No, this is shit” even though I’m sure I could have worked something out of it. So we’d talk about that.
My other role model, my mom of course. She’s the hardest worker I know. Like this whole summer, sometimes I feel like I’ve barely seen her because she’s working so much trying to make it possible for me to go to New York until I can find work there. So that’s definitely changed my perspective on things. I’ve had a pretty interesting summer.
AM: How was it interesting?
GG: Well, I was planning to move to London, but that kind of blew up. So now I’m going to be couch surfing in New York until I can find a roommate or a place to stay for cheap, and meanwhile I’ll be looking for an internship or job.
AM: What’s the ideal internship for you?
GG: Well I don’t really have a dream internship because I’d rather have a job. I’ve done way too many internships in my life. I mean it’s great I learned a lot, but I spent a lot of time working unpaid.
AM: Okay, dream job then.
GG: Hmm. Maybe freelance. I’ve always thought about being a Creative Director, but I think I want to be just a photographer. Fashion editorials, portraiture, whatever I feel like. Yeah, I guess freelance would be the best way to put it.
AM: What’s your spirit animal?
GG: My spirit animal? I don’t know, I’m not real fond of the cold but I’d have to say polar bear now that my hair is blonde. Maybe if I’d seen snow more than like twice in my life I could say that more confidently. But as of now, yeah, definitely a polar bear.
AM: Who are some of your favorite photographers?
GG: Right now, I’d have to say Irving Penn. Irving Penn’s work is just–it’s pretty close to what I’d like my work to look like, but I want to have different subject matter and different themes I think.
I’ve also been looking at a lot of Stephen Shore’s work. I took a large format photography class in Paris at Paris College of Art and it was so cool. I don’t even know how to describe it. It’s so technical and it’s such a challenge because you mess up one step out of a dozen and you’re fucked. But when I got my first shots back that had taken my like an hour each to set up I just thought “Wow, that’s insane”. The negatives are the size of your hand, they’re enormous. 35mm negatives are so small, you kind of have to blow them up to get an idea of what they’ll look like, but with this negative you can just put it up to the light and see all of the detail. It’s kind of mind boggling.
I scanned it myself at really high DPI just to see what it would look like, and it took 45 minutes but you could see the texture of the film.
AM: What are you most excited about for the next year?
GG: The uncertainty is kind of exciting. Because a week ago I thought I was going to London and now I’m going to New York. I don’t really know anyone there, but that’s fine.
AM: So if we came back in a year from now and your dreams had come true, what would have happened?
GG: (Laughs) My dreams. Let’s see well living in New York, I don’t know where but somewhere. That’s a reasonable dream to have. Maybe shooting for a modeling agency, getting paid gigs doing that. Just getting by so I can do my own personal work.
AM: What is your least favorite thing about humans?
GG: The lack of empathy.
AM: What’s your favorite thing about humans?
GG: The capacity to love.
AM: Do you have any advice for aspiring photographers?
GG: Just do it. Don’t give a fuck what anyone says and just keep shooting. Whether people say it’s good or bad you have to do what you want to do.