Fun fact: WNW Member #1439 Christopher Lane came to the United States from England in 1995 to pursue a professional golf career. He ended up playing golf for the Savannah College of Art and Design, but soon after shifted his focus to photography. He's an ADC Young Gun, specializing in documentary and portrait photography, with a real draw to all things Americana.
Christopher was kind of enough to sit down with us in person and walk us through the inspiration and process behind some of his photographs. Accompanying each image is a sound clip, so you can hear Christopher's stories behind the shoot, in his own words. He's negotiated image prices with Jerry Seinfeld, developed friendships with the Ms. Senior America contestants, and bossed around President Barack Obama.
As a Brit living in the US, Christopher is particularly fascinated by Americana and the access being a photographer affords him: "The amazing thing is when you have the camera, sometimes you can end up in the White House or end up in a cell. It's pretty fascinating sometimes. That spectrum really is an amazing privilege."
ON STREET PHOTOGRAPHY
Sometimes you can go around the city of New York and everyone will say, 'No, I don't want my picture taken.' But I think it's a feeling that people get from you, how approachable you are. If you’re in a happy good mood, usually people can pick up on that. It's a weird kind of aura.
I ask a lot of questions like, "What did you dream last night? And what's the greatest invention in your lifetime?"
ON NAILING THE SHOT
It was pretty amazing when we asked Jerry to perform. He did the shot where the coffee is spilling out. It was the the first shot, the first time we tried it. We sort of got it in one take and he saw that. Jerry was like, "Great, we got it!" It's always nice to do a few but I didn’t want to destroy the studio too much.
ON PHOTOGRAPHING THE PRESIDENT
When he arrived, I wasn’t ready. He says, “You’ve got 10 minutes and you can do whatever you want." I did push the boundaries a bit. But I think it was good.
Before you go into a shoot, do you already have an idea of the essence you want to capture?
I’m finding nowadays there’s a lot more art direction, a bit too much even. Before, they’d let you do whatever you liked. With creative freedom, I used to do a lot of research, looking at paintings, going to museums, looking at old newspapers and magazines. I used to kind of be a hoarder and collect old New York Times Magazines. Inspiration comes from everywhere. I like to look at a lot of older photographs. One of my favorite photographers is August Sander.
How do you adjust your approach to match your subject's energy?
It's a lot more controlled these days. I frequently find the subject will say, “I’m not going to do this, I’m not going to do that.” So I find it's important to have several ideas and there will always be one that they’re willing to do. Sometimes you just have to go with what you’re given.
ON NOT GETTING STAR-STRUCK
I find it's a lot easier with actors since they’re used to the camera, to the performance. A lot of times you only have a few minutes with the subject, especially celebrities. It's rare that you get more than twenty minutes, sometimes you literally get 20 seconds. So you have to have something ready to go. It depends if they’re willing to interact with you as well.
Do you get nervous photographing celebrities, or does nothing phase you at this point?
I think they’d pick up on the nervousness. I guess you become a little bit heightened, but it's important not to get nervous and to make them as comfortable as possible. It's the one time that they’re not in control, and you get to boss them around. If you’re confident about doing that in the nicest way, I think they actually appreciate it. Basically everyone’s kissing their ass. So they do live in this kind of fantasy bubble and it’s nice just to have that reality check and just be a bit more normal to them.
ON PERSONAL PROJECTS
I like to at least do one or two personal projects a year. I feel you get the most reward out of doing your own personal work. It’s so hard to do especially when you’re bombarded with commercial work, but I think it’s always the most gratifying for me and it’s where I can be the most artistic as well. I don’t have to answer to anyone, no deadlines and I don’t have to get the images the next day. I can relax and then can really enjoy the subjects.
I usually find inspiration from going out onto the street and especially in New York it’s pretty amazing. If you’re stuck for ideas, just to walk down 5th Avenue and see all the different characters. I always find it’s really good just to walk with the camera to find different subjects or different ideas for a new project.
ON MS. SENIOR AMERICA
It's for 60+ ladies who like to have a good time. It's a bit like the dog show, but for seniors. I went down on a whim but then I became friends with some of these ladies and they wanted me to come back.
Ms. Nebraska did this charity thing where she rode a bicycle from Nebraska to New Jersey and she got run over by a garbage truck... she nearly didn't make it.
ON PHOTOGRAPHY AS DOCUMENTARY
The prison system has become a Wall Street corporation. It's easy to get prisoners, and there's a dollar bill on their head. People are making profits out of this. They use the prisoners as circus acts, they make them do bull riding. So six or seven times a year they put on these performances where the prisoners are the bull riders. But they’re horrible bull riders since they never get to practice. And many of them end up injured or in the hospital... they risk their life. But I think they can earn over a $100 or $500 which in prison, is like winning the lottery.
Photographs taken at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, also known as Angola.