Behind the Lens with Michael Rubenstein

By Alex Federowicz

Michael RubensteinMichael Rubenstein is an editorial and commercial photographer represented by Jennifer Hutz in Brooklyn, New York. After working in campaign strategy and development within the environmental movement for eight years, he began his career as a photographer in Portland, Oregon in 2004. Michael began work on a Masters of Visual Communication at Ohio University in 2005 and began working as a photojournalist at the Oregonian in 2006 and 2007. Since his time at the newspaper, Michael covered South Asia from Mumbai for three years and is now back home in Brooklyn trying to find decent pani puri and photographing the city his family has lived in since 1880. His work has appeared in Mother Jones, Time, Fortune, The Atlantic, BusinessWeek, German Vanity Fair, GQ India, Vogue India, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Respect Magazine, Inked, Institutional Investor, Marie Claire India, SLAM, Le Monde, People and AARP among others.
Michae Rubenstein

Photo by Alex Federowicz

It始s been a long road to recovery for Michael Rubenstein who, just over three months ago, was t-boned by an SUV while riding his motorcycle in rural Maryland. While his life was spared the accident still left him with a collapsed lung, 8 broken ribs, a broken ankle, broken nose and a shattered shoulder. Last week, while still working through injuries, I was grateful for the chance to accompany Michael on his first shoot back getting in the swing of day to day life…ironically making pictures of a custom motorcycle built by master fabricator Walt Siegl.

Eleanor Friedberger

“Eleanor Friedberger” for Merge Records

Rubenstein hadn始t always been a photographer. His life prior to photography involved organizing work for environmental NGO始s including Rainforest Action Network and Greenpeace, work that he attributes to shaping his vision as a photographer. When asked about how his early experiences as a child running around with a camera shaped him, Rubenstein replied, 鈥淭hey don始t…I think that [environmental work] more than anything shaped who I am as a photographer. I始ve always been interested in stories about the underdog or the oppressed. Things like that come from my activist career.鈥

Adonis Thomas and Coach

“Adonis Thomas and Coach” for Slam Magazine

Rubenstein continued to refine his work, “I worked harder, I looked at other people始s work, I thought a little bit more about what I was doing. It was really just practice and some really nice people that helped me out along the way.鈥 Michael recalled Stephen Voss and Mike Davis as especially memorable figures in his development as a photographer. Still the path towards becoming a pro would continue to prove wrought with potholes. After applying to and being rejected from seven MFA programs, one of which actually wrote back requesting that he not apply again, he found a home at Ohio University始s School of Visual Communication. After an internship fell through at the end of his first year at Ohio, Rubenstein credits Bruce Strong in connecting him with director of photography at The Oregonian, Patty Reksten, who hired him on as a contractor to fill in for some others who had left for the summer.

Shannon

“Shannon” – Inked Girls Magazine

It was another motorcycle accident that played a fateful role in Rubenstein始s career. This time, however, it was Oregonian photojournalist Fred Joe始s, which allowed Michael to stay on with the staff for several more months during Joe始s recovery. The practice served him well and with some help from Mike Davis he came back east for a series of meetings in New York. One such meeting with Marcel Saba eventually led to representation by Redux and a three year stay in Mumbai covering South Asia for the agency. Now back in Brooklyn, New York Rubenstein is represented by Jennifer Hutz and focuses more on commercial work, leaving documentary projects for his personal endeavors. 鈥淔or work I始m more interested in the advertising and commercial鈥 Michael told me, 鈥渋t始s more collaborative, more money and it始s a lot of fun…and I think in a lot of ways my work is more suited towards it.鈥

Monks in Temple

Monks in Temple, Bangkok

Solid business practices have been critical to Rubenstein始s success as a professional, especially in an environment as competitive as New York. While he始s always had an agent to help in the day to day business of finding work and getting paid he still has plenty to look out for on his own. Especially when faced with his recent accident that laid him up for three months. 鈥淚 have a savings. I mean I始m 36 years old…at some point I始d like to retire so I save money…no one始s giving me a pension plan.鈥 When asked about the future of our industry he didn始t miss a beat, replying, 鈥淲hatever, that始s a silly question. Everyone freaks out about it. If you始re good at what you do and you have the right business contacts then you始ll get work. If the business changes, change with it. If not, then do something else鈥 think it始s absurd to think a business isn始t going to change, things always change, business is never stable or stagnant…so figure it out.鈥

Euro Trip

It始s been a long road for Michael to get where he is today and, especially given his most recent obstacle on it, it始s not surprising that the best advice he could pass on is to never relent on your work ethic. 鈥淭here始s always going to be hard times and you just have to work through them if this is what you want to do.鈥 Rubenstein also noted the importance of assisting and interning with those that have been in the business for a long time, and to find a mentor to help and look out for you.

And as far as another motorcycle goes? He bought a watch instead, so that every time he looks at it he can be reminded that he始s living on time he probably shouldn’t have.

Michael Rubenstein

Photo by Alex Federowicz

Alex FederowiczAbout the writer:

Born in Philadelphia and raised all over these United States Alex Federowicz currently resides in Columbus, Ohio while pursuing graduate studies in photojournalism at Ohio University. Never taking a moment of his time on this planet for granted, he covets his camera as a vehicle to understanding the subtleties and nuances of our human experience. Engaging the world in such an intimate discourse as photography is how Alex wishes to create a visual narrative that challenges our generation’s perceptions of ourselves, will hold us responsible for our future and references where we came from to get here. In the meantime, however, he enjoys Irish whiskey, the smell of the ocean, his Kindle and the company of his fiance, Cassie, and their two small cats, Orson and Charlie.

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One Response to “Behind the Lens with Michael Rubenstein”

  1. [...] out this article on Michael, his accident and 聽his career at Photobrigade.com Welcome back [...]