The Creatives Project started as a means to give myself a personal assignment to keep my eye fresh. I had been doing quite a bit of freelance work, mostly for magazines and such, and then the recession hit. And then we adopted a baby. Life was topsy-turvy there for a while; a lot of sleepless nights up with a baby and little free time to work on marketing to make up for the loss of freelance work from the recession. I needed a project I could work on to keep me feeling somewhat in the loop.
Most of what I had worked on was portraits. I knew a lot of artists so I just started photographing some of them. Then I started developing a “wish list” of some of the people I admired and who gave me some creative inspiration. I scheduled a trip to New York and started reaching out to some folks. To my amazement, some of the folks I spoke with agreed to be photographed. One of the first was the designer Chip Kidd, someone whom I’ve admired and looked up to for a long time.
Since then, I’ve continued the project, making trips to Los Angeles, Austin, Portland, and San Francisco to photograph more creative people. And, I have to say, I have been floored by the one common thread amongst all of the subjects I’ve photographed: how extremely kind and generous these folks are. These folks don’t know me but are willing to take time out of their busy schedules just to have a portrait taken — sometimes they give me ten minutes, sometimes they give me hours.
I’ve shot about 50 of the portraits so far. Some of my favorites (besides the Chip Kidd portrait) include Kristin Hersh – she’s one of my favorite singer-songwriters, both as a solo artist and in the band Throwing Muses. She agreed to be photographed between gigs at Bumbershoot, Seattle’s big Labor Day weekend music and arts festival. We agreed to get in touch there at Bumbershoot. Little did I know that texting and calling on your cell phone was near impossible on the festival grounds; it had become some kind of weird dead zone. I was kind of panicking that I was going to seem like a flake, as I’m desperately trying to text and call with no avail. I went to one of the venues where she was giving a panel discussion and waited. Miraculously, her manager somehow recognized me as she was coming offstage and took me backstage to wait.
Another favorite is the portrait of artist Hine Mizushima. I usually go into these sessions with somewhat of an idea of what I’m going to shoot. I rarely know exactly what the scenario is going to be or how long I have so I try to be flexible and not completely married to my ideas. For Hine, I had a somewhat whimsical idea in my head since her work has that type of feel. But, the moment I saw this corner in her kitchen and the pale blue wall with her rust-colored sweater, I knew this was where we were going to get the image. I immediately tossed out my initial idea and just worked in this space. We had the time and I did try my other ideas but nothing worked quite as beautifully as that first set-up.
Sometimes I have the image in my head but the location doesn’t quite work as initially expected. I had agreed to meet Paula and Pernilla, the collaborative artist duo known as t.w. five, in the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco, where they were touching up one of their street murals. They told me in an email that it was maybe not the best neighborhood. I was a little nervous given that the idea I had was to tie the two artists up.
“Well, the Tenderloin is the one place where people probably wouldn’t even look twice seeing two people tied up on the street,” Paula laughed. Pernilla continued that the neighborhood might not have the best reputation but that the people they encountered while creating their artworks were always respectful and appreciative of the work they were doing. They were game to be tied but, ultimately, we ended up in a private location on the other side of San Francisco as nothing really seemed to be working in the Tenderloin. While there, we did cause a bit of a stir; people stopped and stared, and even took pictures. But, really, the only thing that was bothersome was the occasional burst of wind that would blow Paula’s hair into her face.
Moving forward, I’m hoping to shoot more for this project and, ultimately, release it as a book. My goal is to use these portraits of people who inspire me and turn it around to find out what inspires the people I’m photographing, who their artistic muses are and how other creative people find their inspirations.