Tuesday, July 8, 2008

A Conversation with Emily Shur

This collective has always embraced diversity and prides itself on promoting all genres of photography. Photography like no other art has a wide spectrum, a complex history and often blurs the line between art and commerce.
So to mix it up a bit, today we are excited to present a conversation with Los Angeles based celebrity portraitist Emily Shur. Emily has been supportive of Nymphoto since its inception and she participated in the inaugural Nymphoto show in New York in December of 2002. She makes a living as one of the few celebrity portrait women shooters out there, while also staying committed to her fine art work. In this interview Emily speaks about how photography has brought her solace -- and one can see a meditative or reflective quality in her work whether it is editorial or personal .

Mila Kunis © Emily Shur

NP: Tell us a little about yourself.

ES: Well, since you asked! I was born in New York City in 1976. We moved around the tri-state area a bit and then eventually landed in Houston, TX when I was seven years old. I grew up in Houston and lived there until I went to college at NYU when I was seventeen. I was back in New York for almost twelve years. Now I live in Los Angeles with my husband and our dog. I am an only child. I enjoy eating sushi and drinking red wine (not at the same time of course), and I hope to excel at the expert level of Guitar Hero at some point in my life.

Forest Whitaker © Emily Shur

NP: How did you discover photography and what inspires you?

ES: I first took a photography class my freshman year of high school. I loved making art from a very early age on, but photography was definitely different than painting and drawing. I responded to the ability to turn a vision into reality with photography, which is something that was frustrating to me when I would draw and couldn’t quite make a picture look the way I wanted it to. It took me a couple years after my initial introduction to photography to really get into it, but I was a bad kid. After getting into a big pile of trouble at the age of 16 I was no longer allowed to have much of a social life. That forced me to spend my time doing other things, and I then fell deep in love with photography and being in the darkroom.

What inspires me....well....a lot of things. I would probably say music, movies, my husband, my family, dog walks, traveling, exploration, and beautiful light.

Jeremy Piven , Patricia Clarkson © Emily Shur

NP: You are an accomplished photographer. Can you tell us a person you would like to photograph, who you have not had the chance to photograph yet? And which sitting has been your favorite so far and why?

ES: Some people I would like to photograph but have not yet had the chance include (but are not limited to) Stevie Wonder, Anthony Bourdain, Jack Black, Anne Hathaway, Barack Obama, David Lee Roth, Scarlett Johansson, Robert Downey Jr., Tina Fey, Jenny Lewis (I have shot Rilo Kiley but it wasn’t one of my best), and Morrissey. I have different reasons for wanting to photograph all of those people, and those same reasons are what would make a past shoot stand out as a favorite. Some shoots I love because I got to photograph a person I have admired for a long time and has done something that truly impacted me...say David Byrne and/or Al Gore. Some shoots I love because it’s someone I think is super talented and the shoot is a true collaboration with that person...say Jason Schwartzman, Amy Poehler, and Alan Arkin. Then there are some people that are just plain great to photograph for multiple reasons. They get it. They get the process of photography, what makes for a good portrait, they look great, they’re interesting....say Jeremy Piven, Zooey Deschanel, and more recently Amanda Seyfried.

Jason Schwartzman , Alan Arkin © Emily Shur

NP: On your blog you speak about your personal work and you have a section for it on your website. What drives your personal work? It is interesting that you photograph people for a living while they are absent for the most part in your personal work.

ES: I could bullshit this answer, but to be honest I’m not 100% sure what drives my personal work. I can say that I love exploring and wandering and documenting and feeling calm. This is exactly what’s going on with me when I’m making my personal work. I have never been a very project oriented photographer, but I do have certain long term bodies of work that I am currently in the midst of. Right now I am in love with photographing in Japan, have been for a while. I also recently began a project in New Jersey. As you said, there are barely any people in any of my personal photographs. I think one reason for this is that I make a living dealing with people and personalities. Portraits are so mental. It’s a lot of work to connect with a stranger, appease multiple people at a time, and make it look good. When I shoot for myself, I just want to deal with just one personality – my own. Mostly, I want to explore things and places that are interesting to me and interpret them and my place within them using my voice and perspective.

Images from Japan © Emily Shur

NP: One last question: You have been very outspoken about shooting film. Can you talk about that a little bit? This is an important topic to many.

ES: Having the option of shooting film is extremely important to me for several reasons. First of all, it is how I learned and first loved photography. As I mentioned above, the darkroom was a happy place for me for a long time when I first discovered photography. I quickly moved from my Canon AE-1 Program to a medium format Yashica Mat twin lens reflex camera when I was in high school. I only shot black and white and developed and printed everything myself. Now I am predominantly a large format shooter, and there is really no digital equivalent that one can shoot portraits with or use while traveling. I happily shoot digital for jobs when necessary, but it outrages me that film seems to be becoming obsolete. Terence Patrick left a comment on my blog a couple weeks ago that pretty much sums it up:

“It's amazing that a technology & craft that is well over 100 years old is quickly being killed off by one that is less than 20.”

I have a hard time envisioning the future of photography, or better yet, MY future in photography without film. I feel like it’s extremely close-minded of film companies to cease production of certain types of less popular film, which is exactly what is happening right now. I think it will only yield poor results for artists accustomed to working with film and also people who are just discovering photography.

NP: Thanks so much!

Honk Kong Skyline (Polaroid) © Emily Shur

To see more of Emily's work head over to her website: www.emilyshur.com and make sure to visit her blog, My Four Eyed Fantasy, to see more work and to get some insights.


Unknown said...

emily is getting so good that it is not even funny.

Anonymous said...

i dig it.

tom said...

I'm really sorry you guys are finding that film is leaving. It's a market that I watch quite carefully. Frankly, it is the opposite. We are seeing a resurange from every corner. You'll see more soon even if you are not looking for it.
Good article.