Prior to becoming a full-time photographer in 2009, Image Source photographer Chris Sembrot worked as an Art Buyer and producer for five years. Needless to say, he knows the business inside and out. With clients ranging from the Wall Street Journal to the Discovery Channel, and works finalised for the AP29 and OneEyeland awards his approach is fresh, unique and driven by “life the way people live it”.
In this edition of Photographer’s Eye, we talk to Chris about his latest “Redheads” series, his previous career as an Art Buyer, and the inspiration behind his Guardian shoot with St. Vincent and David Byrne.
Favourite photo you have taken?
The beauty of this image I took while in Bali during my honeymoon last September has the potential to not wear off. It’s a moment so pure and at a time in my life where I’ve found the most perfect partner to spend the rest of my life with. It’s also the first photo I’ve printed for myself and hung in my home.
I draw inspiration from many mediums but some pf my favorit shooters are:
Peter Yang, Chris Buck, Pieter Hugo, and Christopher Wilson. People I’m constantly inspired by are: Ryan Beck (Philly painter) and Adam Garcia (Portland based graphic designer/all around maker of things awesome).
Why did you leave your career as an Art Buyer and become a photographer?
It was always my goal to be a shooter fulltime, but when the art buyer position presented itself, I took it. It was a position where I could be surrounded by photography while learning how established photographers worked. It gave me the inside perspective on how the business worked which has help me navigate this crazy industry. I left in 2009 when I was laid off by the agency I was working for. It was the push I needed to finally be on my own.
What was your brief for the David Byrne/St. Vincent shoot?
My photo editor, Nikki Hatchett asked to make the shoot feel “NYC”. Thankfully Mr. Byrne’s SoHo studio offered huge windows, overlooking the streets and fire escapes of the surrounding buildings. The space also had beautiful hard wood floors and painted white brick walls. Basically everything that says “NYC loft”.
What inspired the “Redheads” project?
The idea to start a “redhead” series was first and foremost an homage to to my mother. My mom is a natural strawberry blond and was my first sitter. What began as an environmental portrait, morphed into what is now this more classical portrait series after a recent trip to The Barnes Museum with my wife. Unsure of the technical approach for lighting or even concept, an idea struck after that evening at the museum. Shortly after, I teamed up with a local wardrobe stylist, Kiley Baun and we got working on a concept that was driven by an elegant wardrobe and utilizing props as symbolism (just like many early European painters).
The sequence of images you sent visualize Redheads with old, perhaps precious objects – the vintage photograph, the children’s doll, the old stopwatch? Do ‘Redheads’ have a relationship to the past?
The props have no direct relationship with the sitter. The concept to photograph the subjects with a visually interesting prop came from multiple conversations with my wardrobe stylist. We wanted the viewer to ask that very question when viewing.
What’s next for ‘Redheads’?
This is an on-going project which will have me shooting block of models about every two months. It allows enough time in between shoots for Kiley (wardrobe stylist) and I to secure enough wardrobe and props.
You can see more of Chris’ work at his website