Cool Careers: Fashion Photographer02.21.11
Many people strive for a career in front of the camera. But Cotton Candy found one of the most sought-after fashion photographers who’s making a stellar impact with his work BEHIND the lens. Richard Warren‘s artistic creations have graced the pages of GLAMOUR, Cosmo, Allure, the New York Times and seemingly endless more publications which continue to dominate the fashion world and beyond. Now Warren is sharing just how he managed to break into an oftentimes impervious industry, what it takes to survive and some of the things in his career he never expected.
Cotton Candy: When did you decide that you were meant to be a fashion photographer?
Richard Warren: My best friend and I were studying photography together. Through a family contact he worked as an assistant for a local modeling agency. He was doing all the darkroom work and brought some prints for me to look at. I guess I was both fascinated and also jealous of my friend as we were very competitive. In short it looked glamorous, and I was hooked.
CC: What natural talents do you need in order to be a photographer?
RW: Well most talents you will have to learn but being a people person is a natural talent you should have as you will always be dealing with people. Even still life photographers who photograph jewelry have to deal with assistants and art directors and account people. On big shoots I used to joke that we were putting on a show for all the non-crew side line folks that would show up to a large production. The stuff you learn just comes over time. It’s like having children. You may not be a patient person, but after having kids you become patient. The same thing happens naturally with selling abilities, dealing with last minute model cancellations, cheap clients etc. You don’t pull your hair out; you just learn to calmly deal with it.
CC: What about professional training?
RW: I am self taught. You have to be a self-motivated person. If you are not, then a school might be better for you.
CC: Paint the picture for us. Describe the moment that you were “discovered?”
RW: It was in 1986 in Milan, Italy. After being there for six months pounding the pavement, I got a 30-page editorial in Harper’s Bazaar Italia. That was the big start that took me five years to get to.
CC: What do you believe is the height of your career?
RW: I hope I have not had it yet! Really to walk into an [art] show with years of my work on the wall in some art institution will be my height. Other than that there are just little victories.
CC: What do you use as inspiration during a photo shoot?
RW: I use the media a lot, what is currently happening. Old movies are also great; mimicking the stars and what they felt and how they acted.
CC: What is the most challenging aspect about breaking into the fashion world?
RW: Well due to digital, there are a lot more players than before, and this makes it harder for everyone. The freelance thing can run your emotions, but this is not specific to only fashion photography. It can be an emotional roller coaster. Doing creative work and having that praised by your peers is the way to overcome it.
CC: Advice for a novice photographer?
RW: The best advice I received was from a photographer named Douglas Kirkland. “Do whatever you can to make money and survive but always have a personal project.”
You will be remembered for your personal photos and not by how much money you made.
CC: Is a career as a fashion photographer always glamorous?
RW: No. It can be hard work and sometimes late hours, but if you love it then it does not matter.
CC: Tell us about the most interesting location where you’ve had to shoot and the most interesting subject?
RW: The locations would have to be a tossup between South Africa and the Blue Mountains just West of Sydney Australia. If you are not from there, it all seems like a totally different world. Most interesting subject is a hard one as many of them are interesting in different ways versus the age that I was doing them. I photographed Brooke Shields when she was still being hauled around by her mom Terry. I guess at the time I thought it was interesting as a “peek behind the curtain” of what industry people rumored about. It was actually very normal, but it was an interesting peek.
CC: What would you do if you couldn’t be a fashion photographer?
RW: I am good musician and a very good cook so maybe one of those fields. But really photography is such a passion I think if I could not shoot, I would teach or edit or somehow be involved in photography. I have some great ideas about photo exhibit which I hope come to life some day. Group shows, not just my work.
CC: Finally, what do you consider to be your greatest work?
RW: What makes a guy like me tick is every day I get out of bed and think about what is the greatest work I am going to accomplish. It’s that stride to self perfection that makes good work happen. For now, my greatest work is my kids and how well they have turned out. It’s easier to be proud about something like that than to boast about a particular image. If I’ve already done my best, then I might as well hang it up.