Our next interview features Erik Clausen from Texas, USA. Erik talks to us about how he started shooting weddings, seeing shooting as a game, being competitive and the sources of his talent.
Interview by Sachin Khona // October 2015
PHOTOGRAPHY WORK AND PRACTISES
When did you know you wanted to be a photographer?
It wasn’t until I was about 30. I did not ‘grow up with a camera in my hand’ as you so often see in photographer’s profiles. I didn’t own a DSLR until I started my photography business, in fact. Prior to that, we had a point and shoot camera that I had purchased for my wife that I used to take pictures of my kids. I am basically the ‘Mom with a camera’ that you hear so much about ruining the industry these days :)
Where is home for you and where do you work? Have you always lived there or was there a conscious choice to move to where you currently live?
Home is a suburb 30 minutes north of Dallas called McKinney. My business is based in San Francisco and while I am out there quite often, and most of my clients are from the area, I don’t work there all that often. I shoot in and around California for probably 50% of my weddings and the rest are of the destination variety. I almost never shoot in Texas.
In what way, if any, does your location influence your work?
Not at all.
Do you have a designated workspace or office?
No. I mean, I’m all for the chi-inducing workspace, but working from home and having 3 kids along with my wife who works at home simply doesn’t allow for my work space to stay the way I want it, but I’m fine with that :)
What has been the most defining moment in your career? OR
Do you feel there was a turning point, monumental time, or series of events in your life that you were felt as though you were on the right path in regards to your photography career that bought you to where you are now?
For me it was an event called the Anti-Workshop which took place 8 or 9 years ago. When I started as a photographer, I had no clue about the photography industry, or more to the point, that there was one. I just started taking family pictures of people who I knew, my wife’s clients, etc. As much as I loved that I got to take pictures and get paid for it, there was always something missing. Families show up in their matching blue jeans and white button up shirts and I was uninspired to say the least. I knew there was something I wanted to express with my photography, but I didn’t have any background or insight into photography other than taking photos of my kids with a P&S, so I really didn’t know what it was. I began searching out other photography online, just to see what was out there and I came across The Boutwells and Alt-f’s workshop, the Anti-workshop. It was intended for wedding photographers, but upon seeing the (at least to my naked eye at the time) avant-garde work by these guys, I was compelled to go and at least listen to what they had to say. Anyway, long story short, it was eye-opening.
I felt that weddings was the very thing that I had been searching for, and the perfect place for me to say the things I wanted to say with my work.
When I left the workshop, despite having never shot a wedding, I quit shooting families and became a wedding photographer. [ Disclaimer to aspiring wedding photographers: Do NOT follow this path to becoming a wedding photographer :) ]
What inspires and motivates you?
Inspiration and motivation are mutually exclusive for me. Inspiration is a fickle beast to be sure. Probably the most common thing present in me when I am inspired is contentment. Contentment with God, with my marriage, with myself, etc. I am motivated probably more than anything else by competition. Let it be known that I am not stating here that this is the ‘best’ motivation or that any one else should follow this, simply that it is what it is for me :) I am incredibly competitive and I am constantly trying to ‘one-up’ my last image, see something I’ve never seen before, or do something I’ve never done before.
I really look at shooting as a game that I am trying to win. Though this distinction is important, I am not competing against other photographers in any way, only myself.
This is not because there are not other photographers that are better than me, there is little doubt about that, but comparison is the thief of joy, and I suppose for some reason if I’m comparing myself to myself, it seems to not have the same effect :) Anyway, it works for me.
What creative training do you do outside of your work?
None. Just ‘L-I-V-I-N’ man.
What do you feel differentiates you from other photographers?
Nothing other than the fact that I am the one taking the pictures :)
When you get stuck creatively, what is the first thing you do to get unstuck?
I don’t think in terms of being stuck or free creatively. I just show up and shoot. I guess there are times when I have taken more ‘creative’ photos than at other times, but I honestly feel that I owe that to the people and moments and places that I was photographing than anything that I brought to the table. It’s important for me ignore any feelings of creativity or a lack there-of, because then I am not free to see/experience what is in front of me. The freedom from creative pressure, pressure to impress (either client or the industry), or anything in that vein is paramount to my work.
When I hit Save, I suppose :)
Are there any key lessons in your career that you’d like to share? // Best piece of career advice you were ever given?
Best piece of advice I was ever given was:
“Don’t pretend to be something that you’re not.”
One creative tip you can share when you are working?
Stop trying to be creative. Just shoot what interests you and don’t apologize for it.
Do you have a photograph burned in your memory that you never took. Whether that was because you forgot to load the film properly or maybe it just wasn’t the right time to get your camera but the image in detail stands out to you?
Ha, of course, there’s a million of them. But I let it go as soon as I get home from the wedding. Spilt milk and all that :)
What are the 3 most important things in your personal life?
God, my wife and my kids.
Tell me about the entrepreneur in you.. Do you work in any other fields of business?
Can you share a bit about your daily schedule? What within your work do you not like to do and why?
I have no schedule at all. I work whenever I feel like it. That might sound bratty but it’s incredibly important to me to enjoy what I do when I’m doing it (this is both a strength and a vice, for what its worth).
Client relations is probably what I like least about the job. I feel some need to qualify that as it seems a faux pas in this day of ‘I want my clients to become my best friends’, but I really have zero interest in that. For as much as I enjoy the moments and the honor of being trusted with their wedding photos, my work/art simply is an outpouring of that and the wedding is more of a means to an artistic end as it were. The more present I am with a couple, the less focus I give my work. I need a certain amount of space in order to do what I do, which is why I rarely take photos at my family events. I suppose it’s human nature to like some clients more than others and I am fine with that, but to go into the relationship with the goal of becoming friends, for me, is disingenuous and ultimately poisonous to my work.
One day at a time. Not a great business practice I know, but it’s all I can do :)
Very fond of this above image. It’s not for everyone, not every photographer, and not every bride, which is in itself a big reason why I like it. In terms of how it happened, the bride was going up in an elevator and as the door was closing I saw something to this effect in my mind and yelled hastily, ‘Quick, turn around in give me this!’, to which I threw my head back in stared at her in my best Magnum. At this point we had been shooting for a few hours so she knew what I wanted and this was the result. One take, total luck :)
Can you share with us a short assignment / project that has benefited you and feel can help others?
I highly recommend second shooting. Especially for the seasoned photographer that hasn’t done it in a long time.
THE CORE // FOUNDATION
If you were no longer able to use a camera, how else would you express your creativity?
I would probably go back to writing music.
I’ve never doubted my talent, no, but then I’ve never considered it ‘mine’. If I have a talent at all, it’s one that’s given and as such I can’t claim it’s origin nor it’s product, I have only to be thankful to the Giver of it. Any doubting I do would be ungrateful in my opinion. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that I think all of my work is perfect or beautiful, in fact the opposite is true, there are times when I look at my past work and cringe (comically). I have at times come home from a wedding and been disappointed with the results (not so comically). But zero of this had anything to do with my ‘ability’ (which I think is your question) to do the job. In fact, given the nature of my belief in where the talent/ability comes from, it rejuvenates me. If it was given, it was given for a reason, and that reason shall not return void. If it were mine (the talent), and that’s how I perceived it, then yes, I should think I would deal with self-doubt often. Every pursuit that I have undertaken in my life I have shown myself to be incredibly, irrevocably, and totally flawed to put it nicely :)
Gal 2:20: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.”
Your favourite podcast(s)
Don’t listen to podcasts.
Share a (Spotify/Music) playlist:
Film / Documentary that is a must watch?
Your favourite book // A book you are currently reading.
A website you regularly follow?
Mostly sports sites, none more than others.
Last place you travelled?
Favourite photographer or photo project outside of your genre?
Do you have a favourite poem or quote?
“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.”
Favourite (photography related) TED talk:
Never seen one.
Last gallery / exhibit you visited:
Never been to one.
Your favourite photography book:
Never read one.
Links to your personal work / projects:
My wedding work is my personal work :)
THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR YOUR TIME erik!
You can see more of Erik’s work here // Web
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