Through Their Eyes: Brian Ferry
A lot of travel photography focuses on the big picture, ambitiously attempting to capture an entire destination. Other travel photography, like today’s series by Brooklyn-based Brian Ferry, is much more personal. This series was shot in (and around) L.A, but you wouldn’t necessarily know it. It’s a side of the city that most outsiders would not be familiar with, a side that only really shows itself through the help of local guides, which Brian was lucky enough to have. The result is a quiet series that communicates not only the essence of the destination, but also the personal experience of the traveller.
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California: In April, I visited southern California for the first time. My first solo exhibition was opening at a shop in L.A. called Standard Goods, and so I decided to make a trip out of it, visiting friends near Encinitas and then poking around L.A. for just over a week – I did a few shoots while I was there for personal projects, which allowed me to visit the homes of some really interesting and creative people living in and around L.A. I also had some really great tour guides, so I think I saw only the best side of L.A! I was really surprised to discover how much I enjoyed L.A. in particular. Photographically, the light in southern CA was amazing and I was really inspired by the architecture and the city itself.
What was your last travel destination?
I visited Encinitas and then L.A. for about 10 days, and then I flew to Vancouver to shoot client work there.
Name a place or experience that you really loved.
In 2011, I spent part of my holiday in Camogli, Italy – a small fishing village in Liguria. It was the most beautiful place – wonderful little spots for eating & drinking, cliffs that rose out of the sea, friendly people, nice places to stay – I haven’t been that relaxed or inspired by a vacation in a long time. I was able to hike in the hills and swim in the ocean, eat Foccaccia di Recco and lots of pesto, nap by a pool, explore the harbor of Portofino in a boat, drink good wine, nap in the sun. And I shot some of my best work there, I think. I really want to go back soon.
How do you decide what gear to bring (bodies, lenses, flash, tripod, bags)? Do you try to pack light? What’s your minimum must-have gear?
I am a minimalist when I shoot photos most of the time (i.e. I never use flash, rarely use a tripod, etc.). But I do shoot with some heavy analog equipment. I usually bring a medium-format camera with me (a Hasselblad 500c/m or a Pentax 6×7, which I’ve been borrowing from a friend). I also bring a 35mm camera – most often, my Nikon F100. Each of these cameras has a small bag that I pack it in, to protect them while in transit. I bring one lens per camera if I’m bringing multiple cameras. I always bring a point-and-shoot film camera with me (usually my Contax T2: this is perfect for traveling because it takes great photos and fits in my back pocket if necessary). I bring a handheld light meter, and I also bring film with me, of course — but if I’m sure I can buy my preferred film at my destination, I will usually pack less and buy more once I arrive (to reduce the number of times the film goes through an x-ray machine…I don’t have much luck with hand-inspection or lead bags, for some reason. I guess I look sketchy to airport personnel?).
Have you ever planned a series before you left, or do you just wait and see what happens?
Yes, I have planned a series (quite roughly) before I left – but I only do that if I’m traveling somewhere with a project or a shoot on my agenda while I’m there. For example, I traveled back to the UK in March and shot all of the photos for my L.A. exhibition while I was there. I had a general idea about what I wanted to shoot in terms of the concept and the vibe/aesthetic – but no specific subjects or locations in mind, really. That’s pretty rare though. Most of the photos I shoot while I am traveling are simply a reflection of what I see once I’m there – I try to distill my experience and the vibe of a place through my photographs. Beforehand, I might try to identify people or neighborhoods to visit for good photographs. But I try to avoid having preconceived ideas about a place and what I will shoot there before arriving, I think it hurts the photographs I can take in a new place.
What do you do with your photos when you get home? Would you ever use them in your portfolio? Have you ever landed any commercial work because of your travel shots?
That depends largely on what I shoot while I’m there. I don’t look at my work as personal vs. commercial – I treat it the same – so while I am traveling, I’m trying to take interesting photos that mean something to me — and if they are strong, then I will use them in my portfolio. Normally, people approach me to shoot photos that are similar to my “personal” work – and they want me to create a similar look for them. Traveling is very important to my work, because new places and new experiences really feed my creativity. So I guess I travel to be inspired, I shoot lots of photos, and then I figure out what to do with them all. I don’t always categorize my photos as “travel” and “non-travel” photos. But to the extent that my “travel” photos make up a large part of my current portfolio, then yes – they certainly do help me to get more work and more commissions.
What would be your ultimate travel photography destination?
Tough question! I don’t have 1 single destination in mind. But two places where I’d love to spend some time taking photographs are Japan and Scandinavia. I’ve been to Japan previously (but very briefly) and I’m itching to go back for a longer trip to see much more of the country. I’d love to visit Scandinavia because I have this idea that the light will be so different and will really inspire my work.