A treat today, folks! I ran across the portfolio of Tait Simpson the other day and was truly intrigued. I’d chatted with Mr. Simpson last year about some work in the desert, and I’m glad to see he’s doing so well. Below, the Q&A.
It really was like an installation in the desert: we had about 700 5-gallon water bottles out in this salt flat in Texas. It was an exciting job, my first real experience shooting an ad campaign. It turned out that it wouldn’t appear just in print, but they even used the image as a centerpiece in their showroom on Mercer st, blowing it up to about 10’x12’. Having never seen anything I’ve shot that large it certainly made me want to make my own prints as large as possible. Out of it actually came a second ad for Toto this time with thousands of C batteries on the grass in central park.
You must have used a hearty tripod for that shoot- what do you value in a tripod? Do you like a ball head? A lightweight titanian jobby? Do tell!
No lightweight titanium job out there (in the desert). Since the wind was really intense I wanted to use a tripod with a lot of heft. But usually I carry around a much smaller and lighter carbon fiber. A tripod (like any tool) is only as good as how well it works for you. So I keep it simple and portable. In regards to tripod heads, I’ve never had a really good ball head, so I suppose that might be the reason why I’ve never fallen for them. Plus I really appreciate the independent control of a 3 way head so that is currently my first choice.
I find the work on your website really beautiful and interesting; from a first look it’s hard to believe this isn’t all personal work- it seems like you meld personal and commercial extraordinarily well. What jobs have you shot, and how has your career progressed to this point? Also- I know so little about you- did you go to school for photo? Tell us about yourself!
Truth be told a lot of it is personal work. I never studied still photography in school (I was a philosophy and film student at Vassar College and the University of Edinburgh) so I’ve had to fumble around quite a bit on my own trying to figure out what worked for me. I always thought I wanted to make movies, having grown up with a family in that business, and it wasn’t until about 5 years ago that I decided to get out of that industry and instead to pursue stills.
Then in 2007 I made a trip to Iceland to cover the Airwaves festival and made a whole expedition of it. I took about 2 months off before the festival was to start and set off on my own around the country. It was a very difficult period but it was during that time that I really felt like I rediscovered (or maybe discovered for the first time) myself as a photographer. I was living in Los Angeles where I was assisting a lot and shooting mostly for local fashion brands, but I wasn’t getting the type of work that allowed me to shoot in a way that was really satisfying. LA, I felt, was zapping my creative drive, so I decided I needed to come back to New York and re-work my portfolio to pursue this newfound direction. Since I’ve been pushing that work, and it is what landed me the Toto jobs, but it wasn’t until now that I re-imagined the website, the brand and created a clothbound portfolio to tie it all together.
See the two images below. I have this feeling you are drawn to single figures in a large landscape. True? Can you tell us how you made these images (the story behind each, if you will).
I suppose that I am. I don’t know if it has to do with the vastness of the landscape, but I am drawn to isolating people within the frame. One of the first things I look for in creating an image is a great location. It is so fundamental to the success of any picture that sometimes a great space can dictate how the image should work. The first image is a perfect example of the landscape informing decisions about the image.
The second image didn’t involve any planning but was just taken on the fly. This kid and his brother had climbed up the backside of this lean-to type roof and were peeking over the edge at me and a few friends while we were enjoying a BBQ. I saw an opportunity unfolding and started shooting them as they spied on us. When he and his brother noticed I had the camera pointed in their direction the brother disappeared but this kid would hide, wait a few second and then reappear before ducking back down again. This repeated a number of times and eventually I got the feeling that, more than wanting to have his picture taken, he wanted to make a game of it. I was happy to play along.
Sooo your blog is called 6×6 and you have many square images. Are you a hassy man? What kind of film do you shoot? Do you have the requisite 5D for commercial work?
Actually, I’m a Rollei TLR man. A number of years ago a friend gave me a Yashica D with a busted shutter cocking mechanism. Since these cameras are purely mechanical and are so simple I figured that maybe I could fix it. I did and shot with it for quite a long time, falling in love with the square frame. Eventually I had saved up enough to upgrade and after many, many months of hunting I found a really clean and not astronomically priced Rollei 2.8D from 1956. It’s a beautifully simple camera and it perfectly suits my way of working. Plus I really love the idea that I never need a battery and if it weren’t for all toxic chemicals involved in processing the film they’d be pretty green.
Occasionally though, I entertain this fantasy that somewhere out there exists or someday will exist an emulsion and development process made from non-toxic, environmentally friendly ingredients. Anyway, with respect to film as it exists now, I don’t have one film that use exclusively, but I like Kodak 160 or 400 NC for negs or Fuji provia 100 for slides. If I’m shooting black and white however, it’s Tmax 100 all the way. I do have a 5d and a 1ds for commercial work, but since these days there’s not as much commercial work to pay for the lab charges of my non-commercial work I’m carrying the digitals around more often.
I love the new website, and your new portfolio- what’s your dream job- what is on the horizon for you.
To be honest, that gig your buddy Anthony Georgis got in June sounds like my dream job. I however can’t complain as I’m heading back to Iceland in a couple weeks to compete in the Reykjavik half marathon and shoot a piece (both stills and motion) on the Snaefellsnes peninsula. It is a project that has been germinating in the back of my mind since the first trip. After that I’ll be throwing myself headfirst into the daunting business of selling the new portfolio.
More Tait here!