A World of Opportunities: Chris Crisman
If you looked up the word serendipity, the definition you would see perfectly describes the way in which this Photographer Spotlight came about. After posting our Photographer Spotlight on John Keatley, we spent some time looking at the Redux Pictures website, checking out some of the other photographers they represent. A day or two later, we happened to get a very nice email from Chris’ studio manager, Robert, who told us they had been reading Photographer Spotlight and listening to Q&A@F&B for a while and that they would love to contribute to F&B! Needless to say we were thrilled. We contacted Robert, who helped us put together this mini-interview with Chris. It’s funny how things work out sometimes…
How would you describe your creative vision? Is there a central theme that you try to communicate in your work?
I’m trying to tell a story in a way that’s never been done before. I realize this is a bit of challenge. If this subject is an everyday character, like the people of my hometown, Titusville, Pennsylvania, my portrayal of them might be the only time someone is showing them to the world. There’s a lot of weight to that responsibility. If that subject is a well recognized individual, such as Al Gore, I want to offer of a unique perspective on them I’ve never seen before and hopefully tell a story and convey a message through that showing. The message is always a little bit different, but it should always be curious, peaceful, and insightful.
You’ve said your personal work defines your assignment work in a lot of ways. Can the reverse of that also be true? Have you found certain jobs that have inspired your creativity and pushed you in a direction you hadn’t thought of before?
I don’t think I’m starving for ideas, concepts, or projects to work on, but certainly searching for more hours in the day to complete what I’d like to work on. I prioritize my work by whatever creative itch I need to scratch. I recently worked on a series of images that became a bit of a self-imposed challenge. My agent, Melissa Hennessy, was hinting that it might be worth my time to bring my perspective to more lifestyle photography. Up until about a year ago most of my portfolio was filled with portraiture and landscape, but dappled with a few other things. I jumped on creating lifestyle images in a way that I was comfortable with and that personal investment has certainly paid off.
Your portfolio runs the gamut from simple, often intimate portraits to very cinematic looking productions. Do you prefer one to the other? Why?
I think that every story can be told in a number of ways. Some are better conveyed with limited context, others need a bit more extravagance to pull off. I’m satisfied with whichever end of that spectrum helps me best tell the story in any given image. One thing I will say is that I wish that I had the opportunity to photograph more notable figures. The viewer brings an opinion to the table when seeing a picture of someone they recognize and that opens the door for me to dance a little more with their preconceived notion. I’ve really enjoyed the challenges in the past and only wish I had more of them.
You have been shooting long enough to have shot film. Do you still shoot film? What does film provide or allow that digital doesn’t?
Throughout my college experience with photography, I shot entirely on film – this was the medium that I learned on. I always spent more time in the darkroom than anyone else around me. I really loved experimenting with new film types, altered processing, dodging, burning, etc. After graduating, the first photographer that I worked for had started to embrace digital photography, and, in turn, I took it and ran. For me, digital photography and what it allowed, even back in 2003 was eye-opening. The process in my professional career has been entirely digital, which has allowed for more freedom to communicate my vision in a way that film could be limiting. In a sense, with digital photography I am not bound to the constraints of one frame or one photograph.
You often use very wide “non-traditional” aspect ratios, where the environment becomes compositionally as important to the image as the models? Have you ever had push back from a client as a result of it?
I started out photographing landscapes and environments before I moved into portraiture. As my career continued, I renewed that interest in landscape photography and began to shoot wherever I was, trying to make images that expressed how I saw the world around me. Naturally, the next step was to begin to incorporate subjects into those landscapes. Instead of clients pushing back, they have actually been very receptive to the look and feel of the work – for example, we recently worked on a project for a luxury hotel brand, Travaasa, where almost all of the images we shot were planned and concepted to be long horizontal photos. I want the viewer to feel what it’s like to be there and be a part of the scene, for better or worse.
What has photography allowed you to experience that would not have been possible otherwise?
There’s a world of opportunities that photography has afforded me. I grew up in the country outside of a small steel town in the Northwestern region of Pennsylvania. I was an only child with no close neighbors so there was a lot of time spent exploring the woods by myself. My father had two children from his first marriage and since they grew up in California, I didn’t have the opportunity to grow up around them. One of my hopes for my career was that it would award me the opportunity to become closer with my family and specifically my brother, Redhawk. It just so happens that I spent the last week in Alaska fishing with him and my father. It was an amazing trip that included me getting chased off an island by a brown bear while trying to shoot a landscape.
Beyond opportunities like this, I have become much closer to my parents through the constant work on my Titusville project. My father, Richard Crisman, has been my main PR contact for working with all the older steelworkers. He was the Vice President of the Steelworkers Union when it closed in the early 1990’s. That’s why this project is so close to me.
About Chris Crisman
Chris Crisman is an internationally recognized advertising photographer. He was born and raised in Titusville, Pennsylvania, the town that gave birth to the oil industry. Chris is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. His work has been recognized by prestigious trade organizations such as Communication Arts, American Photography, Photo District News, and the International Photography Awards. His commercial clients include Infiniti, Minute Maid, Cirque du Soleil, Pfizer, Merck, Novartis, Novo Nordisk, Genetech, Heidelberg, Costco, and Allstate.
We’d like to once again thank Chris’ studio manager, Robert, for helping us put this together.