Light As A Character: Eric Ogden
I remember very clearly the first few months I started making photographs. I remember the excitement, the joy, the fascination of seeing what was in the viewfinder. I was thrilled with every aspect of it. One of the things that stands out to me about that time, is my perspective of movies. One of the first movies I watched during that time was Pan’s Labyrinth. But, instead of just watching the movie for entertainment’s sake, I found myself preoccupied with the how the cinematography served the story. I looked at different frames, the composition, the lighting, and the colors and I realized that discovering my love for photography had changed my appreciation for film. Maybe that is why I have such fascination and respect for the photography of Eric Ogden. He has taken his love of cinema and transferred it to his photography. Each of his photographs tells a story.
Telling stories with pictures has been a part of Ogden’s life since he was very small. He began drawing as soon as he could hold a pencil and began writing as soon as he could put words together. He and his friends spent a lot of time wandering around the neighborhood shooting their own low-budget films. “We loved the fact that we could take a video camera anywhere and create these wild stories,” Ogden says. “We’d do our own stunts and put in music that we liked. It was a very satisfying thing to do.”
He majored in fine arts at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. While there he dabbled in all areas of art – life drawing, music, film, etc., but during his sophomore year he took a photo class which opened a whole new world for him. By the time he graduated in 1994 he wasn’t sure what his career would be, but he knew it would be in the arts and that he needed to be in New York. Starting at the bottom, taking jobs as he could get them, Ogden was very determined. One day while walking home from assisting a wedding photographer, he came across a movie being filmed by Spike Lee. He says, “I walked right onto the set and kept striking up conversations with people until somebody gave me a phone number. Then I called every day for a week until I got a few days of work as a production assistant. I was that crazy, that persistent.”
After that he got some work on a few indie films, basically working for meals. He would work wherever he could within the photo industry getting to know different photographers, making new contacts, and walking the streets with his portfolio trying to get assignments. The work paid off and soon, rather than just assisting, he was shooting jobs on his own.
Because Ogden has focused on both photography and film he is very exacting when he scouts a location or works on his lighting. He wants a story to tell. “I’m always on the lookout for locations with interesting details and textures. One of the reasons that I like location shooting so much is that I can get fixated on the details in a particular location, such as a lamp or the tiles on the floor, and then lighting grows out of that.” he says. “I’ll see a shaft of light coming in through some curtains and think, ‘That should be the lighting.’ Then I’ll re-create it with strobe. I love to see what already exists in a location and then use what I find as inspiration.”
With over-the-top lighting seeming to be in fashion these days, Ogden wants his lighting to be very unobtrusive. He says his work is not flashy or sexy, but more subdued. He likes to capture a side of Americana that isn’t usually portrayed. Instead of showing the bright, happy side… the American dream… Ogden shows something else. Not necessarily a “dark” side, but a side we don’t see often, a side that makes us think, that brings a reaction, that has emotion in it. He is influenced not only by cinematographers such as Vittorio Storaro (Apocalypse Now, The Last Emperor) and Christopher Doyle (In the Mood for Love and 2046), but by artists such as Edward Hopper and Andrew Wyeth. You can see that reflected in his work.
Rather than using strobes to create an artificial scene that does not exist in reality, what Ogden likes to do is use strobes to mimic natural lighting. He tries to light environments the way the human eye sees them. He says, “Why light something if it’s done for you already? I like to light environments the way that the human eye sees them, as if you are in a dark room with the TV on and you are observing the way that the light plays on a person’s face. Or the light that comes from a cigarette burning in an ashtray. Trying to capture that kind of atmosphere is exciting to me.”
Ogden creates an atmosphere with studio strobes, his subjects become almost secondary to the lighting. The lighting becomes a part of the story he is trying to tell. When you see his photographs you want to know more. They make you want to ask questions and dig deeper. Portraits like that are so much more interesting to me than just standard head shots taken in a studio. It takes thought and effort to put together a story rather than just taking a photograph.
Eric Ogden’s work is yet another affirmation that is inspiring me to shoot with purpose. It’s the idea of purpose, or story gives the photograph life. Chris Orwig said “As I photograph, I hold my breath and hope to capture a story that has layers, a story that draws you in.” Story and intent are essential to making good photographs and they are something we intend to explore more of here on Faded & Blurred. How does story fit into what we shoot? How do we communicate more than just displaying the elements within the frame? The subject, the lighting, the composition, the colors… all of it should mean something. How do we combine those elements together to make something greater than the whole?