“I always try to spend some time with my models, in advance of a shoot. I want to build a rapport with them, and make them feel comfortable enough to see past the camera, and their own inhibitions.”
Michael Epps is a portrait and editorial photographer from the USA currently residing and working in New York City. For Michael Epps photography was the medium that has opened up his third eye, and fed his desire to see below the surface of people.
Interview with Michael Epps
Michael, your portfolio shows a great variety – fashion, portrait and editorial photography. What does each genre mean to you?
Portraiture is my first, and greatest love. I’m still learning, and finding my way with fashion editorials, while trying to strike a balance, between clothes and the (W)o(M)an.
Portraiture is a genre traditionally used to explore issues of identity. What do your photographs tell about the persons being portrayed?
It all depends on who I’m shooting, and the motivation behind the image. In my portraits of men, I generally like to capture a mixture of strength, and sensuality. Sometimes that comes through the eyes, or the slight curl of the mouth.
I always try to spend some time with my models, in advance of a shoot. I want to build a rapport with them, and make them feel comfortable enough to see past the camera, and their own inhibitions.
Or is it rather an image than the personality the person portrayed that needs to stand out in editorial and fashion productions?
In fashion, it’s all about the clothes. The model takes a backseat. The results can still be amazing, if executed well.
What’s your approach to portrait photography?
Finding the right muse.
How much artistic freedom do you have in a shooting for a client that also has specific ideas of what the result should look like?
It depends on the client. Some want total control, in terms of model choice, styling, and creative direction. Others are happy to let you do what you do best. Those of course, are my favorite clients. (laughs)
What is easier: to portray men or women?
“Men are part of the artistic language I use to express my ideas of male beauty in art, and culture.”
I’m mostly known for my portraiture of men. I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily easier to work with them, and in many ways it’s quite the opposite. Men are part of the artistic language I use to express my ideas of male beauty in art, and culture.
Photographing women is quite new for me, but I’m definitely discovering that my approach is quite similar. Strength in beauty is life. That has no gender, or agenda.
What reaction do you intend to provoke in people looking at your photos?
I want to challenge, and stir their senses.
What does a single photograph need in your opinion in order to stand out and get noticed? Especially keeping in mind the abundance of visual imagery in today’s media?
A great photograph needs a great moment captured forever. You know it when you see, and can feel it.
Susan Sontag once said “The camera makes everyone a tourist in other people’s reality, and eventually in one’s own”. How has photography changed the way you look at the world and what have you learnt about yourself?
I’m not quite sure I agree with her on that. For me, photography has opened up my third eye, and fed my desire to see below the surface of people. When I’m photographing someone, in many ways, I’m photographing myself. My fragility, desires, fears, and humanness.
Every photographer is going through different stages in his formation. Which “landmarks” do you recall that have marked you and brought you to the place where you are today as a photographer?
“I’m no longer fueled just by insecurity.”
I feel like my journey is just beginning. I have so many layers within myself to uncover, and express openly. I still have so far to go creatively. I have come a long way, in terms of my confidence, and I consider that a landmark achievement. The first time I got the cover of a magazine was a huge deal for me.
The first time I had work exhibited in a gallery outside of school, had me floating on air for weeks. These things have brought be to a place where I feel much more confident to move forward, with my work. I’m no longer fueled just by insecurity.
Last but not least, let’s switch roles: Which question would you have liked to be asked in this interview about your work that I didn’t ask? Please feel free to add it – as well as the answer.
Q: Hmm. I would have loved to be asked, about the influence of cinema on my work.
A: I couldn’t begin to answer that completely in a few sentences, but I will say that classic Hollywood films helped fuel my love of b&w photography.