ELIZABETH WEINBERG, 29, BROOKLYN

How did you first get interested in photography and what was the first photograph you took you were proud of?

I didn’t know I wanted to be a photographer until I was already in college. I had been taking pictures since I was a kid, but I always just thought I’d be an artist of some kind; a graphic designer or illustrator. I had a revelation between freshman and sophomore years of college that I wanted to do photography instead. I am not sure what pictures I am most proud of from those early years; I tend to associate them with my memories of the time and they might not be the creates images. But I think a lot of photography is like that. We photographers have a hard time being objective about our work because the thing we saw and shot came in through our eyes and hit our brains and made us grab the camera and click the shutter, and we are the only ones who have a memory of doing that and having thoughts and feelings and experiences related to that moment. The best thing is when other people respond to that picture, but the picture can be really banal but can remind us of where we were the minute we grabbed the camera. I really love a lot of the photos I shot on Ben Kweller’s 2004 summer tour (right after I graduated college). I think that not only do the pictures look good but they remind me of a really great and strange time in my life.

How did you transition from being in college to regularly shoot for magazines and ads? Did things happen easily or did you have to fight to stay motivated and sometimes wanted to give it up?
That transition was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I still feel like I’ve barely started and I graduated college eight years ago! I had to fight to stay motivated every day. In fact, I still do. It’s really, really hard. Things are always up and down. I was actually talking with a photographer friend recently and she said “A photographer’s job is actually to GET a job.” And that is completely true. It gets really discouraging, though, when you are really confident in your work and no one seems to take notice. I take things far more personally than I should, and I am really hard on myself. How can you not, when something is your passion? When I’m shooting, though, all of the stresses of the rest of the time melt away and I am completely in my element. Nothing can bother me! It is the absolute best. I had to work a full-time job for years after college. Money was really tight. What I never realized at the time was that a lot of photographers come from money. They don’t have that constant anxiety about whether or not they’ll make it. They have the resources to shoot all the time and get a career going. I had seven credit cards, all maxed out. I used them for groceries as well as for film and cameras. I had to balance working all day with trying to get a portfolio made, with trying to muster up the energy to shoot after a long day of work, with trying to get in touch with people who would possibly hire me. I wouldn’t do it over again for anything. Photographers don’t often talk about those kinds of struggles, but if you don’t have the luxury of not having to live paycheck to paycheck, it can be really rough. But it’s then really rewarding when successes happen. Little ones happen over time. They add up slowly. I feel much stronger for all I’ve gone through in trying to do this. Sometimes I wonder why I put myself through it all. But then a great shoot will come along and I’ll know why I stuck it out.

What is the best thing that happened to you thanks to photography?
Getting to be my own boss is the greatest thing in the world. I remember being in college and dreading graduation because I knew I’d be stuck inside somewhere all day once I got a full-time job. The thought of it terrified me. Not even being able to go sit in the sun for lunch without watching the clock, little things like that. Now I am finally in a place where I make up my schedule. It requires a lot of self-discipline, which is good to have. I also get to travel and see places and meet people I never would have gotten to before. Also I get messages and emails from people all the time saying I have inspired them through my work. I think I am very lucky!

You were selected as one of PDN’s 30 Photographers to watch in 2010. How did this affect your work / commissioned requests etc?
I had wanted to get into the PDN 30 ever since I became aware of it. I had no idea how to go about it. I was nominated twice and finally got it the second time.  It was one of the best things that could happen to my career, because I was still trying to get meetings with people and it was a sort of validation; it’s a list that everyone in the industry checks, so if you’re emailing someone and asking to meet with them, you can get your foot in the door a little more easily.

If you could photograph anyone, who would you want to shoot?

Jeff Mangum. He doesn’t like to be photographed so I don’t think that will happen. Maybe Bill Murray? I don’t like studio set-ups. Most famous people are often shot under very controlled circumstances, and a lot of shoots have high production value. I believe in stripping that all away and making an honest picture of someone as if they were my friend. This obviously isn’t easy to do so I relish the opportunities I had to work that way. I don’t fool myself into thinking that someone I’ve just met and have to shoot is going to be as easy to shoot as a friend, but aesthetically, I would treat the shoot the same way. 

How do you plan a commissioned portrait or shoot? Where do you look for inspiration?
I don’t really plan much. I enjoy the challenge of arriving somewhere and seeing what the light is doing, or what little corners of the space look interesting. I am a very spontaneous person, and work fluidly. If something isn’t working, I’ll move along and try something else. I think it also keeps the subject engaged and interested. I hate overshooting. When I know I’ve gotten it, I stop. There is no point in ruining something magical by overdoing it. I took a lot of drawing classes freshman year of college, and they were all life drawing. I had the tendency to really get into a groove and start to get a great drawing done and then I’d get caught up in it and keep going. And then it would fall apart. It was a good lesson to learn.
What is next for you?
I am driving to California from New York beginning this Saturday, with a friend. I have a shoot in LA, then I will be driving back with my boyfriend, who is flying out to meet me. Very excited to get away from my desk for a while and see the country and take pictures purely for me.  
What was the best advice you were ever given concerning photography?
"Don’t try to make money, just take good pictures." At the time, this advice bummed me out, because I was still working full time and was desperately trying to get out of that situation. Of course I wanted to make money! But the career doesn’t come until the work is good enough, and until you know how to run a business. So I focused on becoming the best photographer I could be. Now that I am a full-time photographer I always make sure to keep it in perspective; I make a living through photography but that living affords me the opportunity, time, and resources to shoot for myself.  The more you shoot the better you get!
What makes something worthy of being photographed for you?
This is something I try not to think about too much, actually. I recently heard a This American Life story about athletes who sabotage their performance by thinking too much about the mechanics and not letting instincts take over. I feel that that applies very aptly to photography as well. I just shoot what I believe will make a great picture. Sometimes I will have a photograph in my head that I want to take (there are still a few that I haven’t been able to do yet because they require just the right light and setting), and other times the situation just presents itself.
You self published your book “Of Reckleness and Water”. What did you learn from the experience and what were the things you most like and dislike about it?
Printing ORAW was fun. It was the summer of 2010 and I was feeling really inspired by the adventures I’d been on recently so I tried using MagCloud to produce a little photo book about swimming. The thing with MagCloud is that, at the time, they only printed books in one size and on one paper stock. I am not a huge fan of that particular size or paper stock but at the time it was my first foray into self-publishing so I was just happy to see the pictures on paper instead of on a screen. It was really well-received, and people still buy it, so that’s good enough for me. Getting work into peoples’ hands is what photography should be about. The other thing that’s cool about print-on-demand like that is you don’t have to buy hundreds of copies up front, and MagCloud ships them for you. For my latest zine, Track, I used a different printer that allowed me a lot more customization in size and paper stock and I ended up selling those myself. I am still experimenting with printing styles and I think it’s a really exciting time for print in general. Zines and printed matter are definitely making a comeback since we are so saturated with purely viewing images on screens.
You have a blog that you update very often. What photo-related blogs or websites do you follow?
I generally don’t like answering this question with a list because I will always accidentally omit someone. I also feel like if I don’t check Google Reader or my Tumblr Dashboard often enough I will miss something, and that stresses me out, so sometimes it’s just easiest not to look at all. For a long time I didn’t follow many people on Tumblr; I just subscribed to Tumblr blogs via RSS so I could read each one separately when I had a chance. The Dashboard makes me feel like I have to keep scrolling down in case I missed something! I think a lot of blog posts get missed that way. I wish Tumblr would integrate some sort of “read later” functionality. One blog that I have been reading the longest is A Photo Editor. It is by far the best resource for professional photographers working today. Je Suis Perdu by Winslow Laroche is a great Tumblr blog that features well-curated photography and is great for a quick dose of inspiration. Another is Jennilee Marigomen’s Happy Accident.

www.elizabethweinberg.com
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