Brian Finke

Posted: July 3rd, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: interviews | Tags: , , | No Comments »

There is a lot to say…
Brian Finke works mainly on U.S. subcultures.
His work is featured in the pages of The New York Times, Wired Magazine, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Esquire and Newsweek.

We met in Paris, where photojournalism has deep roots with Magnum agency. While studying photography, were you influenced by these documentary pictures?

Yes. I first fell in love with photography through the work of W. Eugene Smith. I was in high school taking a ton of photography classes and a teacher recommended that I check out the book Let Truth be the Prejudice. It was a collection of Eugene Smith’s life’s work, along with the photographs also included were all the correspondences and letters that he wrote to family members while traveling and photographing. The whole life style was extremely inspiring.

I feel like I come from a generation of photographers that were inspired to become photographers from seeing previous photographers work. And the process of documentary photography really spoke to me: a story being told, being out in the world having experiences and all the learning that takes place along the way. Being a photographer is a very rich life.

What do you prefer: commissioned works or personal stuff?

The right balance of both is ideal. Doing personal work, publishing books, doing exhibitions, is what propels my assignment work and what leads to my most interesting commissions. My first book American Cheerleaders & Football Players, focusing on athletes lead to assignments with W+K for Nike. I remember the AD saying while I was shooting women runners, that’s it’s just like my cheerleading photographs. I love that connection. And it’s continued through all my books. My Flight Attendants book lead to photographing campaigns for Delta Airlines and Air New Zealand. My Construction book to campaigns for Mobil with BBDO photographing truck drivers down South. U.S. Marshals book to photographing gun related stories and an amazing assignment for Wired magazine about John McAfee. And most recently my Hip Hop Honeys book, getting an assignment for W Magazine to photograph Rihanna’s pool party at Coachella.

Also creatively having both commissions and personal work is the best. I really enjoy how assignments are always sending me out in the world, having new experiences and being introduced to new subject matter. It feels great to get on a plane, arrive to a new place, start exploring and photographing. Recently I went to Haiti on assignment for AFAR magazine to photograph a story about a local rum called Clairin. I was shooting at these small distilleries out in the woods with dirt floors where the production was taking place, then bars in the city, also at voodoo ceremonies that incorporate the drink into their ceremonies. The assignment was an incredible way to see Haiti. That commission along with a few others over the past few years for publications like National Geographic photographing the history of booze, are leading to a book about alcohol around the world.

My guess is that you must devote yourself during quite some time for most of these projects. Possibly months or years. The series Flight Attendants is pretty amazing in that way, it caught my eye years ago. Was the whole setting process difficult, asking clearance etc.?

The Flight Attendants series was shot over three years, on an off in-between assignment and family life. To get access with airlines I would pitch travel and fashion stories to magazines. It was a time when airlines were hiring high-end designers to designer their uniforms. I photographed the Christian Lacroix uniforms designed for Air France. Through putting together a long list of airlines I would approach the PR departments pitching magazine stories, the airlines would either right away be totally into it, seeing the value of the press or want nothing to do with it. In the end I photographed approximately 20 airlines around the world to make up the book.

Apart from your books, do you sell your pictures through your art dealers? I saw your work on artnet as well.

I exhibit with ClampArt gallery here in NYC, just had my sixth show at the gallery to coincide with my latest book entitled Hip Hop Honeys. I’ve also exhibited with galleries in Paris, Amsterdam, Los Angeles and Chicago. It’s an important creative outlet showing the images across many different platforms, from galleries, to magazines, books, and online. Each venue requires a new way interrupting the work and reaches a new audience.

Looking at your series on food or alcohol, you succeed in making them not boring at all. How did you do that? By shooting it the same way than people?

I appreciate that, it’s great to hear. You’re exactly right, I do approach food and drink in the same way as photographing people. I’m interested in capturing a moment, people interacting with the food and drink, weather that being shooting food deconstructed, being eaten, drinks being poured, toasting, anything that creates a moment that brings it to life.

Some photographers say photography shows the truth. Do you agree?

I think that’s too simple of a question … My photography shows my interpretation of the truth. The whole truth is everything. For example when telling a story with images only a select number of moments can be shown, all of which are my choice, but there were of course so many more. This question can be interpreted many ways.

I’d say when referring to an individual photograph my images very much show the truth, they are very straightforward and immediate. The flash highlights all the information in the photograph in great detail and when taking a photograph I like to be very close, sharing the same space, with who I’m photographing. Every little detail is revealed in my photographs.

What is a typical day of work?

A typical day is getting on a plane to fly somewhere to photograph. Last week it was Kentucky and Texas, recently it’s been Kyoto, Japan and Dubai. It’s what I love about photography, it’s always something new. When I’m not traveling I’m researching personal shoots and handling the day to day of being a freelancer.

Could you live in another place than New York City?

With frequent travels, I haven’t felt the need to live any other place. But after NYC being home for 25 years now, a little change could be good at some point. Maybe LA, Austin, Paris, Tokyo, somewhere in Italy or Spain. Who knows…? Someplace different at some point would be fun.

 The last word of the interview would be for you Brian.

Oh no. I have to think of the last thing to say .. That’s way too much pressure .. I have really enjoyed speaking, sharing my two cents worth. Photography and the experience of photographing makes for a really wonderful and very fortunate life, which I am immensely grateful.

American photographer
Lives and works in New York City