Q & A with photographer, Shawn Michael Lowe.
Jill Heller: Introduction to the exploration of the creative process of the artist. Tell me a little bit about Syracuse and what college life taught you.
Shawn Michael Lowe: College was a bit of a dark place for me when I first arrived at Syracuse with my friend Billy’s parents. My parents had just split-up, I was filled with anger and hostility. I was confused about who I was, and what I wanted to be. I went to Syracuse with all intentions of being an Art Director, but found out that my vision, and the environment around me that inspired me was more of a voice for me than were my creative ideas. So in my freshman year, I quickly became a dual major in Newhouse as a Graphic Arts Design/Photography Major. I was a bit of a recluse in College, never joined a Frat, had a small group of friends, and I spent a lot of time studying and always with a camera. My goal was to get accepted to the exchange program in my Senior Year and go to London, under the Photo-Journalism program. So all through college I was pretty focused on that one goal. I’ll never forget when I got accepted. It was pretty amazing.
JH: Tell me about your background and your path to becoming a photographer?
SML: I grew up in what I like to refer to as a country kid. I grew up in Rockland County, in a little town at the time called Pomona. We lived in a California Ranch with a really cool Atrium in the front of the house, A sunken living room and a Dad who commuted to NYC everyday working at some of the biggest ad agencies at the time. JWT, William Esty & Grey. I used to go to work with him and hang out in the “bullpen” with the drafting artists and guys/gals that drew up the storyboards for commercials and print ads. It was always an adventure. On some rare occasions I would get to go to photo shoots and commercial tapings. Believe it or not when I was a baby, I was a Gerber baby because my dad did the print for Gerber. I think that after my first photo shoot I was hooked, and got a Kodak camera one year for my birthday. Then, one year my Grandfather gave me an slr nikkormat, and then I was hooked. I shot everything that moved, from there on. I’ll never forget a friend of mine in High School, Glen; was the staff photographer. He and I just hit it off, and the passion of shooting, and capturing moments suddenly became an obsession to me.
JH: A flash of insight - What happened the moment you decided that this is exactly what you wanted to do with your talents, and personal and professional life?
SML: I don’t think that I really decided at any given moment. I think that it was always something that I needed to do. For me, capturing an image is like speaking a word, or making a sound, it’s how I communicate. I’m not a very vocal person, but I am a very visual person. Except oddly enough when I am shooting an event or wedding, suddenly I become the director and very vocal. Otherwise, you do not get what you want, and a very un-satisfied client. But when I am out on the street, I feel like a ‘visualist’. Quiet and in my own world looking at the sights that surround me. So, when I see something, to me, it speaks out loud almost asking me me to capture it. As if if I didn’t, it would be missed. Which is how I’ve grown into a street shooting artist, and wedding photographer. My portfolio is broken out in people, places, and things. And then it’s divided into Creative, Weddings, and then Red Carpet/Events.
JH: Does your art, your craft, parallel your inner life. Was there a ‘grey period’?
SML: That is such an interesting question! I don’t think that my images reflect my inner life, but reflect the life that surrounds me at any given moment. I could be walking on the street in NYC, or Italy, Scotland, Beaches of NJ, where ever; and something jumps out at me. Which is why I always have a camera with me, and yes occasionally I use the camera phone. As for a grey period? I’d have to say that grey to me is the transition between black and white. And there are some images that I love that I get on grey overcast days, where the color just pops and maybe it’s me that I just see it? Or maybe it’s the mood I’m in that day? But truth be told, I love grey overcast flat days.
JH: Tell me something you see through the lens that no one else sees.
SML: Jill, I know that may seem very weird, but I always feel like I am looking at everything through the lens. Which is why I always have a camera with me. But more to your point, I guess it would depend on where I am, and what I am doing, and obviously what I am seeing at the time. I would guess that for the most part, what I see first is usually color. Color tends to catch my eye first. Then, there’s usually a pattern that I can see that most people don’t.
Then, within that area that has me working the color and the patterns, there’s usually some obscure detail that catches my eye that keeps me focused. From that sort of environment, to say an event, (candidly) I see people’s expressions and can sometimes (not always) but usually can anticipate a reaction that I can capture which will last a lifetime. Then, if I’m directing a bride/groom, bridal party, family members, I can see the emotional connection whether it’s true or false and whether or not the bride and groom are going make it as a couple. Sad but true. And, I’m usually right.
JH: What photographer or artist influences your work most deeply.
SML: I am a true fan of Jay Maisel, Stephen Wilkes (Syracuse Grad), Eric Meola. Their images are all about composition, color and light. They tend to be very casual, but dramatic images that just capture you, causing you to pause for a moment to take it all in and experience that one moment that these iconic photographers have the ability to do. It’s what I think about all the time when I put together a portfolio of images to share with people. Are these images important? Do they cause you to pause? Do they strike a cord?
JH: Life is about living in the moment and Capturing the moment. How has technology affected your work?
SML: I LOVE Digital. It allows me to actually confirm and capture the moment. It allows me to tweak an image when I used to have to rely on the latitude of the film to hopefully bring in the color that I saw at the time. I’m NOT a big fan of changing color. But recently a client of mine loved a picture that I took and asked me to create a pattern of colors from what was in the original. So we did it. It was quite interesting the way it came out. Certainly, if not for technology, this piece of art would not exist. And is the perfect representation of capturing a moment and the technology of today’s ability to render my art.
JH: What inspires you, what makes you feel really alive when the camera is in your hand?
SML: I’m so inspired by the people, places and things that surround us everyday, and everywhere I go. I love the early, early mornings, and the late, late end of day. For reasons that may seem obvious because of the lighting. But actually it is more because it most tranquil during those times and to me it represents, little phrases like, “the early bird gets the worm”, and “the last one standing gets the prize.” Silly, I know, but it also ties into my work ethic where I am the first one in, and last one to leave. Inspiration comes from being in someplace for the first time. Or, seeing an image that I may have missed, and then going back, to get it again. And of course there’s always the wow factor of seeing something that just stops you in your tracks, and you are so happy you have a camera with you. Which I always do.
JH: You live in the Northeastern United States, where the natural landscape of the 4 seasons change monthly, or even daily. How do you plan for: Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall and what inspires you about each season?
SML: Yes, how fortunate! It is amazing living here, and the way the seasons impact everything around us. My favorite season is the Fall. In fact, my calendar is packed in the Fall for weddings. Fall weddings are all the rage because of the colored backgrounds. But also trips up north to Massachusetts, is a regular event for me. The Summer is also amazing for many reasons, and a trip out east to the Hamptons, Sag Harbor, Montauk are an annual event. Winter is fun for photographing kids playing, beautiful snowy fields in the early, early morning as the sun starts to rise. And then there is the Spring when the flowers start to bloom and people come out from hiding. I’m inspired by each season for it’s own sometimes most obvious reasons.
JH: Do you have one favorite piece, or group of pieces that take place over a certain time period?
SML: I do have several favorites, but they are not all from the same time or group. There are just certain images that I love for the color, or the composition, or the emotional string that it hits. Maybe it’s my emotional string? And perhaps someone else may look at the image and feel nothing. I guess that’s why they call Photography subjective.
JH: Your Favorite color ?
SML: I love the color Blue
JH: Favorite person to shoot
SML: I love to photograph kids at play, or at events, or randomly on the street. They are so free spirited, and bring a smile to my face whenever I get a great shot.
JH: what does the future hold? Is there something you dream about but have not yet accomplished?
SML: What does the future hold? I have no idea. I have always dreamed of having a Gallery of my work. I want to work with interior designers to feature my art in people’s homes or offices as art on the wall. I want to be hired to photograph unique destinations in Europe, Asia and throughout the United States to create the art/images.
JH: Last, any advice for someone who is just starting to venture out with a camera in hand?
SML: Advice: Find your voice within, and spell it out with the images from your heart.
Shawn Michael Lowe
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Photography by: Shawn Michael Lowe Photographics