Member Spotlights are an on-going series of interviews with people from our community! You can learn more about becoming a member here. For this instalment we introduce Alabama-born California-based photographer Ethan Gulley.
Jeff Hamada: What is it about photography that excites you?
Ethan Gulley: So many things. I grew up drawing and painting and making things with my hands and never really planned on being a “photographer” but I was sort of naturally drawn to it because I love documenting the people/things around me. Being able to freeze a moment is a pretty cool thing and that’s really what photography boils down to for me. I’m a visual person and and there’s something really fulfilling about having an idea and seeing it through to the final product. I’ve also met so many important and inspiring people in my life and have had some really cool opportunities through being a part of the creative industry.
JH: How has your approach to photography changed from the time you first picked up a disposable camera as a kid?
EG: I still carry a disposable camera with me pretty often. I’d like to think my eye for things like composition/light/color/etc has developed since I first used a disposable camera at like age 6 or 7, but I also like the idea that I still capture things with the curious and instinctive child-like eye I had back then.
JH: Can you describe the first image you captured where you were really pleased with the result?
EG: That’s a hard one. I’m not really sure. I do have a few favorite images I’ve taken in the past few years, but if we’re talking about when I was younger, there is this one photo I have I look at a lot. Because back then you would get 4×6 prints of every photo on the disposable cameras, I’ve had this particular picture in the front of a Bug’s Bunny photo album since then. It’s a shot from the National Mall in DC of the Smithsonian Institute. I took it in the late afternoon and there’s this perfect flare from the sun and it had rained the day before so there’s a cool puddle on the ground. I took this photo when I was 9 but it’s still a photo that looks like something I’d shoot today.
JH: Who are some of the photographers that influenced you early on?
EG: Because I was always way more into art than photography, I never really knew names of famous photographers until probably later in high school. Once I started paying attention to the legends, I was really drawn to William Eggleston. He’s also from the south and captures color arguably better than anyone else. I’ve always like Chuck Close, because he’s an incredible painter AND photographer. Vivian Maier’s story and her photos are so unbelievably inspiring. Now that I’ve really started to focus on and pursue photography I feel like I’m meeting and finding new people that inspire me almost daily now.
JH: And what about now? Who are some people we should be following on Instagram?
Those are just a few but between them you should be able to find tons of inspiration.
JH: I know you love shooting film, what cameras are you shooting with the most these days?
EG: Since I started casually shooting on film in 2011, I’ve been using a pentax k-100. My mom had an old one laying around that she used in a film class in college and I fell in love with how simple and barebones it was. I’ve picked up a slew of other cameras since then, all for different purposes, but I always go back to that camera. I recently picked up a Pentax 67 to try out medium format and so far I’m loving it.
JH: I find portraiture really interesting because it says as much about the photographer as it does the subject — maybe even more about the photographer. What do you think your images of other people say about you?
EG: I think that’s a fair assessment. I gravitate towards interesting faces, as do many other photographers, but deeper than that I think I love portraits even more when there’s a story behind that face. Maybe that says I’m curious about other people’s
JH: You’ve done lots of commissioned work, can you talk a little bit about creating moments that feel authentic or honest? It’s one thing to capture something happening naturally, I’d image it’s another thing entirely to design a moment.
EG: That’s a great point. Ironically, I tend to get approached for commissioned work based off what I’ve shown in my personal work, so I try to take the same approach. Even though the location, models, and wardrobe have all been planned, I still try to capture the feeling as if I was hanging out with my friends. I strive to work on jobs that naturally already fit with the type of photos I like to take so that hopefully nothing will feel contrived.
JH: Are you planning to experiment more with painting and photography? I liked how your Pigment series combined paint on the subject’s face with paint over the actual image.
EG: Definitely. Like I said, I was painting and drawing way before I ever started focusing on photography so I’ve been trying to find more ways to blend the two. Those photos were from a few different sessions over the course of a couple years and I plan to keep that series ongoing. Painting is one of those things I find very therapeutic but don’t do it often enough.
JH: Those shots of Katy Perry are unreal, can you talk a bit about the process there. How did those shots come together?
EG: Oh that was a blast. I’ve worked as a content creator at an agency in LA since August of 2016 and I’ve been able to shoot quite a lot of musicians through that job. We create content for Apple Music and AEG, who’s over Goldenvoice — a large live music promoter. I was flown to Boston to shoot two nights of her show along with some green screen capture stuff of her backstage that would later be used for motion graphics-based social assets. Although I’ve shot a good amount of live music at this point, I hadn’t shot a show with that level of production before. Whether you’re a fan of Katy Perry or not, I think almost anyone could appreciate the incredible visuals and costumes of her show.
JH: Is the goal to be working on more projects at that scale? I mean, what does success look like for you? Do you feel successful?
EG: Yeah, totally. I’d love to start working my way towards shooting more prominent figures in the entertainment industry. It’s always cool to see a really recognizable person that’s had their photo taken countess times be captured in a way that catches your eye. I’m not sure where I want to be in 10, 20 years, but I do have some specific personal goals regarding my path in photography. Success to me simply means I’m doing what I love and making a living from it and I’m fortunate enough to say I’m currently doing that.
JH: Maybe we can end this by talking about what’s motivating you to create? Why do you do it?
EG: I think that’s one of those unexplainable things. I’ve been someone I would consider creative since I was born. Doing creative things has always made me happy and at this point I’m just chasing things that keep me fulfilled. As soon as whatever I’m doing isn’t fun anymore, it’s time for something new.