Sunday, June 24, 2012

Frank Yamrus

What inspired you to start taking photographs, and what have been some of the most important milestones in your career up until now?

One of my favorite childhood Christmas gifts was a photography developing kit from my parents. I have this distinct memory of going in my bedroom closet and making it light tight by stuffing clothing around the door to load film into a developing tank. I’m not quite sure why my parents bought me this present since photography was not much a part of our life outside of the usual family snapshots for holidays, vacation and special events. I attribute much of my fascination with photography to this memory. I played with photography for many years but it was not until I moved to San Francisco in 1989 that my relationship with photography truly started to crystallize. Moving from the East Coast to the West Coast I left behind many things, but also viewed this fresh, yet complicated, start as an opportunity. My professional photography career started in San Francisco as I explored the “beautiful city by the bay” with my camera. 

When I first started working with photography I studied with two photographers, Frank Espada and Cay Lang. These teachers / mentors were tremendous influences and would not be where I am today without them. In 1992, Cortland Jessup gave me my first exhibition. This validation was a huge break for me and gave me great street credibility in Provincetown. It also inspired me and gave me the confidence to undertake my next project - Primitive Behavior series which dealt with the loss of many friends to HIV/AIDS. Finishing this six-year project was also a huge milestone. (In all honesty, anytime I finish a project it feels like a milestone!) One of the Primitive Behavior images was my first museum acquisition by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston in 1995/1996. This is definitely one of my favorite all-time milestones. This event and an exhibition at Houston Center for Photography around that same time really helped me carve out a place in the photography community in Houston. This bond with Houston is near and dear to my heart.  My first New York City one-person exhibition came about in 1996 at the Sarah Morthland Gallery. This was the beginning of a terrific relationship, and although Sarah does not have a gallery today, our friendship continues. When Sarah closed her doors in 2005, I moved to ClampArt and started a new relationship with Brian Clamp which has been as successful and rewarding.  Both of these relationships represent significant steps in my career. Another significant body of work, Rapture, has the honor of being housed as a complete series in the public collection at the Kinsey Institute, and is displayed in total by a private collection in New York City. One of my favorite accomplishments is an artist book that I designed for my Bared and Bended series, a simple, delicate and quiet body of work that truly captures my first and only winter on Cape Cod. Lastly, I would be remiss if I did not mention my latest work, I Feel Lucky. Another six-year project, after a break of sorts, this project documents my struggle with approaching 50 years old and beyond. The exhibition opened this past February at ClampArt along with the publication of my book under the same title. The pride and joy, and the sense of accomplishment I felt from this exhibition, the book, the great press and all the enthusiastic support is very overwhelming. 

How do you approach editing your work, and what advice would you give to others about evaluating their photographs?

Editing can make or break a project, so I strongly suggest honing this skill set as much as your shooting skills. Personally, I like to shoot as much as I can especially now that I shoot digitally, but of course within the constraints of time, location, subject matter, budget, etc. The I Feel Lucky series was one of the first projects I shot with a digital camera. Quite frankly, I’m not sure the series would be as successful as it is if this was attempted on film or by some other method. Since I was in front of the camera as well as behind it, shooting digitally allowed me to refine the imagery that was captured in ways that the financial constraints of shooting film would have prohibited.  Ultimately, I had very nuanced differences between frames which allowed for a more accurate depiction of my desired effect. 

When I’m editing, very often one or two images immediately catch my eye. I must admit that I pay close attention to this gut reaction but also I make it a point, although sometimes an excruciating exercise, to look at all the frames that I shot. This step is an important part of the process of living with the work. Not only does it validate your choice of frames but it may provide some clarity within the piece. For me the process of creating does not begin and end with one shoot as sometimes one shoot will lead to a reshoot and /or inspire a completely new image. Although I have very specific ideas when I set out to make an image, I allow the process to unfold organically and have the confidence that my editing skills will lead me to “the” image. I used to always tell my students that if you have a doubt about an image in your portfolio, more than likely it doesn’t belong. Extricating images from your portfolio can be painful but often creates a stronger body of work.

How do you decide on new projects to work on?  Do you always shoot with a concept in mind or do you wait to be inspired as you go?

Generally I have a concept in mind when I initiate a new project; however, often it’s my casual, everyday shooting that leads to the concept. Once an idea begins to take hold, I make some images and attempt to define the project with words. This part of the creative process is intoxicating as anything and everything is fair game. I strongly encourage all artists to take advantage of this initial stage of a project. Everything you do, every image you make, every word you write informs the project, lays its foundation, and helps to define its parameters. Since I generally work a few years on each series, this time spent getting to know the project is very important as it helps me gauge my interest and my passion for the idea. If I don’t believe I can sustain the same level of interest and passion for the work over the long term, I won’t undertake it. However if my enthusiasm persists, it’s generally a good indicator that I’ll see a project through. I also find that a good project will inspire itself – often one image will lead to the next and the story begins to write itself. Again, let this flow and rely on your editing skills to make the work tight and powerful. 

What ways have you found successful for promoting your work and finding a receptive audience for it?

For many of us, this is usually the more difficult part of being an artist. First, let me say this, your work needs to be good! I cannot emphasize this enough. Please take the time to create a solid body of work, let it “bake” for awhile, get supportive feedback from your family and friends but also get critical feedback from colleagues and professionals before you start promoting yourself or the work. When I first started out back in the mid-1990s, the most effective vehicle for marketing my work was developing professional relationships within the industry which I did by attending the Meeting Place at Fotofest in Houston, Texas. I cannot begin to name the number of curators, museum directors, collectors, gallery owners, publishers and other photographers I met at this event. Several of these folks are still integral to my work and career and I have the privilege of calling many of them friends.  For example, I met Bill Hunt and Sunil Gupta  in 1996 at The Meeting Place when I was showing my Primitive Behavior series. Both have followed my career and when I needed writers for “I Feel Lucky,” they were my first choices, not only because I respect what they do, but also because they had an intimate knowledge and greater understanding of me and my work. These professional relationships are a huge part of your audience and are key to successfully finding new audience members. 

Kurt (Muse), from the series Primitive Behavior

Laura (Veil), from the series Primitive Behavior

Steve (Ritural), from the series Primitive Behavior

Untitled (Dede), from the series Rapture

Untitled (Paul), from the series Rapture

Untitled (Cemetery), from the series I Feel Lucky

Untitled (Float), from the series I Feel Lucky

Untitled (Nap), from the series I Feel Lucky

Untitled (Kitty), from the series I Feel Lucky

Untitled (Brooke), from the series I Feel Lucky

Untitled (Cross), from the series I Feel Lucky

Untitled (Fountain), from the series I Feel Lucky

Untitled (Playground), from the series I Feel Lucky

Untitled (Kiss), from the series I Feel Lucky

Untitled (Disappear), from the series I Feel Lucky

Untitled (Cake), from the series I Feel Lucky

© Copyright all images Frank Yamrus

About this Blog

Two Way Lens is a project designed to inform and inspire emerging photographers wanting to focus their creative output in a way that enhances their chances of finding an audience, being included in exhibitions and ultimately achieving gallery representation. The journey from inspired artist to successful artist is one that is often difficult to negotiate and hard to control. On these pages, I will feature the experiences and opinions of other photographers who I have found inspiring, and hopefully the knowledge they have built in their own experiences will be valuable to all of us finding our own way to sharing our creativity with the wider world.