Chad Ress, born in Kentucky, currently lives in Los Angeles. After receiving his degree in Photojournalism from Western Kentucky University, and subsequent studies in Art History and Design, Chad began freelance photo assisting in New York in the late 90’s. He quickly switched to shooting for his own clients, among them Paper Magazine, Mens Journal, Visa, Dow Chemical, General Motors and the American Legacy Foundation. Chad has traveled extensively throughtout the globe in search of photographs for his personal and commission projects alike, working in countries such as Chile, Argentina, Vietnam and the Middle East. His work has received awards from Communication Arts, IPA, PDN, and American Photography. His commissioned work has been highlighted in The One Show, The Cannes Advertising Festival, and the D&AD Awards in the UK. He was recently names one of the top 200 Advertising Photographers Worldwide by Archive.
Your personal and advertising work blends together well through your mood and color palette. What conscious efforts do you make to ensure that this happens?
‘When you put together a book, you are essentially saying “Look, this is what I have said, and this is how I’ve said it.” If you’re hired, you need to have the confidence to translate this personal style into the execution of the idea. In most cases, that is exactly why you are being hired. If there’s a conscious effort there, I would say it’s the desire to maintain this confidence’.
You are known for photographing “heroic” or ideal landscapes. What does your location scouting consist of and are you more inclined to come up with an image in your mind first or do you look to nature for inspiration?
‘Am I? If you’ve ever read Alec Soth’s blog (archived), this is the curse of what he calls ‘The Sentence.” He is talking about how various industries (fine-art in his case) have this desire to distill your work into one sentence, and whether this is a good idea or not. I personally believe this is not a good idea. In one sentence, too much will be left unsaid. Can you imagine summing up Avedon’s work: “He’s the guy that shoots B&W portraits on white”? His work is so much more than this.
‘I never try and pre-define an image too tightly. I’ve tried working this way in the past, and at least for me, the image can become sterile. There’s usually a lot of things floating around in my head, and my scouting is often an attempt to attach a visual to the thought. But I always keep my eyes open – I think inspiration can come from anywhere- and often things will present themselves when you least expect. Perhaps many photographer’s work differently. I’ve always enjoyed Robert Frank speaking about making ‘The Americans’ as a process of intuition, not intelligence. This seems to resonate with me’.
What percentage of your advertising work is digitally composited, and do you approach your personal work in the same way?
‘I’m not sure of the exact percentage, but I would say that anytime there is a convincing argument for compositing and we can get client approval, we’ll composite. Digital is a powerful tool, and an ideological can of worms for photography. The debate is too big for this response, but I would say that end goal of an image should determine whether you composite or not. For my personal work, I do believe in the truth-value of straight photography, so I usually don’t composite’.
You had a successful career as a commercial photographer in your 20s, then you took a break for a few years to study graphic design. How has your design background helped your photographic career evolve?
‘It’s helped quite a bit. When I was first learning photography, the process was always pick up the camera and edit what was in front of you. It was usually a subtractive process and I was, in the words of a former Professor, a ‘hunter’ (as opposed to a creator, not a gatherer.) Design, taught me to start with a blank sheet, and consciously create the image. I had to choose the shape of the line, the style of font and the color palette. It was an additive process, and it taught me how to pre-visualize. Today, I would say my process is a combination of these two approaches’.