Q&A: Hugh Kretschmer, Los Angeles

Hugh Kretschmer is a photographer based in Los Angeles and specializing in photo-illustration, advertising and editorial photography and design. Of his work, he says: ‘The idea is the most important ingredient. I’ve always appreciated concept because it adds another layer to the photograph and invites participation from the viewer. When I see something that is done well, where the artist really nails it, I find myself just staring. I can’t think of anything else that would be more of a compliment than that’. Kretschmer’s clients include Mastercard, Evian and the New York Times magazine.

Your work is highly conceptual. Can you talk a bit about your inspiration and how you decide what idea is worth putting into production?
‘My inspiration comes from many unidentifiable sources and is probably more like an amalgamation of different influences from many years of absorbing. I come from a very artistic family and there was a lot of reference around the house. As a result, my early work was heavily influenced by twentieth century painting and sculpture. I think the thread is still there and, perhaps, evident in the photos I did last week.

‘As far as the next personal project I put into the works, the decision is based on what will bring me the most creative satisfaction and push my book forward. It is best if it also gets me out of my comfort zone and has me trying things that I have not done: build a prop in a way that is untried or solve a visual problem by a technique I have not used before. I may sweat and I may fail. But at the end of the day, I can at least say I tried’.

Your personal, editorial and advertising work blend together well through mood and color palette. What conscious choices do you make to ensure that this happens?
‘I try my best to treat my subject with respect. I am not talking about the model I am photographing so much as the subject I am illustrating. I do my best to keep in mind what is important. I think this drives my choices in set design, styling, lighting and color scheme. Hopefully, with all these elements painstakingly put in place, the message is preserved and allowed to come through quickly with just enough extra detail to let the eye linger for a few more moments’.

You currently have a show up at Clark | Oshin Gallery. How did you make the selections for this show and is it mainly your personal work that is included?
‘The collection is very close to an even split between assignment and personal work. The selections were really based on my heart of hearts and the projects that will always have a place there. There are some real favorites from ten years ago that I look at today and I still say to myself, “That was a great day”.

‘But, I had help, too. I presented the first cut to Nan and Kathleen, the curators, and we worked together from there. There was very little back and forth because I think they were both in sync with my sensibilities’.

Among other things, your work is very playful. Do you have specific goals that you want it to achieve?
‘My work has been described as many things, from “dark” to “whimsical”. I like that and I take it as a compliment. I appreciate a great many things and, perhaps, that’s showing up in my work. Regardless, I think the biggest goal it has to achieve is fulfilling me creatively. That is first and foremost and has always been that way. I would love it to bring me the next great job and I would not be honest if said otherwise. Lately, I have been pushing a few projects in a brighter, more colorful direction while maintaining a fanciful approach’.

How do you see the movement of more and more content online changing the way that you work in the future?
‘Good question! More and more photographers and less and less print jobs. The equation can be overwhelming. Or an opportunity to evolve. I have done two such evolutions in my career and each has been uncomfortable. Growth always has its pains. But the rewards have been amazing and I am glad I went through them. I think this, too, will be one of those times and, hopefully, bring more creativity and innovation’.

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