In the digital age, we spend much of our time connected to the virtual world, which can unmoor us from the physical one. In his series “Right Next Door,” Ian Spanier depicts an incredible array of characters in their homes-including the world’s tallest burlesque dancer, a falcon conservationist, a Korean War veteran and a 50-year-old jockey-to show what we miss by not paying attention to those around us.
“Not all my subjects are so worldly-many are the hidden gems you may never know, and each has a great story,” Spanier says.
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ASMP: How long have you been in business, and what are your photographic specialties?
Ian Spanier: I’ve had a camera since I was six. Despite specializing in photography in college, I graduated and worked as a photo editor for magazines for 13 years. I always shot on the side, and eventually began shooting full time in 2009.
I have always shot a wide range of subjects. For a long time, that was a tough sell, but now that I’ve got the volume of work to back up the claim that I can wear different hats, it’s a bit easier to find work when I am not necessarily a “specialist” in just one subject.
ASMP: Who are some recent clients you’ve shot for and how do you engage with new clients?
IS: I have recently been shooting for Danskin, MTV, The NYC Economic Development Corporation and UFC. As well, I shoot a lot of fitness work for magazines like FitnessRX, Muscle & Fitness, Oxygen, and others.
Aside from social media, I send electronic promo cards to potential clients. I try to meet in person as much as possible, too.
ASMP: How much time to spend on personal projects, and how do you strike a balance between personal and commissioned work?
IS: I’ve been working on “Right Next Door,” (my latest personal project) since December of 2014. It’s somewhat never-ending, and although I thought I might be done this past June, I met some more subjects and decided to continue.
I consider myself an assignment photographer first. I spend 90 percent of my time on assignment work, but decided a few years ago that if I didn’t do a personal project, I would be somewhat lost. Far too often I am facilitating a shoot, and as much as I have a personal stamp on the shoot, it’s not necessarily my sole vision. I believe showing potential (and current) clients that I have a personal vision is very important.
ASMP: What stories do you tell through the series, “Right Next Door?”
IS: The inspiration behind the series is largely a comment on the world we live in today. People live their lives plastered to their phones and tablets. We don’t really talk to our neighbors anymore, and all around us are these amazing stories that are left untold. A great example is George Lois — he is literally the guy that so much of what AMC’s Mad Men is based on. He was also the face of Esquire in the 1960s, revolutionizing their covers. He lives right around the corner from a major New York City art school. How many students there do you think know that’s him walking down the street? It’s stories like this I thought needed to be told. Not all my subjects are so worldly, many are the hidden gems you may never know, and each have a great story.
For the series, I have photographed the air-traffic controller involved in the “Miracle on the Hudson” (US Airways Flight 1549, which made an unpowered emergency water landing in 2009), a dominatrix, and a NASA engineer who moonlights as a Civil War re-enactor. All are so incredibly different and intriguing.
ASMP: How did you meet your subjects and where did you choose to photograph them?
IS: At first I tapped a combination of people I knew were interesting who were friends of friends. In some cases I researched the subject, like the falconer I photographed. I worked with a writer to develop a good brief about the project, and used a couple of portraits to include in an e-mail pitch.
ASMP: What was your go-to portable lighting for this shoot?
IS: On my commercial assignments, I spend a lot of time planning the lights. I approached this differently. As a self-assigned challenge, I limited myself to one Photoflex TritonFlash strobe light with a reflector. For once, the photos weren’t about the lighting, and more about making an image of my subject.
ASMP: What are your plans for the series? Is it ongoing?
IS: Working with a copy editor, I’ve already published the images and written stories on the Huffington Post blog, which has been my way of getting the stories out on social media. I just started editing and posting the videos on YouTube. Ultimately, I’d like to publish the series in book form, and I’ve been working with a designer on that as I consider how I’d like to publish it.
I thought I was done shooting, but then I came across three new subjects I wanted to add — so it continues. In a way, this could be my life-long project. The thought has crossed my mind, and has been expressed to me by others.
ASMP: When did you join ASMP and what has made you stay a member?
IS: I joined ASMP in 2004, and have always appreciated the support it gives its members. The legal advice, discounts, portfolio reviews and both the assistant and photographer databases have been a great resource.
ASMP: What is one of the most important relationships you’ve formed through ASMP?
IS: I don’t know if there’s one most important relationship, but there have been many. The New York chapter is one of the strongest I’ve ever seen. Getting the opportunity to hang out with the other members at a number of events is amazing. I truly enjoyed the camaraderie I was able to cultivate with my peers, as well as the editors and art buyers I met there. Now that I live in Los Angeles, I hope to get more involved with the chapter here.