This week’s Questions with a Pro features David Emmite.
David is a Portland, Oregon-based advertising photographer and animator constantly driven by his curiosity about the objects and world around him. Before opening his studio in Portland, David trained in Atlanta and has been shooting for major advertisers for 23 years. Here, David explains how curiosity came to drive his creative process, a bit about opening his own studio, and how he incorporated motion into his business.
We asked: Please explain how curiosity came to drive your creative photography process.
David said: I think a lot of my curiosity was born out of boredom. I grew up on a ranch in a small town in NE Texas. I wasn’t allowed to watch much television as a kid. Instead of cartoons on Saturday morning, I spent my time working around our ranch helping care for the animals and build and repair things. My dad was a real DIYer . We did all kinds of projects. Once, we built a windmill from scrap parts and a car alternator . It was used to power lights around our barn. Another time, my dad ordered a kit from the back of some magazine that enabled you to drill your own water wells. I feel a connection to these early projects anytime I do creative rigging in my current animation work.
I also liked to take things apart. I would deconstruct toys, radios and other things to try and discover how they functioned. To me it felt as if these objects we time capsules that I was opening . I would often imagine different functions for these deconstructed parts.
This early curiosity about form and function has never left me and has inspired my creative process through my career.
We asked: How did you know it was time to start your own studio? Would you change anything about this transition?
David said: I started my assisting career in NYC where I learned a lot of my craft and was deeply inspired by the city. While assisting, I reshot my book and really focused on the style of work I wanted to create.
After a few years I moved to Portland, Oregon. Portland was completely different than NYC culturally and had a bunch of small agencies that were doing really creative work. I was fortunate enough to assist for photographer Mark Hooper who became a mentor to me. He encouraged me and gave me a lot of confidence that I was ready to go off on my own.
I figured it would be a tough transition period starting a studio, so I saved up enough money to weather it. I opened my first studio in a small dusty
warehouse space with an old 4×5 and some old theater fresnels that I refurbished. Looking back that felt right to start small and to focus any available resources into creating images.
We asked: When did you begin to incorporate motion into your work? How has this inclusion affected your business?
David said: I think it was around the time the 5D MKII was released. All the sudden everyone was a director / dp . I marveled at how photographers would build out that camera, rigging it follow focus, extra monitors and mounts. Photographers shooting motion blew up around that camera. I wanted to be a part of that, but for my work, going that route of live action felt like a complete reinvention. I didn’t want to reinvent my work, I wanted to evolve.
Shooting stop motion felt like a natural extension of the still life work I was already doing. I was used to the slow, careful, detail oriented pace of still life. While creating stop motion an artist has all the time in the world between frames to manipulate what the camera is recording. It’s a very simple yet powerful way that the artist can control the viewers perception of time. To me it feels magical and it is what specifically drew me to stop motion.
I offer animations to clients as an extension of product shoots. Eventually my stop motion assignments have begun to out pace my still assignments.
This led to the launch of my new adventure, Mr. Curiosity (www.mrcuriosity.tv).
We asked: What do personal projects mean to you? How do you find the time to devote to these projects?
David said: Most of the work I put out into the world is personal. I have always heard the expression “you shoot what you show” . I took this to mean that I should always be shooting my own work in order to inspire clients to bring me into their projects. It’s not just to inspire them, it inspires me too. I love what I do. I feel excited and energized by it. Personal and commercial work feed off each other. Personal work inspires commercial work. Commercial work funds personal work. I don’t think I could have one without the other.
There’s no time for personal work, I have to carve out the time. I have a sketch book and I concept for a at least a few minutes everyday. Sometimes this is a sketch or just a recorded thought, but a backlog of ideas is essential for me. I will revisit it, revise it, spin other ideas from it. Then I just book my own time.
I usually create an average of one new piece per week. I post them on my IG feed @emmite.creative
We asked: Do you have any key stress relieving techniques that you turn to during high stress periods? Please explain.
David said: This is a stressful career. We all find ourselves either stressed out about the project we are producing, or worried about where we’ll get our next project.
When I am stressed about production , I make a lot of lists. Lists help me break stuff down and map it out. Production problems don’t feel as big if you take them one small piece at a time. I am also pretty into music, so will listen to music while I think through problems.
When work is slow, I try to enjoy the down time. I work on my own animations with the help of my son. He is a professional “weird science” engineer and amateur digital tech who brings a lot of out the box approaches that only a 14 year old could dream up.
Find more of David’s work on his website.