Part II of the interview with photographer John Loomis.
Wayne: Can you talk about the evolution of your career since you went to Missouri?
John: First, at the risk of sounding cagey or a bit ridiculous, I’d like to say that the “reasons” some people look for–in the paths that others have taken towards some goal–going freelance or deciding to photograph conflict, for instance–usually end up being pretty hollow and inapplicable to their own career. Learning that Jim Nachtwey perhaps woke up one morning and knew he was ready to move to NYC and get freelance work doesn’t really do me any good, and I’ve tried to steer clear of comparing that sort of thing because it’s all extremely specific and personal logic… and it should be. I mention this because I feel that whatever I may have done, for whatever reasons, doesn’t really mean anything to anyone else… to say otherwise in my opinion is just bullshit, and I’m tired of bullshit.
Along those lines, I don’t think I really chose to go freelance; it sort of chose me. All I did was have the courage to trust myself and take the next step, and then the next, and then the next. I hope that I have, at the very least, grown smart enough to learn from my inevitable and many mistakes. But that’s my career up into this moment… really that’s it. “Evolution” is a pretty strange way to put it, I feel, because I’ve been roughly trying to do the same thing since the very beginning. Slowly over time my understanding and consciousness about what I want for myself has changed; everything else has remained the same. And despite describing it so abstractly, I really like where I am right now photographically.
Wayne: How did you decide to locate to Miami? How does that city and the state of Florida color your work?
John: After living in North Carolina for a couple of years I was looking for a change and thought about heading back home to Florida and to Miami, where I was born and [where] my family had lived for generations. What I really wanted was more energy in my environment, and South Florida is definitely a great place for that. Additionally, and certainly not playing a very small part in my decision, my girlfriend had just started medical school down here. Any other reason after that, I’ve learned, sort of gets muted out.
In terms of working in Miami, I really hope that some of the color and passion has infused into my work. It’s started to, but it takes time to really uncover the true texture of a place. I think where it’s come through the most so far has been in my personal project work that I’ve begun here–essays that are deeply inspired from the new energy I’ve felt in South Florida–and that, along with being close to my family, has made the move really wonderful.
Wayne: You do a lot of corporate and environmental portraiture. How did you train yourself for such work? Can you share your thoughts on what goes into good portraiture? You also do a lot of work for the business magazines; how do you overcome the time constraints associated with that kind of work?
John: I do some, but it’s more of a reflection of the industry than my own personal interests. Portraits are at least 60 percent of what I and most photographers are assigned to shoot, and because that’s the case I do them in order to stay in business and fund other types of work that I’m passionate about. I never really trained at all to do business portraits–outside of buying a Hasselblad when I was first starting out–and I just approach each portrait on my own terms, trying to find something, anything, to make me interested in the subject or their environment. Even when I don’t care about some rich white guy in a suit (which is an unfortunately valid stereotype), I usually can find some beautiful ambient light to fall in love with instead… and sometimes that’s really what I’m photographing. (You can imagine that I don’t share that philosophy with my business clients.) But in my mind really important portraiture goes beyond light or composition, or even a connection between photographer and subject. It’s about trying to tell a story within the frame of a human body or face.
My background in journalism made dealing with the pressure of deadlines a not especially daunting problem, thank god. If I’ve been granted 10 minutes, I’ll get 20 out of the subject often times, simply because I demand it. When photographing someone who is used to being in control I never allow myself to be another person who is under their orders. I’m not rude, but I make it clear that I’m in charge and I’m there to do a job well and make them and their company look as good as possible. Nine times out of ten they are extremely helpful and give me what I need to make something work for my client, both because it’s in their self-interest, and because I feel that people generally want to please each other.
Having a limited palette to work with because of a CEO’s busy schedule can also be freeing in a sense, because you focus in on just a couple of variables and work them as hard as you can. On documentary shoots where I have a never-ending amount of time, sometimes I have more difficulty in trying to find that focus.
Wayne: So, why a magazine like BlueEyes? Who was involved with the startup, and how was it launched? What was the market missing? Why is it online, and what advantages and disadvantages does the Internet hold for documentary photography?
John: Blueeyes Magazine was created in 2003 by myself in order to create a home for passionate documentary photography work. In a sense, the reason for it is because of that 60 percent that I alluded to before. There is just not enough editorial space for important long-term photography which explores political, social, and cultural issues around the world. I found it important to try and help foster an online publication which could support and celebrate what I believe to be the most difficult and rewarding genre of photography. The seed that created the magazine was cultivated at Missouri among the same group of friends who inspired me with their incredible work which they created and then had no place to share it. Since that time the magazine has been expanded and we now have a seven-member staff who all give their time for this labor of love.
There really wasn’t any other options for Blueeyes when I created it, during the beginning of my freelance career, nearly broke and living in my hometown. The internet allowed me to publish stories without an eye on length, and that freedom was an important part of what I was trying to encourage; that projects didn’t have to subscribe on a traditional 8 to 12 picture format that I had learned in college. The obvious advantages inherent in publishing online, some of which we are still trying to take hold of, are creating a worldwide base of viewers who can interact with the magazine anywhere at anytime, through which we may help foster a dialogue between the subjects, photographers and readers. The main disadvantages that I’m impacted by is that I love holding photography in my hands, or seeing it up on a big white wall, which I miss with Blueeyes, but which we are working towards very slowly.