Tuesday, January 6, 2009
Erik Almás: A Maker Not A Taker
Erik Almás, renowned for his immaculately composited advertising and fine-art images, answers the question “How’d he do that?”
There were no early clues that Almás would become a photographer. As a child and teenager, he showed no particular interest in the field and was more interested in spinning tunes as a deejay than hoisting around a camera. He was 21 years old before he decided to move to the United States and pursue photography. “Not to sound corny,” he observes today, “but I don’t feel I found photography; it found me.”
At the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, he began to discover his voice in the medium. Ever so gradually, a career choice he had undertaken, more or less, out of practicality started to feel more like a passion. One of his professors had been an assistant to mega-successful commercial photographer Jim Erickson, and brought in Erickson’s portfolio to Almás’ class. Impressed by the visual inventiveness and the technical consistency of the work, Almás approached Erickson after he graduated in late 1998 and soon began assisting the master himself. “I did everything from painting the studio garage to traveling the world on big assignments,” he says. “It was a huge learning experience, and it really taught me what a work ethic is. In college, I’d thought I was working hard—I was looking forward to graduating and being able to relax! But for Jim, I worked harder than I ever had. He set the bar; he worked the hours; he taught me to work longer and work smarter.”
Erickson’s example also taught Almás the importance of marketing and promotion in a photographer’s career. “There are so many great people out there who never get hired. Clients won’t find you by just your being good. You have to put yourself out there. You have to have great pictures, but you also have to package and brand yourself the right way.”
For two years, he worked on Erickson’s staff, then spent another half year doing freelance retouching while trying, with minimal success, to land shoots. “I was barely scraping by,” he recalls, “and I was amassing an enormous amount of credit card debt. I really pushed hard to get myself out there, though. Sometimes I felt like there was more determination in me than talent.” But a new slew of clients soon discovered Almás’ tenacity as well as his talent, and as the assignments grew more frequent and lucrative, his professional doldrums came to an end. He had bided his time on the launchpad. Now it was time to blast off.
As time went on, Almás developed the style that has since become his calling card. As a rule, it encompasses sweeping vistas that are given context and scale by a focal point in the foreground and a complementary narrative element in the background. A hyperreal perfection of lighting and focus extend to the image’s every element, imparting the illusion of a depth of field so long that it verges on the infinite. If these pictures look too perfect to have been captured in a single exposure, it’s because they weren’t.
Achieving what Almás achieves, of course, is hardly as simple as a four-step recipe. The first of the many decisions it subsumes is choosing the right location, which for Almás, hinges on whether a locale is better suited to sunrise or sunset shooting.
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