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?”
As he continues to negotiate a challenging commercial schedule, Almás strives to make time to expand his creative palette through personal work. The composited “Fisherman” is an example, as is a recent series shot at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, in which he posed models amid exotic dioramas. There’s a mythic quality to many of these images—ice princesses astride polar bears on crystalline Arctic tundra—that evokes, perhaps unintentionally, Almás’ Norse heritage. Notably, he remarks that he’s “actually just now starting to realize how Scandinavian my way of seeing is—the way I see the sky or the quietness of the landscape and the light.”
In recent years, Almás has begun shooting fashion and nudes. The fashion work is primarily in association with San Francisco-based 7x7 magazine and Los Angeles-based Genlux. Unlike most of his commercial work, these images are shot indoors, though he prefers to use as much window and ambient light as possible, with minimal augmentation from the light kit. He enjoys working with subjects who aren’t professional models, owing to the unposed naturality of their responses. It’s telling that in his fashion work, which by definition focuses on clothing, hair and makeup, as well as in his work with nudes, which focuses on the body itself, Almás uses the same essential modus operandi as in landscapes. He sees the model as a topography in and of herself, a corporeal landscape. “It’s almost the same,” he says. “In landscape and nudes, you look for light shaping the surface, but in a landscape you wait for the light to capture a beautiful place. On the body, you yourself create shapes with light.”
Taking inspiration from the compositional acumen of portraitists Annie Leibovitz and the late Richard Avedon, Almás uses his personal work to push his conceptual and technical envelopes. When pressed, the habitually earnest photographer admits to a strong sense of design, although he’s quick to assert he wasn’t born with the skill, but learned it through hard work. “Most of the time,” he says, “I feel like I’m a better craftsman than I am an artist.” This caliber of craftsmanship, a hallmark of his still-young career, is what drives him to do what his mentor Erickson taught him at the start of his career: to set the bar, work the hours, and work longer and smarter than your competitors. It’s part of Erik Almás’ makeup—an unrelenting ambition that he likens to the insistent “sound of scratching on a chalkboard, which sometimes I wish I could quiet down. It might be nice,” he speculates, “to take a deep breath and not be chasing something all the time, but it never lets up. It pushes me to try to touch on something new, to make each shoot my all-time best. That, more than anything else, has gotten me to where I am.”
Almás does almost all of his own retouching. He uses Photoshop to make his composites seamless, employing the same techniques that the rest of us do. He just does it better. Through compositing, he achieves effects that would be impossible under tight location budgets.
See more of Erik Almás’ work at www.erikalmas.com. Richard Speer is a contributing critic at ARTnews and Art Ltd.
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