Monday, June 23, 2008
George Fulton - No Time For Haters
George Fulton is all about peace, love and making funky photographs
Getting the light right has clearly always been a priority for Fulton, who does much of his work on location, but utilizes the skill set of a studio master. Sure, he'll composite multiple elements in a scene to make the composition, contrast and overall effect come together, but he approaches every shot with the intent of making it right in-camera so he's not just fixing problems in post. His recipe is simple.
“I guess there's a dollop of surreal,” he explains, “a smidge of overstatement, a good measure of chuckle and a pinch of irony. I like for something to come out of the oven a little unexpected. But mostly I try not to think about it too much and just build the image from the pieces on up.”
Those pieces may be assembled in-camera or captured miles apart and combined in the computer. Either way, Fulton wants the technique always to serve the content rather than the other way around. “At times, I do a lot of compositing,” he explains. “A shot like one of my Coors shots has over 100 layers. Whatever it takes to complete a narrative that engages beyond a single look and tells a deeper story. Many of my people are composed of multiple body parts to get the body language right.
“Mostly, I prefer to shoot right there in a natural environment,” Fulton continues. “I used to shoot everything in-camera. I was the ‘get it on a single sheet of film' guy. And I'm talking about special-effects stuff. I'd have several 4x5 cameras set up and I'd walk the film holder from set to set, registering one image against the other with little black masks in front of the lens. I'd do that with Polaroid until it was all working out right and then burn film. We'd process the film in-house, and we wouldn't strike the set until the transparency was perfect. I loved it. That was my gig.”
Because of the recent pervasiveness of this heavily postprocessed look, Fulton has been consciously moving away from it in an effort to get back to the basics.“Along came Photoshop,” adds Fulton, “and I eventually changed my gig. But the original concept stuck: Why do something in one shot when you could spice it up in two, three or 100 elements combined into a single file? With the computer, I found I could process the infinite combinations, which gave birth to creating different looks.” Fulton is clearly happy to have the newest tools at his fingertips, but he's not a technique freak with an all-or-nothing attitude.
“I haven't abandoned film,” he explains, “but I also shoot medium-format digital, sometimes integrating both. Until two years ago, I never shot any digital, and my film of choice is 4x5—which to me is still the perfect format. My favorite cameras are my Sinar 4x5s and my Gowlandflex 4x5 twin-lens reflex cameras. I love the bigger-than-life cinematic view, and I like the 3D feel of 4x5 film. It's like watching an old movie.
“The digital workflow is both convenient and inconvenient,” he continues. “There's the devil to pay for the instant feedback. Digital encourages photographers to become file jockeys, which isn't so healthy to our process. Photographers often spend less time lighting now and more time massaging the file. So I'm making a concerted effort now to go back to the basics, to replay the fundamental things that brought me to where I am.”
One of the most fundamental parts of Fulton's creative process is a love of experimentation. Without it, he wouldn't know how to have fun or achieve his psychedelic greatness when the paying gigs come around. Even if the jobs aren't always glamorous, they're instrumental for learning and honing the craft—and they provide one more vehicle for experimentation.
“A lot of good chops can be learned from ‘straight' gigs,” Fulton says. “It may sound trite, but I started out adhering to the notion that there were no small jobs, just small thinking on my part. So I focused on the idea of the shot, what the shot had to sell, what higher purpose it served. I try to think that way. Having learned a lot of those chops, it frees me to experiment and improvise on set with confidence.
“The best experimentation comes through testing your own images,” he adds. “Creating your own scenarios, deciding from the ground up what you want in the frame. Creating test shots for your portfolio is critical to your growth and your success as a photographer. That kind of experimentation yields a whole new set of chops—intuitive ones. People want to know how you think, not just what you are capable of. There are lots of capable people out there, but there aren't that many people who think the same exact way you do. You need to sell the way you think.”
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