DPP Home Profiles Jeffrey Aaronson - Here, There And Everywhere

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Jeffrey Aaronson - Here, There And Everywhere

As a photojournalist, Jeffrey Aaronson is called upon to do everything—from formal portraits of newsmakers to elaborate photo essays—all across the world

When he approaches his subjects, Aaronson is mindful of the need to be open and honest with them. He displays a sensitivity that's unique. “Photographers can either take or they can be given,” he says. “I prefer to be given. People pick up on your nuances. I've seen photographers who just want to get in and get out of a place. They know the shot they need and they don't want to be in a place for a second longer than it takes them to get it. They don't like it there, they don't like the smell, they don't like anything. Their body language is screaming it. I'm so interested in the people that I want to be there; that comes through to them.”

Aaronson is a diverse shooter. Beyond traditional photojournalism, he embarks on his share of news portraits—setup photographs with newsworthy people for which Time and other clients contract. It's a challenging class of photography because there's often very little time to work with the subject. Imagine you need to photograph the president of a large corporation for the cover of a magazine. He or she might give you a total of five minutes to get the shot. Now, you know what kind of look you might be after, but you've never met the person before and you have no idea what he or she is like. Considering that, how are you going to get the shot? It's no small feat to be able to pull off these photographs consistently well.

Aaronson's innate ability to communicate with a variety of people and to be trustworthy is worth more than any particular kind of photo gear. Says Aaronson, “I try to show deference for anyone I photograph and I think they get it. One day I might be photographing a boy in Cambodia who's protecting his village from bandits; then I'm photographing Walter Cronkite at the World Trade Center. Traveling like I do and meeting so many different people makes everyone an interesting person to me—and I think they get it when I'm taking the pictures.”

As for gear, Aaronson teamed up with Olympus when the E-1 system was just being developed. He took part in the A Day In The Life Of Africa project, which Olympus sponsored. For that project, the photographers used Olympus E-20n cameras. At the time, Aaronson remembers being skeptical that a 5-megapixel camera could do the job of producing images for a spread in an oversized book. “To my great astonishment, it worked very well,” says Aaronson. “I had a photograph printed as a spread and I was impressed.”

What impressed Aaronson even more was how Olympus valued his input on the camera. “Olympus wanted feedback on the experience,” he recalls. “That began a dialogue between one of the tech reps and me. We kept in touch and he asked me to help with some input on the new E-1. I ended up giving three suggestions. They incorporated one of them in the first version of the camera, and I received an e-mail from the engineers saying they would try to incorporate the others in a future version. Their commitment is astonishing.”

As he has used the E-1, Aaronson has been most impressed with the ultrasonic dust filter. “Thus far, I haven't had any dust on the images. There's nothing worse than finding dust flecks on a key part of the image.”

As Aaronson uses digital more and more, he confers with colleagues who are interested in his opinion on the equipment. “We all know each other and we like to help each other,” he says. “When one of my colleagues mentions that he or she isn't completely sold on the equipment, I tell them that at the beginning of the 20th century there were over 100,000 buggy makers in America. As the Model T came out, the buggy makers' counter was to try to make faster, sleeker buggies. I tell my friends, Don't be a buggy maker.”

To see more of Jeffrey Aaronson's photography, visit www.stillmedia.com.



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