Justin Fantl’s concentration on color, line and design over allegory, as well as a minimalist approach to composition, has made him a modern pop-art phenomenon. Featured in the September/October 2010 issue of DPP in our Emerging Pro special section, Fantl is more than just a talented photographer. He’s a forward-thinking artist who strives to find new avenues for imagery and other artistic endeavors in this era of upheaval and transition. He’s one of the driving forces behind The Black Harbor website, which embraces the power of collective creativity and acts as a hub for artists involved in a variety of media to collaborate. Above: Jersey Tomatoes.
Justin Fantl has been making a living as a photographer for only two years. This puts him squarely in the category of “emerging pro,” though from the looks of his polished portfolio, his creative vision and technical skills are fully formed.
One Full Play.
Fantl’s work is hard to describe because he does so many things so well. He photographs still lifes in a plastic, somewhat sterile fashion. This work lives comfortably alongside his interior photographs of meticulously arranged spaces and images of people and places captured in an almost documentary style. The unifying element might be Fantl’s refined sense of spatial organization, which he uses to create images much as a graphic designer would. His compositions are about the organization of space as much as they are about the subjects themselves. In many ways, the spatial arrangements are the subjects.
The diversity comes from Fantl’s personal approach to his work. He shoots commercial and editorial assignments, but the jobs come from the personal work he shows. He sacrifices narrow specialization in favor of a distinctive way of seeing and photographing a wide variety of subjects. That means he must rely on clients who hire him for his vision rather than because he shoots specific things in a specific way.
“I’ve never wanted to be pigeon-holed,” says Fantl, “and known for just shooting one thing. I think this has worked both to my advantage and disadvantage. Some art directors and editors get my work, and others are left a bit confused. I suppose I have to put some faith into other people—they either get it or they don’t. The really important thing is to stay true to your own vision. I definitely hope that the person on the other end has some vision and understands what they’re looking at and understands how they can apply it.”
A study on airplanes.
Fantl’s success represents the direct opposition of two pieces of conventional photographic wisdom. On the one hand, photographers are told to shoot what they love much as writers are encouraged to write what they know. On the other, commercial photographic buyers aren’t often given to leaps of stylistic faith, which has led to a truism about the importance of specialization: Do one thing and do it well. Fantl shoots what he loves, but it isn’t just one thing. This makes showing his work, allowing himself to be pigeonholed for the purpose of sales, trickier.
“It’s an important question, not just for me, but for anyone,” he says. “I think I’ve definitely lost out on jobs because someone didn’t necessarily have a vision. I think I’m asking a lot of a client to have some vision. I know that I’ve lost out on jobs because I didn’t have a specific shot, but I know that I’ve also gotten jobs because the person did have vision or because of the aesthetic that I do have. It’s a tricky game to play. You can sort of do both; you can really gear your portfolio toward more applicable real-world things or you can go the other route—the route of shooting what you love and cultivating a certain aesthetic. It’s up to people to find an application for that.”