DPP Home Profiles Larry Armstrong: A Beginner’s Mind

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Larry Armstrong: A Beginner’s Mind

Former L.A. Times Director Of Photography Larry Armstrong guided the newspaper through technological upheaval and radical, fundamental changes in photojournalism

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Actor Matt Damon.
You would really have to educate these people away from the idea of “day rate” and into thinking in terms of a “fee.” They might respond back to a day-rate quote with, “It will only take an hour to shoot, so I’ll pay a half-day rate.”

I don’t think charging a $500 “day rate” for a job that’s going to take at least four hours to get everything together and shoot is asking too much, and then, of course, there’s the postproduction computer time. There are no such things as day rates anymore; digital and the economy have changed that. I’ve had people say, “We’ll get Nancy to shoot that with her digital camera.” I say ironically or sarcastically that anybody can be a photographer today. You need to bring something to the table that sets you apart from everyone else. What other expertise, what other knowledge do you have?

Actor Christian Bale at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel.
Look at the late Galen Rowell. Here was a guy who had a passion for mountaineering, and photography became a part of that. He got images that no one else could get. My mantra for anyone who wants to be a photographer these days is: “You’ve got to make it different.”

DPP: Sebastião Salgado, because of his study of economics, adds a depth to his work because he understands the elements that have caused the societal stresses that created the human crises that he documents.

Armstrong: Exactly. We were always running in-house training programs at the Times. I found people in the department that had really interesting skills. One guy had graduated from Art Center and knew everything about lighting, so I set up a lighting workshop for the guys who had just been working out of their camera bags. We had Spanish language classes to help the photographers connect to Angelenos from Latin America who didn’t speak English.

DPP: You’ve photographed a number of musicians. Are you into music?

Armstrong: I used to play guitar. When I started at the Times in 1977, our music critic Robert Hilburn and the music scene were really big. George Rose and I were hired the same week, and we were the youngest ones on the staff. No one wanted to do the party stuff and no one wanted to do rock ’n’ roll. Bingo! We were it. We traveled all over the world shooting musicians and rock ’n’ roll.

DPP: You understood the language in that sense.


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