Philip Habib: Starting With A Blank Canvas

DPP: In a sense, you’ll be creating 10-year college reunions for these students with themselves. From a technical standpoint, how are you creating the images for this series?

Habib: In two parts. During the daytime, when the kids are in class, I photograph their rooms with a pretty basic lighting setup. I began the series using Broncolor strobes, but over time switched to Canon 600EX flashes for the room shots because the technology for these flashes has improved so much. I then photograph the students themselves on a gray seamless in a common room in the evening so I can capture the spontaneity of them goofing around, that energy of being a part of a fraternity or sorority. I use my Broncolor lights and put the music on. The students egg each other on to get in front of the camera so it’s more like a party. It’s a lot of fun. I draw on the youth from this series; they give me a lot of good energy.

DPP: Do you think personal projects like this play a major role in helping you land commercial assignments?

Habib: I’ve always gotten commercial work from my personal projects. When I present my portfolio for a commercial job, 70% of it is made up of personal work up front with the tearsheets in the back. The commercial 30% of the portfolio is to show art buyers that I’m a professional.

DPP: And that you can execute a commercial project. One of the great European photographers who’s not extremely well known here was the late Jeanloup Sieff. He refused to be categorized into being an advertising photographer, a fashion photographer, a fine-art photographer, a landscape photographer or any other label. You seem to have established yourself in a variety of photographic genres without confusing art buyers.

The key is to get people to not be conscious of the camera. The biggest trick is to get them relaxed.

Habib: Within the commercial work, you tend to get more pigeonholed, and I was during the first two decades of my career. It’s only since the digital revolution that I’ve evolved a lot more and started doing all sorts of stuff.

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