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Interview with Photographer Calven Mitchell

1.Tell me a little about yourself. Where are you from? What’s your educational background? What are your general professional and non-professional interests? What is the name of your company?

Well, I was born in Wiesbaden, Germany, but I was raised in Atlanta. As far as education, I am currently studying photographic imaging at the Art Institute of Atlanta-Decatur. Professionally, I am developing my portfolio for food photography. I am really interested in that specific field for my bread and butter so to speak. Pun intended. Non-professionally, I enjoy story-telling. I like making pictures that have a message. That have more to see than just the obvious subject, foreground, background.

2. What does photography mean to you?

Most simply, photography is the capturing and manipulation of light. I think it’s so funny when people get wrapped up in what model camera I’m using or how much my lighting set-up costs. None of that is really relevant. It’s about vision first, then technical prowess, and execution. Hitting the shutter is the very last part of the whole thing. You can so a shoot on a disposable camera if you plan correctly.

3. When did you realized you wanted to become a photographer?

I was always interested in photography, but it took me a long time to consider it as a profession. I actually fought the idea thinking I wouldn’t be good enough or I wouldn’t make enough money. I finally decided to take it seriously my senior year of high school when I got a freelance job with a local latin events magazine.

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4. What was the very first thing you captured through your lens?

Oh wow, the first thing I ever captured. Boy there’s really no telling. I think the first image I remember capturing was probably of my fifth grade class during an outdoor science project.

5. What was your very first camera?

My first camera was a little black toy camera that my uncle gave me when I was about five years old. I say toy camera because it was plastic and tiny, but it took 110 film.

6. Out of all of your work, which is your favorite so far?

My favorite work so far is a composite image I did a few months ago. I was studying Angela Grossmann’s work combining old photographs with paint. This was my first attempt at mixing medias. It’s not that I think it’s a masterpiece or anything, but its a reminder for me to try new things with my art and that the camera is not my only tool.

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7. Whose work has influenced you the most?

I am constantly finding new photographers whose work inspires me, but I think the most impressive so far have been Gregory Crewdson, Michael Kenna, Guy Bourdan, and Andres Serrano.

8. How old are you? Are you currently studying at a University? What has that experience been like?

I’m 23. I study at the Art Institute and the experience has been like no other. It’s the most exciting and exhausting thing I’ve done so far! I love the opportunity to learn from more experienced people in my field. There’s so much more to being a professional photographer than taking pictures! I’m sure with enough dedication I could’ve learned on my own, but why make the same mistakes someone else has already made for you?

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9. What has been one of the most significant things in your growth as an artist?

Definitely deciding to go to school for photography was monumental for me. The decision itself more so than the actual school. I spent a long time denying myself my passion thinking that the traditional nine-to-five would be a safer choice for me. Safer, true, but nowhere near as fulfilling. I gave up my full ride studying Economics at a University for photography and ever since then I have felt like my life is undeniably on track.

10. Do you have any big goals and dreams as a creative photographer? Where would you like to be and what would you like to do with your creative life? Honestly, my big dream is less about taking photos and more about contribution. I want to do or create something that seriously changes photography as we know it for the better. Kind of like how Louis Daguerre created the daguerreotype process or Ansel Adams gave us the zoning system. It would be cool to take a photo that people rave about for a while, but I want to change the world.

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11. Who are your biggest inspirations?

Often my friends are my biggest inspirations. Not all of my friends are photographers obviously, but I’ve come across some seriously creative people in my life and am fortunate enough to call some of them friends. I bounce ideas off of them and often they come to me with ideas and usually they’re pretty good! There’s one though who has always amazed me with the way her mind works. I don’t know if it’s because she’s a Lefty or her family being innately artistic, but I am floored every time we talk.

12. Can you describe your creative process from conception, to creation, to perfection/editing? My creative process varies for commercial work vs personal/fine art. For commercial projects I always start with a list. I write down Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How. Then I contact the client and ask as many questions as I need to fill in each space. Occasionally, the client already has a general vision for what they want, but often they tell me what the shoot is for and it is up to me to realize the visual side. The list allows me to get a good outline of what the client needs and how to accomplish it. I want to be creative while keeping the images relevant so I use this information to play a sort of conceptual connect-the-dots during my brainstorming. Once the concept is ready, I create another list of resources I will need to complete the job. Everything from equipment to make up artists.

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13. Can you give some advice to all the young artists in our society who look up to you?

Remain humble and never think that you’re good enough. That is to say, yes you should be proud of your accomplishments, but know that you can always be better than you are right now. Also, learn to appreciate the basics. It’s not about having the fanciest most expensive equipment. Photography is light and shadows. The camera is just a tool to capture it. You can create beautiful images on any camera as long as you understand how light works. You don’t even always need a traditional camera. I made a photograph of my backyard using my bed room as a pinhole camera. If you want to take great photographs and you’re just starting out, don’t go buy a $3,000 Mark III, buy a $40 plastic Holga and some film. I promise you’ll learn much more.

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14. Would you describe your personal style as a photographer?

I would describe my style right now as methodical. I really like to plan out and strategize my approach to my photographs. Even personal work. I think sometimes I make more work for myself because of that, but it allows me to be sure that things come out the way they I intended.

15. Where can readers find out more about you and your work?

My website is a good start. http://www.calvenmitchell.com I don’t update it as often as I should, but you can see a variety of my best work on there. Also, Facebook of course. http://www.facebook.com/calven.mitchell I post current projects and progress there about once a week.

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16. Do you have a favorite quote? Tell us why it’s meaningful to you?

“It’s better to ask forgiveness than permission.” I can’t remember where I first heard this, but it definitely resonated with me ever since. There’s only so far you can go in this world by playing it safe. This quote reminds me that sometimes you’ve just got to do it and worry about the consequences later. You’ll miss your moment worrying about what might happen instead of making it happen.

17. Describe your ideal vision in five years?

In five years I will be living in California and traveling internationally as a commercial photographer shooting Advertisements and magazine spreads.

18. What has been the secret to your success so far?

So far it’s been simply delivering good, professional work in a timely manner and maintaining good relationships with my clients. I don’t advertise much while I’m in school so as not to overload myself which means the majority of my work comes from referrals. As long as you leave a good first impression, you can let your clients do the advertising for you. And no amount of email blasts and Facebook posts can compare to good old fashioned word of mouth.

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