No Filter: An Interview with Photographer Michael Pool
Hair: Katey-Bug Browne, Heather Rae Cheszek Make-up: Liza Macawilli Photography: Michael Pool Fashion styling: Cynthia Freund (photo credit: MICHAEL POOL)Photo By MICHAEL POOL
The photographer Michael Pool shot a collection for Sebastian that was submitted to MODERN SALON. The images were so polished and finished that they passed approval and into print before Pool let MODERN know this was raw film—not edited or photoshopped. We saw an opportunity to talk about the art of photography, the trend toward "real people" in advertising and to tap into Pool’s deep appreciation for and understanding of hair imagery.
MODERN: Let’s talk about photography as an art form that has been, some say, co-opted by smart phone-toting civilians and photo-editing software. The digital revolution has meant photographers had to keep up with changing technology. How has photography changes in the last 10 years?
Michael Pool: "It used to be that when you were learning to be a photographer that there was much more involved. You didn’t just click the camera and look at the back to see your image. You had to go into a dark room and know how to process the film. You had to develop it correctly or you would have a bad negative. Then you had to make contact sheets, edit it, print it and there were all these steps involved, a lot like working out a math problem, and the timing had to be perfect to get the best image. All this weeded out a lot of people who didn’t have the patience or drive to learn the art of photography. And there was also the cost of film to consider before digital.
“Today, you immediately see what is right or wrong with an image. Now you can just go right back and re-shoot it. That means the market is flooded with average photographers and stock imagery. A client might pick a stock image to save some money or pick someone who underbids everyone but may not be as good.
“Still, as a commercial photographer, I am sold on digital. I love to look at my image instantly. It means I can sleep at night and not wait for film to come back the next day. I also believe that there are many amazing photographers out there and they are not trying to skimp and they are not just saying ‘I’ll fix it in post’ but if you are on set, and you are paying a crew and a hairdresser a lot of money to be there, if hair needs to be redone are you going to go into overtime to have it restyled or are you going to move on and fix it later?
“Everything is so accessible, now. You can learn how to do retouching yourself and don’t have to send it out. There are some photographers that might even be stronger there, in front of the computer, than they are behind camera.”
MODERN: Some photographers have very identifiable signatures, and it is not difficult to identify their individual work. Do you feel like you have a signature style?
MP: “First and foremost, as a commercial photographer you have to give the client what they need and remember what you are selling. So I always start there. Then, if I had to define my signature I guess it would be that I like to include an element of fantasy, of mystery or romance. People assume that I am adding these in post (production) but I show them the un-retouched files and they see I do it with lighting, in the camera and with a great crew. I love lighting, I’m fascinated by it.”
MODERN: How should hairdressers/stylists/salon owners approach doing their own photoshoot if they have never done one before?
MP: “I would suggest that they think about how they want to use the images because that can determine cost and it is how rates are decided. An advertising shoot will cost you more than an editorial. Determine a budget. Then, go online and look at online portfolios and websites. Now, you might find someone whose work you love and you are going to contact them, and they are going to direct you to their agent and their agent will tell you that will be ten-thousand a day. Then again, you might find someone who is ready to break into the hair world and would love to work with you. There are also some really talented assistants out there who might be interested in shooting specifically so they can be collecting new imagery for their portfolios.
“When it comes to casting a model, your cute friend from down the street may be adorable but she isn’t going to be right for the avant-garde hairstyle you have in mind. You have to give the model hair that suits their face and their form. If they are inexperienced and they freeze up like a deer in the headlights in front of camera, it’s hard to make that work.”
MODERN: What is different about the hair world when it comes to photography?
MP: “The hair world is so different from the rest of the advertising world because when you are shooting with a company, they can bring in and provide the whole crew. I first started out with Robert Lobetta, one of the most creative people I have ever worked with, and he would bring a whole team of hair stylists, makeup artists, wardrobe—everything—and they could also do their own model casting. And there is no such thing as overtime. There are rules in the photography world—after 10 hours, it’s overtime—but with Robert there was no overtime.
“Actual shooting of hair is dear to my heart. Robert Lobetta and I used to have it down to an art form, where we would still maintain that mystery in the image and even use moody lighting, but there would be pinpoint lights to open the hair, because edgy lighting, shallow focus or shallow depth of field can look cool but if you can’t see the hair, it’s pointless. You have to have it in focus.
“Hairdresser are so passionate about making a great hair shot. They will work all day and keep shooting and after fifteen hours will still say, let’s do one more to make sure we have it. I have been privileged to meet some of the biggest hairstylists in the industry and they just blow me away with their talent and their commitment.”
MODERN: How do you approach a photoshoot with a client?
MP: “Your objective is give the client what they need. We have to collaborate so that I am able to communicate their vision. I like to sit down and talk and flip through tear sheets that they have pulled as examples. Creating a story board is really nice, too, so you have a visual reference for the whole crew. One of my favorite challenges from a client is when they have a word or phrase they are using to describe a trend or a look and I get to translate that into an image that communicates those words.”
MODERN: There is a movement in beauty towards un-retouched, natural images. What is your feeling on this trend?
MP: “A really great re-toucher creates a finished image that doesn’t look retouched and so you might think it is raw but many of these images are very deliberately lit and composed so they look spontaneous. This kind of ‘raw style’ has been around since Jurgen Teller and Terry Richardson.
“I do like that there is a trend towards imperfect images so you’re not selling or using a completely fake or false representation. People don’t walk around with a re-toucher.”
MODERN: How do you keep feeding your creative life? What inspires you?
MP: “That's not very hard when you love your job as much as I do. I'm blessed to get so many of my creative concepts out while being paid to do so. Not all projects require me to flex my creative muscle as much as others, but as busy as life gets, sometimes that's enough for me to find the balance that keeps me happy and healthy.
“When life does slow down for me I spend as much time as I can with my son, who is an endless source of inspiration!
“I'm also fortunate to have a lot of creative and talented people in my life. Ideas for video, photo and even music projects are thrown around all the time. I'm not a very good singer but I sang in a couple of bands when I was younger. I can still write a pretty decent song and I have friends who help me lay down tracks to record the songs. I could go on forever about feeding creativity. Movies, music, books (I love photography books), a beautiful sunset with a friend and a glass of wine... they all inspire creativity.”
MODERN: What photographers and creative have influenced you?
MP: “Well, I've already talked to you a bit about Robert Lobetta. He has both inspired me and has had a great impact on my career. His ability to never get locked into one idea and to work based on his inspiration at that moment amazed me. Dull moments were few and far between for our old photo crew.
“I love the work of Patrck Demarchelier and Herb Ritts. They both have so many iconic images in the fashion world but I really love their portrait work. I loved how it seemed that Herb Ritts could use full sunlight at any time of day. He would place his subjects in a way that he would create this stunning image even when the sun was at its most unforgiving.
“I also admire the work of James White. His pictures are so beautiful but he makes the moment look like it was just waiting there and he happened to stumble upon it and take a picture of it. Of course I see images all over the world that I love and I'll probably never know whose work they are. I'm just glad there are still people out there making good pictures.”