This interview is part of a series in which Olaf Willoughby talks with Leica Meet members about their photographic projects, their stories, goals and learnings along the way. This month’s interview is with David Register, son of well known American painter John Register, who looks for a similar serenity and solitude in his images.
Q: To start can you give me an overview of your project, its title and what is its main theme?
A: “Comfort in the Shadows,” inspired by the paintings of John Register.
Q: And how does that theme develop as a story throughout the project?
A: In all my images, I look for a serenity and solitude that reminds me of my late father, John Register (1939-1996). I don’t look for images that are quintessentially “John Register” paintings. It’s more of a by-product of being his son and loving his work. People ask me if it’s hard living in the shadow of a famous painter and the truth is, no, it’s not hard at all. I love his images, they are everywhere and they remind me of him. I just wish we could walk around desert towns taking pictures together – what a blast that would be.
Q: Is the project purely for yourself or do you have a commercial or cause related end in mind?
A: I definitely shoot for myself. My paying job is being a copywriter/creative director for some very big clients. It’s very rewarding on a personal and financial level but it’s a lot of selling and talking. I think I instinctively avoid commercial images and I love the silence of photography. I have very little interest in making video or doing live action. Maybe it’s because there is sound. I just love to capture the wordless moment of an image. It’s just so different from the “blah, blah, blah” of what I do everyday.
Q: What photographic choices have you made: colour palette, composition, use of flash, etc.?
A: I use available light and I tend to shoot mostly wide angle. My style is very composed, as I try to keep my post work very minimal and honest. The look I am going for is stylized editorial – something you might see in the New Yorker.
Q: What’s your vision for the project and how will you judge if you’ve been successful?
A: Success would be a gallery calling me up and saying we want to show your work. It could be a one-man show or a group show in a tiny little gallery. I’m not picky at this point. But I love seeing work framed on walls. To me, in the family I grew up in, that is success. That and the little red sold dot.
Q: Did any particular person or body of work influence or inspire you?
A: The paintings of my father, John Register (1939-1996) and William Eggleston. I am also reading a book by Dan Winters called “Road to Seeing” that I highly recommend. My partner at work, Jose Luis Martinez, gave that to me. He’s a super talented art director who, not surprisingly, takes amazing photos. He gave me some very good advice about a year ago and that was to always shoot wider. That one insight has probably influenced me more than anything. As far as Dan Winters, his style is a wonderful mix of editorial and high-end commercial. In my opinion, he sort of has the dream career. And his work almost haunts me. In the ad business, we call that being sticky. Some photos are sticky – they just slip into your brain and, like a song, they are there forever. Dicorcia’s “Hustlers” are like that. Those images and the color/light of those images blow me away. The truth is, there is so much photography out there on social media that is really appealing. I follow people like Jesse Burke, John Haynes, Jose Luis Martinez and Ravi Vora on Instagram. Their work influences me every time I pick up my phone and see another motivating, personal image.
Q: Not all projects are smooth sailing. Have you had any setbacks and what were your learnings?
A: I once shot behind the scenes for a campaign where I was the creative director. I was very green as far as shooting commercially, like first-time-shooting-models-ever green. I thought my stuff would be used for social media so I shot in the small file size mode to save room on my one SD card. Well, the client loved my stuff so much they wanted it for in-store use. I wasn’t being paid as the photographer, so I thought it didn’t really matter at the time what size my images were, but looking back on it, what a huge missed opportunity. So now when an art director asks for my raw files, I am always ready. And of course, my bag is filled with extra SD cards and batteries.
Q: What Leica equipment do you use and how is it particularly suited to the needs of this project?
A: M9, 28 mm Summicron and 50 mm Summilux. I like to be as invisible as possible when I shoot and I walk everywhere so the size of that set-up is amazing for me. I also do very little in post and I don’t light my subjects so what I can create with just my camera is essential. Fortunately, I really like how Aperture processes the Leica DNG file, and I love the look of the M9 sensor so I have very little to think about except light and composition. I think sometimes I wish I could get better ISO performance or auto-focus for things like models in action but then again I love beautiful light and scenes of quiet desolation, so the M9 with the 28 mm is really the perfect tool for me.
Q: Are there any technical or workflow challenges you’d like to mention?
A: I work in Aperture. My workflow is very basic. I do use social media to see what images are resonating but mostly I shoot for myself, my artistic family, my friends and potential collectors. For serious image correction and printing, I do have a go-to guy– Mark Doyle at Autumn Color. He’s amazing, but I don’t usually engage him until I have an image I really love.
Thank you for your time, David!
-Leica Internet Team
See more of David’s work here.
David Register is an EVP and Group Creative Director at Arnold Worldwide. Photography is his outlet and creative passion. On any given family or work trip, he might shoot up to three thousand images. In his own words, “Sometimes my family hates that about me but we do have beautiful photo books from our trips that someday they will appreciate. My next career will be selling my photography, not other company’s products. I heard about Leica Meet through a co-worker and friend, Kieron Monahan.”
Olaf Willoughby is a photographer, writer and researcher. He is co-founder of The Leica Meet, a Facebook page and website growing at warp speed to over 4,300 members. In October, Olaf will be co-teaching ‘Visual Conversations’, a creative photography workshop with Eileen McCarney Muldoon at Maine Media College in Rockport. If you have an intriguing project or body of work, completed or in progress, that we might feature contact Olaf at: email@example.com or www.olafwilloughby.com