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Friday, June 29, 2007

Voices of Design: John Ellis, Architectural Photographer

I am always looking for people with a unique perspective for the Voices of Design postings that I write, and today I am interviewing just such a person. His name is John Ellis, and he is an architectural photographer, and I think his voice is unique because he is shouldered with the task of documenting design in a way that is both honest to the design, but seductive enough to sell a magazine. Sometimes these can be cross purposes.
John is a frequent contributor to some of the best magazines published today, such as Architectural Digest, Metropolitan Home, California Home + Design, and Metropolis. He also serves as an Executive Board Member of the Society of Architectural Historians, Southern California Chapter, for whom he organizes tours on the built environment in the region, which gives him a great historical background on the projects that he shoots. He is also photographing a book Simply Modern, The California Home of Harwell Hamilton Harris, to be published by Gibbs Smith by end of '07 (which I am sure will be on my book list as soon as it's available).
MC: How did you come to specialize in Architectural photography?

JE: I worked for Tim Street-Porter for a year and a half. That sold me on it. I liked spending the day with architects and designers. I found enjoyment in creating with light, studying these amazing architecturally inspired spaces and designing compositions. And, the glamorous lunches with editors and homeowners were always fun, too.
Working with space, light and composition were a strong match with my fine arts background. Before long, I shot 10 projects on my own, sent them to a few mags, which resulted in receiving my first assignment for the LA Times Magazine with Barbara Thornburg.

MC: Are there any particular elements that make your approach to shooting unique? Why do you think these are important?

JE: I approach each shoot with an open mind and let the shots ‘reveal’ themselves. Usually, if I’m open like this, I get excited to ‘see’ the shots as I explore the space Whether it’s über-modern, traditional, eclectic, or its own thing: I want the essence of the project to be revealed in an ideal light. This is important so the projects looks and feels like it does to the eye, if not slightly better. I like including people, at least in one shot, to bring a sense of scale and life.

MC: When you shoot for a magazine, are you usually given free reign, or are you sent in with a particular shot list and direction?

JE: Both. But really you have to ‘explain the story’ of the house or project. If the editor isn’t present, usually a magazine has a specific list of shots they want. Generally it’s important to explain connections and the flow of a space while making pretty compositions. Even if It’s not on the shot list, I often like to do a vertical ‘cover try’. I like to give a little extra whenever possible.

MC: Do you find that particular magazines have characteristic looks? Can you give some examples?

JE: AD goes for drama and that super high-end thing. Met Home likes a more natural look, with architecturally inspired, design-forward projects: modern but with an edge. Others, like California Home + Design choose to capture the lifestyle and show a range of styles. Interior Design is into super graphic imagery and high concept projects. House Beautiful leans more toward the traditional these days while Better Homes and Gardens is ‘hipping’ things up. There’s a place for every well-done project. I often submit projects for designers to appropriate publications, which is a win-win for both the designer and me, if it gets picked up.

MC: What is your favorite style to shoot?
JE: I like punchy, clever, graphic and just plain beautiful.

MC: Do you shoot in digital or on film? What are the pros and cons of each?

JE: I shoot both. I like film, shooting medium format and capturing the essence. Digital is very immediate, very flexible, and the results are stunning. Digital is evolving and I am with it.

MC: What have been some of your toughest assignments?

JE: The all night shoot for Cost Plus World Market in Ventura was challenging. But driving home from Ventura along the Coast at dawn was my just reward.

MC: If you could no longer be a photographer, what would you be and why?

JE: Interesting question. I’d probably go into something completely different. Like maybe being a freelance Editor (well that’s not so different). Or maybe an Occupational Therapist, as I dig the mind-body connection to wellness.


desertrat said...

Where is the photographer John Ellis based and what is his company's name?

Mark Cutler said...

John is based out of Los Angeles CA and can be reached via www.johnellisphoto.com