Back in December I totally blogged about the 2017 APA Awards and promised an interview with Mark Maziarz. Maziarz won in the corporate category with a gauzy dreamy strange portrait that seemed too beautiful to be placed on the same shelf as high school senior wallet-size-prints and JC Penneys churn-and-burn type 8x10s. He said he'd respond to my questions but he was busy. Then came the holidays. Then came the cold long winter and finally we reconnected and created the thoughtful goods.
(Ian Tuttle): How long have you been making a living with your photography?
Mark Maziarz: I got my business license in the fall of 1990, so it's been almost 28 years now. Wow. It doesn't really seem like I've spent more than half my life in photography, but that might be because my work is constantly evolving. I tend to shoot the things that I'm most interested in at any given point in my life. For example, when I first moved to town, my friends and I skied a lot (106 days my first year in Park City) and some of them loved to throw themselves off big cliffs. I was always there with my camera.
After the extreme sports phase, I started to appreciate how beautiful the town of Park City is and I spent most of my time shooting local scenes and streetscapes.
The last few years, as we raise our kids, I've grown to appreciate the value of people, their stories and relationships. That's when I came up with this style of portraits. One of my favorite aspects of getting these portraits is hanging out with the subjects and getting to know them a little bit. The camera gives me license to ask questions that I probably wouldn't ask in ordinary circumstances.
What is the most recent personal project you’ve finished that you are proud of?
I like when there is a blurry line between personal and paid projects. The Sundance One Minute Portrait Series started out as a personal project, and then morphed into a real job with a local TV station. The project got its name from the reality of the packed schedules that the Sundance Film Festival filmmakers, crew, subjects and cast have during the 10 days of the festival. If I have a full minute to photograph someone, I usually consider myself lucky. A lot of times, I only get 20-30 seconds to greet them, tell them what I'm doing, pose them and get the image. Spike Lee took a particular interest in the camera and the process, and we talked for a few minutes, which was nice. He wanted a print, so he wrote down his address on a piece of paper for me. Later that day, when I copied his address, I flipped over the sheet to see that it was his publicity schedule for the day. It was non-stop, back to back interviews and appearances for the movie he was producing. All day, every day for about 4 or 5 days in a row. I think there was something like 70 or 80 appointments on the schedule. Realizing how hard all these people worked to promote their films made me want to do something unusual and different when I made their portraits.
Technically, I don't think the project is finished yet, but it is evolving.
Do you photograph every day?
I don't. And I struggle with this a bit. One reason is that Jay Maisel, whose work, personality and style I'm a big fan of, insists on carrying a camera almost everywhere he goes. He says photographers should be constantly shooting. I like the idea of shooting everyday, but I also think of the act of photography as being a bit sacred and I don't want to do it just to do it. Back in the film days, people used to be a bit more deliberate in what they shot, and I miss that a little bit. I have a lot of crap to wade through in all the digital files I've shot over the years.
What would you tell your past self on year one of starting your photography business?
That's a tough one. I feel like I've had a pretty good run, so I don't want to mess with the formula too much. Photography has got me to the places I wanted to go (literally and figuratively) and I'm thankful for that. There are some adages that apply to life like "don't sweat the small stuff" that I think will mess with a successful photography career. Clients like to see you pay attention to small details and very often a tiny gesture will make a photo. A slight turn of the hand or a slight facial expression can make or break an image.
What would you tell your future self ten years from now about running your photography business?
Did I spend too much time on preparing stock files for distribution in the 2010s? A big part of my career was stock photography in the 90s and early 2000s. Then the growth of microstock in the mid-2000s and the recession in 2008 combined to make stock photography an impractical way to make a good living.
Your images are “soft.” Why? How did this look evolve? Where did it come from?
I did a fine art show called "geolines" in 2012-2013. It was abstract photography that studied how much digital information is needed to still evoke an emotion in a photograph. The geolines photographs are bands of color and tone that are based on photographs that are as little as .01 megapixels.
That show was a response to the precision and ever-increasing megapixel counts of digital cameras. I felt like digital cameras had become too perfect with an almost hyper-realistic sense of reality, so I responded by seeing how lo res and imperfect I could make a photograph be.
But I missed photographing people and I started thinking about imprecision and softness in portraiture. I've always liked the look of Matthew Brady-era portraits, so I found an old Civil War lens on ebay and built a camera around it that allows me get a short depth of field look, but output a digital file.
Do you experience doubt in your work?
Oh hell yeah. I think it's part of being an artist. In life and work, I think we need the lows to truly appreciate the highs. Life would be boring otherwise, wouldn't it? I've recently started a personal project of portraits of artists in the Park City area. I'm combining the portraits with interviews and one of my key questions is how does confidence affect their work. I'm learning some interesting ideas.
Describe your workspace.
For about 14 years, we lived in a part of Park City that was a fringe neighborhood surrounded by open space and filled with huge spruce, fir and aspen trees. It was quiet and quirky and we loved it. Because the neighborhood was so steep, our garage was down at the street a bit separated from the house. Soon after we moved in, I came up with the idea that I could turn that upper level of the garage into a sweet office, so I dropped the upper level floor and added a big dormer and gave myself one of the coolest work spaces I've ever seen. It was heavenly. All I could see out the windows was the forest and sky. I even had a bear greet me on the deck one morning. It was about a 15 second commute from our front door, but the physical separation from the home was everything. A few years ago, we moved into a new house in an adjacent neighborhood that is way better in every way, except I now work in the house and no longer have my sweet carriage house office. It's not a great situation, so I have a number of ideas saved so I can design my new workspace in the woods.
Name three people who continue to help you along your way. What do these people do to help?
My wife Mary Beth is a performing songwriter. We're in apparently completely different businesses, but there are many similarities between music and photography. Hiring, licensing, copyright infringement, motivation, creation and more. We get to help each other out, while maintaining a fresh perspective. Invaluable.
My parents live 1200 miles away and have had way different careers. They're my life coaches -- offering great insight and tips on how to hand handle life, including the work/life balance.
The third spot is filled in by various photographers depending on what type of photography I'm concentrating on. Lori Peek is a local photographer who has done wonderful work in the active lifestyle category and she's helped me, particularly in the early years of my career. I've also taken a few workshops with Jay Maisel and got to know him over the years. I love his concepts of light, color and gesture.
Thank you Mark for your time and insight!