Chris Buck, who, amongst other things, snapped the photo adorning the front cover our latest issue, was actually featured in our second issue. During our time with him, we found Chris to be incredibly insightful and courteous. And we have no good excuse for not having put up our interview with him sooner. Please forgive us.
How did you get into photography? What was it about photography that excited you?
I was just very interested in popular culture in general and music in particular, and photography is something that was just around. My father worked for Kodak, so it was something around that I was aware of. And when I did start doing it, I seemed to have some sort of aptitude for it, so it became my way to connect to popular culture.
What did your dad do for Kodak?
He was like a manager; I don’t know. You know how it is with fathers—they kind of change, shift around positions a little bit. Actually funny, at one point, I worked there as a summer job and he was in charge of a building. It was film coding—he was in charge to the film coding building and I was the lowest person in the film coding building. So while he was the boss of the building and the manager of it, I was the guy cleaning the toilets. To be fair, I could get respect because my father was the boss and everyone knew that. I had the night job, cleaning the cafeteria and the toilets.
Did you interact with a lot a photographers at that time were you like, It’s a job to put money in my pockets?
That was a job. I was working. I didn’t really intern with photographers or assist so much. People do that sometimes and it could be a great way to learn, but it’s not something I had a chance to do. Once I got out of school and got a little more ambitious, I made a point of contacting photographers in Toronto and picking their brains. I wasn’t shy about asking questions about the business and how to run a business and such and how to deal with celebrities or magazines. And then immigration became an issue because I wanted to move to the States.
Did you have any formal training?
Yes. I went to school for photography. Going to school for photography is a little absurd—it’s essentially a basic craft: you learn it and then you get out and start taking pictures.
How long did you go to school for?
Amazingly, it’s a four-year program. Four years of learning how to test exposure and take a decent print. I went straight from high school to college. I finished college when I was 23 and I moved to New York when I was 26.
How did you come to New York? Was it like: I’m coming with my camera and my roll of film and I’m going to make it? Was that your attitude?
It’s a little more complex than that. The way it actually happened was that I had just finished school and a friend of mine had decide to take a trip top New York and San Francisco, just as a fun post-grauduation trip. Really, we only went there because that’s where we knew people we could stay with for free—the classic kind of college approach. I had made a portfolio in college, so I brought it with me to New York and I showed it around to music magazines like Spin and Rolling Stone. I also went to Esquire ad Vanity Fair, all the big magazines. I got a very nice response and I was quite surprised at how friendly and welcoming people were considering I was basically just a photo student from a foreign country. But everyone was very welcoming. Then when I went back to Canada—I really hadn’t shown my work yet—I decided to do the same thing. After the warm response I got in New York, I actually found it very difficult [in Canada]. The doors were largely closed and the attitude was Come to us when you have something of substance to show us. Since I was just out of school, I only had a relatively modest portfolio. It was very disconcerting and I realized New York was just a much more welcoming place to be an artist, so I began to make my plan come here.
One thing I did that I think served me very well, was that I worked for a music paper in Toronto that was very modest but it gave me a chance to do some professional assignments. It gave me a kind of creative fulfillment but also gave me some professional experience. So once I did d try to seek bigger magazines out in the world, I wasn’t totally intimidated. That was very important.
A lot of the photos you take are highly conceptualized? What is your process like?
The first thing I do, if I don’t know their work very well, is try to get to know them as much as I can through interviews with them, any video footage I can find, just anything so I can immerse myself in who they are and what they do and what they’re about. It definitely helps me a lot to not always just to know what concept I want to do, but also to know what I would not want to do. I think oftentimes you might see pictures of one of your favorites artists and you think that’s kind of not really appropriate for them. Not that it would be offensive, just it would seems silly or not quite right for them. I think my pictures, even if they are conceptual, they’re pretty appropriate to who the person is and what they’re about. I make a point of learning who they are and what they’re about so the picture will have some relationship to who they are and their history. That’s very important to me. It also helps when I’m actually working with them because I might know things to talk about with them that they might have an interest in, or if we have some person in common or some history in common that I could bring up and we can make a bond in some way.
It’s funny that you say the photos are appropriate. They are appropriate, but they don’t seem to be what you would expect.
How are they not what you would expect?
I’m looking specifically at this 50 Cent one where he has the lollipop in his mouth. Usually with him it’s this scowling, mean…
Right. I think that for most artists, the photographers, you want to do something that usually isn’t seen. Maybe for some people it’s taking 50 Cent’s threatening tough guy quality to a new level of awesomeness. But for me it’s usually trying to do something that you don’t usually see them doing, but that’s still appropriate. 50 Cent is a pretty soft spoken, kind of friendly guy. He definitely has his standards and there’s things he cares about; he has his priorities. But he’s not rude or anything. In a professional setting, he’s not going to be threatening to people he’s working with. He’s tough, but when you deal with him, it’s not like he comes in being physically threatening or anything like that. He’s a professional person. When we did the shoot with him… Do you mind if I talk about that shoot in particular?
Not at all. Go ahead…
Continued in Part 2…
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