September 17, 2017

E. E. McCollum - Photographer Interview

This is the first of what is hopefully and ongoing series of interviews with models and photographers. EE McCollum is my first.  I hope you enjoy it.  I've sprinkled a selection of his photos throughout the interview in no particular order. All images (except the one by Willy Ronis) are copyrighted by E.E. McCollum.

Are you a professional?
I think of photography as a major part of my life and approach it professionally, I think, but it isn't  a money-maker and I don't do commercial work, weddings, and so forth.  In other words, it doesn't pay the bills.

How did you become interested in the fine art nude genre as a model/photographer? 
Like most boys my age, I was exposed to the traditional pinup style of Playboy and Penthouse and so on as a kid.  However, as I looked more deeply into the field of photography, I began to find images of the nude that went far beyond the clichés of pin-up and glamour photography.  The list of influences is too long to name but Edward Weston and Wynn Bullock certainly stand out from my early years.  

When I returned to fine art photography using digital technology, I immediately thought of working with the nude figure.  I find the subject challenging, moving, inspiring, at times erotic.  As time has gone on, I have come to see my work more as creating a coherent series of images rather than single images.  So I try to tell a story or play with a theme in my work.  I do still enjoy, however, a strong and inspiring single fine art nude image. 

How long have you been shooting/modeling for?
I was first exposed to photography when I was around 6 if I remember right.  My parents gave me a Kodak fixed focus TLR camera and a developing kit.  My father and I learned to develop film and make little contact prints.  When we were able to find a darkroom to use, we made enlargements.  Unfortunately, I was never very good at the technical end of film photography and became more and more frustrated with my inability to make prints that matched my conception of the image.  I gradually left my attempts at fine art photography behind and turned my attention to a completely different field of study.   

However, a camera was always near at hand and I shot lots of Kodachrome documenting family events and my travels.  With the emergence of digital technology, the technical side of photography became less of an obstacle and I returned to my efforts to make images that had a deeper intent than snapshots. That happened about 12 years ago. There was still a lot to learn but since I am largely an experiential learner, the ability to try different things on the computer and see how they affected the image was much easier for me to master than working literally in the dark with film.  All that aside, I've recently gone back to shooting film part of the time, at least.  

I think I am drawn by the "hand's on" aspect of analog photography, by the process that I find to be slower, more intimate, and by my wish to finally master something that I had given up on years ago.

How many shoots do you do per year?
It really depends on whether or not I am engaged in a project.  

I have come to think of my work not as the production of single images but as comprising a series of related images, or projects.  

That's not to say I don't find single images meaningful, and even important in my overall body of work, but they usually occur as sidelights in work on projects.  So, I may be involved in regular shoots for a period of time - 1 - 2 a month,or not be shooting figure work for a longer period of time if my current projects are focused on something else.  I try to shoot something daily.

Does fine art photography pay your bills? If not, what does?
Photography doesn't pay the bills.  Having worked my tail off for more than 40 years so I could retire is what currently pays the bills! 

Where are you based out of?
I live in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC.

Do you travel much? If so, what is your favorite place you’ve ever shot?
I travel regularly for a variety of reasons.  I used to travel internationally more than I have lately.  I always carry a camera when I travel but I rarely come back with images that I consider my best work.  For me, good work is anchored in familiarity both with the environment in which it occurs and with the people involved.  I like to explore a familiar, and often fairly circumscribed, area, seeing it in different seasons, different times of day, different moods that I am in.  I did a project that involved making images of a small pond in my neighborhood.  I shot images for that series for more than a year and the final edit is about 20 images.  I also like to shoot regularly with the same models for figure work, and to do so over a period of years.  

Briefly, what’s your favorite photography/modeling story?
I was shooting with two wonderful models - Blueriverdream and Mary Celeste - in an old building in Baltimore.  The building is a former industrial space that has been made over into artists' studios and lofts.  Everyone who leases space in the building has to have some connection to the arts.  One upshot of this is that the tenants are very tolerant of shoots in the common spaces - hallways, stairwells, and so on - and don't seem to object to nudity. 

Blue, Mary and I were shooting in a stairwell one day when we heard footsteps coming down the stairs.  Blue and Mary had left their wraps on the landing above and couldn't get to them before a woman who lived in the building appeared, heading down to the front door.  As she passed us, Blue smiled and remarked to her, "I really like your blouse." Without missing a beat, the woman said to Blue, who was nude, "I really like what you're wearing, too."  There need to be more spaces like that to work in!

Which is your personal favorite of your photographs?
That's a little like asking which of your kids is you love the most!  I'm including a photo here that is one of my current favorites.  It was shot with a model I have worked with for a number of years.  We've made some wonderful work together.  She is currently in a new relationship and she and her partner want to model together so we agreed to shoot.  

What I like about this photo is how it communicates their connection so simply as she turned away and put her arm around him.  I like the aesthetic sense of it, too - the texture and skin tones, the strong lines.  But mostly I like the emotional quality of the image.

Which is your personal favorite of someone else’s photography?  
Willy Ronis' image entitled Le Nu Provencal Gordes  is one of a number of favorite images by other photographers.  In it, Ronis' wife Anne-Marie Lansiaux is washing at a simple sink in their newly purchased home in Gordes, in the Provence region of France.  The bathroom is rustic with a pitcher sitting on the floor and an open window showing the garden outside.  Although Anne-Marie seems unaware of her husband's presence, or the camera creating an image of her, there is a lovely sense of quiet intimacy in the image. It’s a photo I could live in.

Who are your favorite photographers? And why?  
I was inspired, like most photographers my age, I think, by the masters - Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Wynn Bullock, Walker Evans - the list could go on and on.  Lately, I have been enjoying the work of Emmet Gowin whose work with his wife Edith is stunning in its intimacy. I find myself less interested in photographers who treat the nude figure solely as an aesthetic object - a beautiful body - (although I certainly have made that kind of work and have some of it on my website!) and who, instead, try to use the nude to communicate something more - an emotion, an idea, a sense of connection perhaps.

Who are your favorite models? And why?
 I hesitate to name a particular model as a favorite since I have worked with a number of models in really terrific collaborations and I might have named each of them as a favorite at the time.  Another way to think about it is to ask what are the qualities of a model that results in a strong collaboration.

 I have found that the best models really think about what we're doing together.  I often prepare a "mood board" of images to set the tone for a shoot and share this with my models.  Pintrest, by the way, is  terrific way to do this.  

The best models really look at the images, try to get a sense of how I see at least the broad themes of the shoot so that they can contribute and not rely solely on me to direct them. 

Past that, a model who shares my aesthetic sense and who is at ease in the creative process and in front of the camera makes for even stronger work.  

A common question on both sides (modeling and photography) is, does your family know what you do, and if so, do they care?
My wife is one of my biggest fans and supporters and she is enthusiastic about my nude figure work.  Most of the rest of my family also know and are quite supportive.

What are you hoping to achieve with your photography/modeling?
This is an issue I struggle with at times.  I began by wanting to simply produce beautiful images but now I am much more interested in producing bodies of work that communicate something more.  I often have trouble putting that "something more" into words.  I guess that's why I shoot photos!  Another thing I am currently exploring is the relationship of images and text and have they can supportive nd broaden each other.

Do you use social media much? If so, feel free to list where people can find you online.
My website is
I am on Facebook and am @eemccollum on Instagram.  I regularly post my work on both sites
I also am a regular contributor to Shadow and Light magazine

Any books, gallery representation etc you’d like to share?  
I am part of an excellent cooperative gallery in Alexandria, VA - Multiple Exposures Gallery   We are in the Torpedo Factory Art Center, which actually is an old torpedo factory that produced munitions beginning right after the First World War and continuing through the Second. 

Do you have an artist statement?  
I don't have a general artist statement but I try to produce a statement for each of the projects that I do.  If I were to say something general about my work, I’d say that I have moved away from shooting what might be thought of as classically beautiful figure studies in favor of images that may not seem beautiful but that have character, emotion, grit, and, hopefully, intimacy.

1 comment:

christian pélier said...

bravo my dan for this wonderful interview