Interviewer: Hello, and welcome. We are here
in London on behalf of SLR Lounge with Erik Almas, whom I’ll be interviewing today. Erik,
hello, and welcome to London. Erik: Thank you. Thanks for having me. Thank
you. Interviewer: So if you’d like to first introduce
yourself? Erik: My name is Erik Almas, advertising photographer
from Norway, but I have lived and worked the last 19 years in the U.S. Travel internationally,
do a lot of high-profile advertising work. Interviewer: Great. Thank you. Why did you
choose commercial photography? Erik: Wow. I didn’t really choose commercial
photography. I wanted to be a sports photographer, and I came to the U.S. from Norway to study
photography with a specialization in sport. And I did that almost the first two years
of school. The idea was to learn as much as I could and then go back to Norway and work
for the local newspaper and cover sports, Olympics, world championships, and travel,
and see things that way. So halfway through school, about at the two-year mark, my interest
in photography started growing. I had this truly extraordinary teacher that changed my
look on photography from taking and capturing, you know, the peak moments in sports into
really creating moments and setting it up and doing things that was more personal rather
than just capturing. So that was a big turning point. Then I started exploring portraiture
and landscape. And when I was done with school there was a few photographers that I really
wanted to work for and all of those were advertising photographers. So I guess I had an inherent
interest in the work that was done and how that was applied commercially. And then I
assisted. I came into a commercial world, and that was kind of what I knew. So a lot
of people, they come into magazine work and do journalism work. Editorial first and then
travel into advertising, but I just sort of ended up there by assisting and seeing what
was done and kind of modeling my career path after the guy that I assisted. Interviewer: And, going back to your education
and where you were first interested in photography, in what ways did attending the Academy of
Art influence your work? Erik: So I didn’t choose the Academy of Art,
someone else did. I initially was supposed to study photography in Norway, and then I
talked to this photographer friend of mine in my hometown and he says, “You can’t study
photography in Norway. You have to go abroad. You have to the U.S. That’s where the good
schools are.” He said, “Talk to my assistant. He’s been doing a lot of research on schools
and he’s applying.” So I talked to this guy and he was very generous and said, “This is
all the research I’ve done. This is the school I decided for and here’s the application papers.”
So I just followed his lead and three months later I was in the U.S. at the Academy of
Art College. School was amazing for me. I think there’s amazing schools everywhere.
What it comes down to is really the teachers, and I think the Academy of Art has been good
at assembling really strong, really passionate teachers. So when I came to the academy, I
got soaked up in this environment that was really about teaching and giving. And now
you can absorb a lot of this stuff online, but what school does is to apply a framework
for you, right? So that you get feedback on the work instantly. You get to have weekly
assignments, and you get pushed forward to produce work consistently. So, for me, the
Academy of Art College was an amazing thing. I mean, it really put me where I am today.
So school is not for everyone but, for me, it was a really amazing experience. Interviewer: Now, speaking about inspiration,
what kind of mentoring have you had? And what was the greatest piece of advice that you’ve
received from them? Erik: Wow. I graduated from school and then,
as a foreign student, you get a one-year work visa so that you could work within the field
that you studied. And I got a full-time assistant job at Jim Erickson, and that was an extraordinary
time for me–not only an inspiring photographer but also a great businessman. And I graduated
with this portfolio in the spring show at the Academy of Art University and thought,
“Ooo, I’m a photographer,” and realized, you know, the first few days I worked for Jim
that I knew nothing. Yes, I had a sort of a decent eye but knew nothing about what went
into crafting pictures, the deeper meaning of them, how you bring yourself to them, and,
also, commercial production. I was completely at a loss the first few months, but I caught
up and I learned a lot–a lot, lot, lot. So the assisting part for me was actually an
extraordinary time, and that’s what I consider my apprenticeship or working for a mentor.
Everyone has different paths. I’m not saying assisting is for everyone but, for me, it
was an extraordinary experience. Interviewer: So was he the one who inspired
to do commercial photography, or were there any other artists who inspired you when you
first started? Erik: Yeah, of course there were. There was
a lot of people that I looked at. And this work, I really gravitated towards. [Inaudible
00:06:01]. I
discovered his work early on and he has this really soulful, fashiony, portraity quality
to his work. And it’s really quite outstanding. He’s been an inspiration all the way. Even
though my work looks nothing like his, it’s still truly inspiring. Annie Leibovitz came
a little bit later on, but I’m still really inspired by her work. And a little bit controversial
maybe because everyone loves to hate Annie Leibovitz, but what she is so extraordinary
at is, at a very high volume–consistently–working, working, working. Producing work at the quality
and that level that she does, it’s just baffling. She is exceptional compositer, the way she
puts things together and to line up different elements within the shot. Then, of course,
there’s that human element. I think she’s extraordinary also at connecting with people
and getting people to shine in her photographs. Someone that’s better at that than Annie Leibovitz
is Alvedon, of course. It’s hard not to mention him when you talk about inspiring photographers.
Again, maybe not as similar to the work I do, but it’s connection that he has between
himself and the people you photograph that’s nothing but astonishing. Of course, I got
inspired by the people that was close to me. This is pre-Internet, when I went to school,
and a lot of the San Francisco photographers, Jim Erickson, who I worked for, was a great
influence. Wilif Veltman [SP] is another guy that I could pull forward who did a lot of
beautiful landscape work that was one of the early adopters of the computer and using Photoshop
to sort of enhance the color palette. Amazing tactile quality to his work as well. So, I
mean, there’s influences everywhere, but those are a few. My first photo book ever was Robert
Frank, The Americans. I bought Arnold Newman. I bought Greg Gorman, Irving Penn. So, initially,
there wasn’t the Internet so I bought a lot of photo books. So different influences by
all the big masters whose books I could purchase. Interviewer: I remember attending one of your
seminars, and in one of them you mentioned to find your style in photography, that you
must go through a magazine and take out pictures that inspire you, and different styles and
looks, and some sort. And putting them together, by looking at them, you can find your style
in photography. Erik: Yeah, so… Interviewer: Is there something you recommend? Erik: Yeah, for sure. That’s a great point.
So I teach this in DVD. There’s to ways to get there, to find your style. The first is
to go out and shoot pictures, and over time you will see certain themes surface and you
realize that, “Oh, I’m attracted to these different things,” and you would keep on shooting
that and your style would surface. I think there’s a shortcut to this process where,
instead of doing all this work yourself, that you look at other people’s work. And you collect
this either from magazines, like me–old school–or on the line, and you get conscious of why
you like these pictures that you have assembled. Do you like them because of the light quality,
the people that’s in it, the subject matter, the mood of it? Is it somber? Is it happy?
Is it bright in color? Is it muted color? When you manage to make yourself fully aware
and conscience of the things you’re drawn to, you have actually found your style. You
can look at all these pictures you put together and say, “I like this because of that, and
that because of this.” And these elements–that light quality, that person, that landscape,
that place, that mood–are the things that’s my style. Those are the things I’m attracted
to. So if you put all those notes down on paper and only focus on that when you take
pictures, you will actually get to a place where you find your style pretty quickly. Interviewer: What do you think your style
is evolving? Erik: Wow. Good question. So what I realized,
really, is that, as we all seek sort of an expression of ourself, the stylist is something
that, it’s inherent. It comes from here. So I’m not sure if my style, at this point, right–sort
of found my voice–will change as much going forward. It’s more how I apply that voice,
to what subject matters. So I think now, the core of me and who I am–my style–will always
be visible in the work I do and that I could apply it to different subject matters and
different things. And, with that, of course, it will change a bit, but the core style of
Erik Almas will always be there, I think. Interviewer: What was one of your favorite
projects that you’ve done so far? Erik: Actually, I just wrote about experiences
in my blog today. So, it’s hard to measure one job or one experience against another
because they’re all different. And how can you say that one experience is better than
another, yeah? Every one is different and has an inherent sort of quality to it. If
I’m to bring up one maybe, it would be an assignment I did a couple years back for IHG.
It’s InterContinental Hotels Group. It’s the largest hotel group in the world. They have
InterContinental Hotel, Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza–five, six different hotel chains. And
we traveled almost two months, literally around the world, shooting for them. Interviewer: Wow. Erik: And that’s an experience that’s just
extraordinary. You know, you just pinch yourself a little bit, thinking that someone who will
allow you to travel around the world to take pictures and make a decent living at it. So
I think that’s one of the biggest assignment for me personally. Interviewer: If you had a dream job with relatively
unlimited cashflow and freedom, of course, what would you do? Erik: I think it would be the same. If you
ask me about projects and then, you know, if I had more money to apply to it, it wouldn’t
change anything really. Maybe I would travel further and get more help, but it doesn’t
change sort of the pursuit of expressing one’s self. So if I had a dream job and more money,
it wouldn’t change the thing that I’m seeking and the thing that I want to do. So a quieter
sensibility and more honest expression maybe, but it would still be the things that I’d
love to do in the future. Interviewer: At what point did you realize,
“Wow, this is getting big”? Erik: Wow. I can’t quite remember. I do remember
my first big assignment though. And there was a lot of older people that came from the
advertising agency, and it was me, and my assistant, and the producer. We were all sort
of this young crowd, and I remember thinking that, “Wow, I can’t believe they trust us
twenty-year-old somethings to do these big assignments.” But they did, and we performed
well. I do sense that pressure, though, almost on every job. There’s no job that doesn’t
come with some set of anxiety, or hope, or, “What’s the weather going to be like? Is everyone
going to perform, like the talent? And is all the pieces going to come together?” So
there’s all these unknowns when taking pictures. So I feel it’s big every time, to be honest.
I do feel that pressure. Interviewer: Yes, of course. What’s the most
difficult part of your work, and how do you overcome that? Erik: I mean, the most difficult part really
is taking the pictures. You can say maybe the most difficult part is to get the job,
to get people to trust you with their advertising budget, to say that, “You go ahead and so
this for us.” That is a big piece of it and it’s tough to start with, but when you get
a reputation and you’ve shown that you could successfully repeat your style and your vision
over and over again, the most difficult part become to excel and to make sure that you
set yourself up to do good pictures every time. So the taking pictures part is by far
the most difficult. Let me see how I say this. Whenever I take pictures, I try to understand
what the people who hired me are trying to accomplish. What do they want to say with
the pictures? What is their purpose? And all that stuff I try to absorb, and when I get
to the location or I got a shoot, I just try to put myself in that place and get a pictures
that somewhat feels honest to the cause of the photograph. So I don’t just show up and
think, “Oh, I’m just going to snap a photograph that looks like mine.” I truly stand there
and soak it up and say, “What is the purpose? How can I connect to it? What is about this
thing that’s personal to me so that I can bring myself to the project?” And maybe that
sounds a little sort of out there or ethereal, but it’s truly how I connect to the purpose
of the picture. And I think that might be the hardest part, to be conscience of it all
the time, that there’s an honest standpoint to it, and that it’s got to come from here. Interviewer: And are there times that you
wanted to quit? Erik: Yeah. Yeah. Not now, for sure. I mean,
when I started out and then I assisted for almost three years, and then I had this struggle
of getting work and I felt my pictures were good enough. I was getting to a place where
I felt, you know, it was applicable to the advertising community, and I still could not
get any work. It was this trying to move forward while standing still and not being able to
break through that wall. And I actually decided to quit here in the U.S., pack up and move
home to Norway. And I had this crazy chance encounter that inspired me to stay, and I
did not quit. And this person told me that, you know, “Just hang in there. If you move,
you would want to come back here, but that would be too late for you,” and I ended up
staying. And, as this guy said, I ended up breaking through that wall, and I’ve not really
stopped working sense. So, yes, I’ve been wanting to quit, but the last eight, nine
years, I have not. I’ve been living my dream really, so there’s no way I’m quitting now. Interviewer: Right. I have another question
for you. So it’s popular to ask advice for aspiring photographers, but you’ve moved past
what’s normal for a working professional, to a degree. What would you say to someone
who’s been doing this for a few years but still hasn’t quite reached their goal? Erik: Good question. I think the biggest advice
I could give is to not give up. When you’re at that threshold when you’ve been at it for
a while but still haven’t sort of reached your goals, it’s important to stay at it.
There’s impatience, I think, in today’s society where we all expect to be super successful
and get things right away, and it’s not quite that way with a craft like photography. It’s
so easy to get into and it’s so easy to do, but to get really good at it, to get consistent
at it, takes time. So I’d say give yourself patience and keep on working at it. Like the
question you asked, was there a time for me where I was about to give up? And, yes, there
was. And at that time I got encouragement to continue. And I think when you get the
most frustrated and when things feel the hardest, that’s when you’re the closest to reach your
goal. So I’d say keep on doing what you’re doing, and then, of course, you’ve got to
be consistently making pictures. You can’t sit in front of the computer and read, touch
your pictures, and say, “Oh, I’m not getting anywhere.” You’ve got to be outside consistently.
Keep doing pictures, keep doing pictures, and shoot, and shoot, and shoot really. So
those would be my two big encouragements. Interviewer: I’d like to ask you, other than
photography, what is the one thing that drives you towards the weekend or a day off? Erik: Wow. Photography is so all-encompassing
to me. It’s there all the time. There’s rarely a moment where I don’t think about pictures,
and what to do next, and how I can get better, and what needs to get done on the business
side. That said, anything with exercise. I run and mountain bike. Those moments are precious
to me. That’s where I get to lower my shoulders and work physically, which helps me also mentally
to relax and get a little bit of distance to my passions. Winemaking is another thing,
and I think the highlight of my life is when I can be with good friends, and eat good food,
and drink good wine, and share sort of moments like that. I think that’s what I look forward
to. Interviewer: Great. I’d like to thank you
for being here with us today in London and answering all these great questions. Erik: My pleasure. Interviewer: And a big thank you to SLR Lounge
for putting this all together. Thank you.