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Interview with Photographer Craig Havens

Craig Havens teaches Introduction to Digital Photography, which is often the course students start out with in our program. He’s a successful and productive photographer in both the commercial and fine art field, so I thought it would be interesting to hear a little bit about his process and experience. In the below interview, he talks about his latest project, Soundings, which you can view on his website, craighavens.com. His commercial work can be found on studio642.com.

Can you talk a little bit about your Soundings project? What’s your vision, how do you set up the shots, etc?

The imagery of Soundings depicts phenomenological occurrences set mostly within the nocturne landscape. The work is created by handholding a camera for as long as twenty minutes. During this time the camera settles into a state of stillness, allowing the phenomenon to unfold while releasing attachment to the outcome of the exposure.

This state correlates to many pan-religious descriptions of epiphanies of the sublime. The final creation and display of large-scale silver prints of these images mimic the intricate rituals and resonant metals of religious iconography. In essence, I am engaged in constructing a meaningful mythology around these moments.

How is the creative process different on commercial shoots than when you’re doing your own work? Is working for clients “paying the bills”, or does it just feel like another creative enterprise?

I have always felt that the artist’s intent is the determining factor between personal artwork and professional work. My art-making fuels everything else as far as inspiration and personal fulfillment is concerned.

With regard to commercial work as a creative enterprise, it varies greatly depending on the project. For example, I just completed shooting an editorial piece on San Onofre State Beach for Huck Magazine – a beautiful surf and skate magazine out of London. It was a completely solo shoot because my client was in England and had asked me to interpret the subject matter independently. I was able to spend 3 days just walking the beach alone and meeting surfers young and old while documenting the atmosphere of this unique Southern California beach.

On the other hand, I recently shot a national print campaign for Comcast Communications that involved a crew of almost 30 people on set. While producing and delivering a shoot like that can be nerve-wracking, I am fortunate enough to be working with a lot of professional creative people who are great at what they do. In the end we had a wonderful shoot and delivered above and beyond what the client was expecting.

You just sold a piece – congratulations! What were the circumstances, and what does it mean for the project?

Yes, I was recently honored to be asked by the curator of the Armory Center for the Arts, Jay Belloli, to participate in the Pasadena Armory Biennial Art Auction. This is a great event held every two years to support the arts in LA. The event was a great success and a wonderful collector and patron of the arts who is very active in collecting photography acquired my piece. Any time a collector is willing to add an artist to their collection by acquiring a work, it affirms the convictions of the artist that there is an audience for their work. So I was very pleased to be a part of the event and am looking forward to completing the series and showing it in full over the course of the next year.

What’s something you’ve learned by experience that you wish you could go back and tell your just-getting-started photographer self?

I’ve definitely learned that making art takes patience and perseverance. I always had deeply personal reasons for creating and that has sustained me through the hard times. I’ve learned that no matter what may come, the work always continues. Over time the process becomes less and less about defining your success against exterior measures. Eventually an artist’s measure of success becomes very personal and the greatest challenge becomes the act of creation itself.

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