Editor's Pick: Ian Witlen
by Jessica Gordon
March 10, 2014 —
Ian Witlen’s passion for photography was instantly apparent to me back in 2007 when I met the shooter—then still in school—at Art Basel Miami, where he was covering the art fair for student publication PDNedu. He was so serious and dedicated to the craft, I had no doubt he’d be successful.
Seven years later, the South Florida-based Witlen is on point, regularly shooting assignments for Rolling Stone, SPIN, Red Bull and the Village Voice, with additional projects for iHeartRadio, Universal UK/Mercury Records and Billboard.
Witlen found his niche when an editor for SPIN saw his college portfolio in 2008 and asked him to shoot a music festival for the magazine’s “Soundcheck” section. While it took a few years of continuously sending work to art directors and editors to establish himself, Witlen has now shot just about every major music festival in the country on assignment for a music publication.
Sometimes those festivals happen to be on cruise ships, as depicted in the two photos featured here, shot for Rolling Stone during the Holy Ship!!! Cruise, a 4,000-passenger, three-day electronic music festival/vacation that took place this past January.
Having covered quite a few music cruises, Witlen has seen his fair share of “drunk cruisers vomiting overboard and one passenger onto another. Definitely gross,” he says.
But Witlen is quick to dispel one misconception people have about music photographers. “I’ve shot alongside photographers who think their job is to get drunk and have a good time,” he says. “Put simply, I’m here to do a job. My entire future rides on my professionalism and the quality of my work. At times, I only have five minutes to get the portrait I need and move on. Festival shooting is grueling; it’s 10- to 14-hour days shooting in the trenches, and then another 3 to 4 hours editing for deadline.”
Luckily, he’s been able to handle the pressure. Witlen’s most recent project was a three-day shoot in the Bahamas for composer Mike Oldfield’s label, Universal UK; the subsequent photos will serve as the main liner art in a special edition and collectors’ edition boxed set to be released this month.
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