From the Mind of a High School Senior
by Jessica Gordon
August 14, 2012 —
While this issue of Rangefinder is aimed at senior portrait photographers, Alex Stoddard has generated loads of buzz for actually being a high school senior. The advanced quality of work in his 365-day photo project has caught the attention of Chase Jarvis’ blog and My Modern Met, plus it has generated about 7.5 million page views on the (now) 18-year-old’s Flickr account.
“With 365 projects—not unlike new year’s resolutions—many start, few finish,” wrote Chase Jarvis about Stoddard on his blog in March. “...Alex Stoddard not only finished the project BUT is just 17 years old and has created a remarkable body of work in the process. Think you don’t have anything to learn from a 17-year-old photographer? Think again.”
Having just graduated from high school this past May, Stoddard not only used his teenage friends as subjects in his portraits, he was also keyed into—probably more than any professional photographer—how high schoolers want to be photographed. Shown in Stoddard’s portraits are serious, artful and sometimes moody-looking characters, many of them his friends around his Fortson, Georgia, hometown.
“In regard to senior portrait photographers, I think [photographers often] fit into a mold of what they think seniors would want—which is walking through a field, or really cheesy, done-a-million-times-before kinds of pictures,” Stoddard says. “I think any photographer, regardless of what niche they fall into, should focus mostly on creating their own, individual style that would get them noticed and give their clients unique images that aren’t just like their other classmates.”
Influenced by popular fiction such as Harry Potter and The Hunger Games, and photographer Rosie Hardy, Stoddard began shooting photos during his sophomore year of high school in the spring of 2010, originally with the goal of a better Facebook profile pic.
“I started getting more creative and realized I couldn’t just hold the camera in front of my face,” says the teen who didn’t take art classes in school, but had an affinity for creative writing. “I would steal my mom’s tripod out of her closet when she wasn’t home, and sneak off to the woods and take pictures of myself, gradually getting more creative with compositions and locations.” He bought a Nikon D3000 and—after seeing the way Hardy’s work improved during her own 365 project—decided to embark on the same journey, taking a picture every day for a year, in between school and his job at Stevi B’s Pizza.
The resulting portraits are dark, intricate and often fantastical; Stoddard says he spends an average of three hours in post-production on a single photo. “The one picture I shoot is never final,” says the photographer, who upgraded to a Canon 5D Mark II halfway through his project. “I’ll shoot a main image and pan to each side and take a picture. I merge them all into one picture to expand the frame. I do that with almost any picture I take. Then I’ll go to work on adjusting tones and colors individually.”
In addition to mixing up the locations, in Stoddard’s experience, adding a story to his pictures helps with the creative process. “Make your subjects characters and give them a story to portray or emotion to have come across in their faces or body expressions,” says Stoddard, who also counts the Pre-Raphaelite artist John William Waterhouse and photographer Tim Walker as inspirations. “In my opinion, I like pictures that tell stories.”
This tactic has worked so well for Stoddard that he’s (for now) abandoned his original plan to go to college and become an anesthesiologist; instead, he moved to Southern California after graduation to pursue photography as a career. So far, he has been tapped for two solo shows (one at Galerie Hautefeuille in Paris, and the other, a three-month exhibit at the Mazzitelli & Friends of Mine cafes in Melbourne, Australia), and his work has been featured in Swide by Dolce & Gabanna, La Repubblica and Posi+tive magazine. Stoddard, who at press time was looking for representation, is savvy enough to realize that being young is—right now—his biggest asset. “I know, as an artist, I should say [the attention is] because of my work, and not necessarily my age,” he says. “But at this point, just beginning with photography, I don’t have a problem riding that card to bring me opportunities to create better work that I wouldn’t have been able to create having not gotten this attention because of my age.”
And although being a fresh face, so to speak, is an advantage in the world of editorial, it’s not always ideal when it comes to friends and family portrait photography.
“Sometimes, clients who I do commission work for. . .will ask for little favors that they wouldn’t normally ask for, like extra files or [they’ll] be surprised at the amount I would ask them for a shoot and try to negotiate a better deal,” Stoddard says. “That’s an instance where my age is actually detrimental. I stay strong; I like to think of myself as a professional, so I’m not someone who’s going to be talked down in price. I like to stand up for my work and what I think it’s worth.”
Wise words from someone who says he still has a lot to learn about the business side of photography.
While his eventual dream is to shoot book and album covers, editorials and big-budget projects that his current income doesn’t allow, at the end of the day, Stoddard is a gifted artist with a career worth following. “I would like to blend my writing and photography, and maybe do a book of stories and shoot a photo to accompany each,” he says. “I’d like to keep working and doing what I love and being happy with it. I think that’s what most people want.”
Jessica Gordon is associate editor at Rangefinder. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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