September 1, 2009
Rocky Schenck, a true artistic visionary, does double duty as a photographer and videographer. As a master photographer, he has shot innovative commercial portraits of numerous celebrities including Nicole Kidman, Laurence Fishburne, Sarah Jessica Parker and Tom Cruise. As a videographer, Rocky has written and directed award-winning music videos of musicians such as Rod Stewart, Diana Krall, Donna Summer, Stevie Nicks and Sheryl Crow, among many others. With an incredible eye for beauty, each project he undertakes shows his methodical artistic vision.
Rocky grew up on a ranch in the hill country outside Dripping Springs, TX. At an early age, per his request, his parents enrolled him in painting and drawing classes to learn to paint landscapes in the romantic style of his great-great-grandfather Hermann Lungkwitz, and the sensitive portrait work of his great-great uncle Richard Petri. Lungkwitz eventually became a photographer who traveled around the country with his magic lantern extravaganza, which he called “Stereomoniscopic Dissolving Views and Polariscopic Fire Works” (a predecessor to motion pictures). The magic lantern story enthralled Rocky and helped him decide to be an artist and photographer. Rocky says, “To this day I collect the art of Lungkwitz and Petri. Their work is a constant inspiration and I realize how closely I have followed in their footsteps.”
In addition to his artistic genealogy, his family has been very supportive of his endeavors. “My parents were also an important factor in my artistic development. They loved transforming every holiday or birthday into a wonderful production, which encouraged fantasy and imagination in me and my sister.” His father bought him a Yashica twin-lens reflex camera and taught him how to use his Super 8 movie camera. Rocky began experimenting with both photography and filmmaking in his early teens. He shares, “I wrote, directed, photographed and edited short experimental films. I learned photography by taking stills on the sets of my little movies. Watching films taught me about the art of cinematography. From picture books I attempted to duplicate the respective styles of famous Hollywood portrait photographers of the 1930s and 1940s such as George Hurrell, Laszlo Willinger and Clarence Sinclair Bull.”
While in college at North Texas State University Rocky took film and photography classes, but found it more interesting to continue on his own journey and learn through trial and error rather than by taking additional classes. On the side Rocky continued to make his own films and shoot stills, and eventually made the decision to move to Los Angeles to pursue careers in both filmmaking and photography.
Moving to Los Angeles, Rocky survived by taking on a variety of jobs associated with film and photography. He worked as a production assistant, location scout, an assistant to art directors for film companies and created art for movie posters. Shooting actors’ headshots taught him about camera angles and the business side of photography. His influences varied from photographer Paul Outerbridge to painters Edvard Munch and Edward Hopper. While he continued making his own films, he studied the films of George Cukor, William Wyler, Fritz Lang and Ernst Lubitsch.
A turning point in Rocky’s career came in 1987 when a New York gallery owner saw a collection of Rocky’s fine art nudes. The gallery owner gave him an exhibition that was well reviewed, which led to a second exhibition of his landscape work. Soon, other galleries began to show his work. After more favorable reviews, he started working on advertising assignments and record album covers. His foray into making short films led to writing and directing music videos.
Shooting Like a Rock Star
Rocky combines his day job (music videos) with his passion for photography, making sure he is never without his camera. Comments Rocky, “I am constantly working on my personal art photography, which has been and will continue to be the main focus in my life.” Directing music videos affords him the time to travel to interesting locations, and he always builds in plenty of time for shooting personal work. Rocky says, “I take my camera with me everywhere and shoot whatever fascinates me.”
Rocky recently completed writing and directing a new music video for one of his favorite singers, Adele. The video was shot in one day at the old MGM studios in Culver City, CA, on the same soundstage where the poppy field scenes in The Wizard of Oz were shot 71 years ago. Rocky has always admired the artistry of the hand-painted scenic backdrops used on film sets, and he was able to incorporate multiple backgrounds that he felt were appropriate for Adele’s song and lyrics. He shares, “I set up and rehearsed the video for six or seven hours with a fantastic crew, then filmed it in one continuous take.” Rocky designed all the lighting cues, camera moves and backdrop cues, which took a week of preproduction. He ended up using the eleventh and last take. (Eleven is his lucky number.) The video can be seen on MTV, VH1 and YouTube. To see more musical videos directed by Rocky search YouTube.com for Rocky Schenck.
For stills, Rocky shoots with a Mamiya RZ67 medium format camera and Nikon SLR 35mm cameras. Currently, he does not shoot with digital cameras. He prefers natural and tungsten lighting and never uses strobes.
Rocky has experimented with digital printing for his fine art photography but has been unhappy with the paper choices available. Shares Rocky, “I am currently in the process of reviewing my fine art photography archives and printing new and old photos that I’ve never printed before. It’s been an interesting experience.” He does a lot of hands-on manipulation on each individual print, and so far, he has not found a digital paper stock that comes close to matching the look of his photographic prints.
Continues Rocky, “I encounter photographs that I had shot and forgotten, and I now find myself curious how my tastes have changed over the years. And why I didn’t really notice some of these images the first time around. I’m also reviewing my commercial photography archives, and I plan to post new ones on my website, which needs updating, in the near future.”
Rocky says, “Each year is very different for me, career-wise. I find it completely unpredictable and exciting. Sometimes, the focus is strictly on my fine art work and there’s very little commercial work to be had. I have never had a photography representative. It’s always been strictly word-of-mouth. I don’t really have the personality to go out and hustle for work, so if the phone doesn’t ring, I don’t get too nervous or worried. I know that it will eventually ring and there will be a job. Someone will see a photo, track me down, and we’ll do a shoot. An artist’s career is a series of peaks and valleys—and I enjoy both equally. I’ve always got something to keep me busy.”
For his music videos, David Naylor and Associate (DNA) has represented Rocky for many years. For fine art, Rocky is represented by the following galleries: M+B Fine Art, Los Angeles; Jackson Fine Art, Atlanta; Catherine Edelman, Chicago; Stephen L. Clark, Austin; and the Volakis Gallery, Napa Valley. His unique photographic style can be seen in his books, Rocky Schenck: Photographs and Los Angeles. His photographs have been published in Graphis and C International Photo Edition 7. For more about Rocky visit his website at http://rockyschenck.com/.
On October 15th, Rocky Schenck will be giving a lecture on his photography and filmmaking at SUNY Fredonia (New York). For more information, contact Stephen.email@example.com or Michele.Bernatz@fredonia.edu.
Let There Be Light: Rocky shares his important tips for lighting his subjects
Fine Art Approach (photo 5 in gallery)
In my fine art photography, I’m a natural lighting guy. I utilize the existing lighting conditions I encounter wherever I happen to be shooting. There is no manipulation of light whatsoever—except through my choice of shutter speed and aperture setting. I travel with zero lighting equipment and only a couple of cameras and lenses. I like to keep it simple.
Commercial Approach (photo 6):
With my commercial photography, I’m the exact opposite. I’m obsessed with lighting and create elaborate lighting diagrams to illustrate the exact placement of multiple light sources—sometimes incorporating up to 20–30 lights for a single shot. My background in filmmaking gave me a fascination with hot lights, since I learned photography by taking stills on my movies. I like seeing how the light falls on a face, a figure and an environment at all times, and this is why strobes were never my thing. I approach each setup as if I were lighting a scene in a movie. My lighting package usually consists of multiple 200-watt mini-moles (Fresnel tungsten spots), 1000-watt 1Ks, 2000-watt 2Ks, 2K Zip Soft Lights (professional soft lights) and some Kino Flos (high-output [HO] spectrally specific fluorescents).
Lighting Faces (photo 7):
I’ve always been fascinated by how a face can appear radically different depending on the light source illuminating it. For many years, I shot hundreds of portraits and actors’ headshots to earn a living. In a way, this was my college for lighting. I would experiment with various lighting approaches during these sessions, eventually discovering what worked and didn’t work for me. I would try everything from hard lights with different types of diffusion to soft bounce lighting to natural light. I learned that many faces simply could not handle hard light, while others looked fantastic with this approach.
Working From Home (photo 8):
Since my home is my studio for a lot of my commercial and portrait work, I have the freedom to spend hours and sometimes days pre-lighting certain assignments. I have the luxury of time to perfect my lighting design without the pressure of a client breathing down my neck. After each shoot, there are usually celebratory cocktails for all.
Paul Slaughter is a world-traveled photographer, writer, and ASMP member residing in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Paul specializes in location, stock and fine art photography. An avid jazz lover, he has an extensive portfolios of jazz legends. You can view Paul’s work at www.slaughterphoto.com.