Bio Awards: Art Directors Club Young Guns 5 American Photography 17 American Photography 20 D&AD Award Communication Arts Annual •I was interviewed a few years ago by Yale Breslin for www.wearethemarket.com and I think this is the best biography that has ever been pulled from me. (I am not a huge fan of talking about myself) -New York City based photographer Michael Greenberg is a man of detail and precision. I recently had the chance for a one-on-one with the photographer discuss the origins of his passion for photography, his love for Polaroid film ("instant tangibility"), as well as who he counts among his top photographers. Take a look….. Name: Michael Greenberg Occupation: Photographer Location: New York City •How did you get into photography? My older sister Debbie. I spent my entire childhood trying to get her to think I was “cool”. She basically shaped my musical taste as an impressionable kid. Growing up in New Jersey she used to take me to hair metal shows in the 80’s so back then I wanted to be a rockstar. All her friends had bands and I thought they were the coolest people on earth. So I got my first guitar at age 10, got lessons, and basically locked myself in my room until I was good enough to start my own band. She convinced me to take a photography class my junior year of high school because she had excelled in it. At first I looked at it as a chance at an easy “A” but when I showed up the first day, the teacher Mr. Frascella, turned to me and said, “Oh you are Debbie Greenberg’s brother? She was great!” suddenly I felt this huge pressure to not suck. I started out shooting my first rolls of film of skateboarding, hardcore/punk shows, and landscapes. Until one day Mr. Frascella sat me down and made me watch a documentary on Richard Avedon. After that I was hooked. I moved on to shooting portraits and the idea of going to college for photography started brewing in my head. I was encouraged to go to the Maine Photographic Workshops for a summer program where I met a bunch of professional photographers. I still remember my extremely short conversation with Mary Ellen Mark outside a darkroom where she told me she liked my print. I had no idea who the hell she was. But it was there that I realized that indeed I did not suck and I decided to go to college for photography and pursue photography as a profession. During my third year at college my friend Jay Bowen borrowed a box of my prints so he could put together a magazine for his graphic design portfolio class. His teacher was the wife of the Creative Director at MTV. When she was going over his magazine she asked him about the photos. He gave her my info and she offered me a huge job shooting all the portraits illustrating a novel that was given out at the 2000 Video Music Awards. After that I was a professional photographer. •What is your proudest accomplishment to date? When my friend Jim at MTV called me one Thursday, “Hey, do you want to go to Portugal next week to shoot this band?” He had hired me for a bunch of projects before that but that and have been sent to a lot of different locations for work but that was the first time I was going to be sent out of the country without any client oversight for a big budget job. At that moment I felt truly trusted as a photographer for the first time. •What are your favorite things to capture? I like to shoot portraits and landscapes. Its easier for me to take portraits for a client than landscapes. Landscapes are very personal for me I don’t like to feel as if I need to make those images to please a market. Its as simple as seeing something and capturing it the way I want to. My portraiture, though still very personal, has to fit in the magazine, ad, or whatever venue it is meant for. No matter what I am photographing though I just try to capture honest moments. •What inspires you? The unknown, space, quiet, and the fear caused by constantly running out of money. •Who are your favorite photographers and why? Richard Avedon- He was the best. My first and main inspiration. He bridged fashion and portrait photography in a way that I will always strive to achieve. Juergen Teller- His approach to portraiture and fashion photography is a serious breath of fresh air. Theres a certain freedom and lightness to what he does. He makes it look incredibly easy. Peter Lindbergh- He’s great at shooting beautiful pictures and composing cohesive narratives that work as both single images and 10+ page stories. Taryn Simon- For her series “An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar”. All I can say is wow. If you haven’t seen it I urge you to pick it up. My description wouldn’t do it justice. She has my loyal respect forever now. Nadav Kander- He is great! He is a huge source of inspiration for me because for the first few years of my career I was told that my photos were too “dark” and he’s a photographer who has made an entire career out of shooting beautiful, dark images. Luis Sanchis- he is one of the most underrated photographers ever. google him. •Who would be your ultimate dream subject to shoot? I really can’t choose just one so I will break down my top 3: Actor- Robert Downey Jr. he’s an amazing actor with incredible range. I feel like the possibilities would be endless. He seems to have this effortless charisma that I admire. Personal Icon- Bruce Springsteen- 1/2 Jersey pride. And the other half I associate Bruce Springsteen with my father. My dad loves Springsteen. I’d do it for him. It would be the ultimate gift. Great White Sharks- My biggest fear. I actually plan on going diving to photograph Great White Sharks. I have been fascinated with them for as long as I can remember. I’m not an adrenalin junky or anything like that but I when I think of photographing a personal project all I can think of is sharks. They are beautiful perfect animals at the pinnacle of their evolution; the absolute top of the food chain. •I love the Polaroids that you have taken. What do you think sets Polaroid shots apart from other film types? The instant tangibility of the pictures. The instant satisfaction of holding and seeing a Polaroid has something that digital photography will never achieve. Polaroids feel like magic. When I shoot my Polaroids its in bulk and I see first hand the impact they have which is unlike anything you can ever get from looking at a computer screen or the back of a digital camera. When you look at a Polaroid you have to acknowledge that it’s a one-off there is no negative (unless you are shooting the now defunct type 665 or type 55) there is no recreating it or reprinting. Polaroids are instantly limited to an edition of 1. My Polaroid series were all shot in 1 day sessions and create “Polaroid walls". I can’t talk about this series without thanking Jonas, Kevin, everyone at LRG, and especially photographer Kareem Black because they were the first to give me the opportunity to shoot these series of Polaroid walls. Most of them were shot at the clothing company LRG campaign photoshoot/parties and the others were shot at gallery openings. I set up a 4×5 camera and a simple lighting setup and photograph everyone who comes to the party or opening; around 500 people in a day, as is (no outside makeup or styling), 1 shot each. As they are shot I hang the shots on a wall and create an interactive photo installation. It's a social thing where people see each other on the wall and it becomes a social lubricant. Guys suddenly have an instant common ground to talk to girls and vise versa. It becomes a documentary on personal style and social interaction. The format of 4×5 polaroid lends an elegance to the series. The film, now discontinued , was really expensive which limited how often I can actually shoot a new series; which was hard because I love doing it. It had become almost a psychological experiment to me. In the very beginning of an event people are very stiff and untrusting of me and how I am going to portray them. Usually for the first 10 shots I am approaching people to photograph but as soon as that first row of polaroids is up on the wall there is a line of people behind me waiting to be shot. These shoots have also made me a much better photographer. Because of the sheer volume of subjects I get to shoot I am forced to come up with new poses or ways of manipulating people into giving me something new or fresh. I try my best to not let people repeat poses that have already been shot, which carries over to my editorial and commercial work. •Most memorable shoot? I would have to say shooting David Byrne for the cover of Stop Smiling Magazine. The editors of that magazine JC Gabel and James Hughes are very close friends of mine and when they approached me to shoot that cover I was so excited and overwhelmed. David Byrne’s music, both with the Talking Heads, and his solo stuff were such a part of my growing up as a child of the 80’s. He was my first icon and I was totally intimidated. All I could think about was how he was photographed by almost every major influential photographer of the previous 25 years. What was I going to do that would be different or even worthy of his stature? But as soon as he walked in it was as if I was just hanging out with one of my friends. When I showed him the Polaroid of the first setup, I’ll never forget it, he just said “yep that’s me.” I didn’t know quite how to take that but I just kept going. We talked about photography. He was a photography major at RISD for a little bit before he started the Talking Heads so we had some common ground. By the second setup I had earned his trust and he loosened up a lot. He ended up hanging out at my house with the writer/editor and I for like 3 hours just bullshitting. We all exchanged stories and just hung out. It was one of the best days of my career and I shot probably my most important 2 images that day. •What’s up next? More work, more traveling, plenty of more near-death experiences. I feel like my best days are ahead of me. I am extremely hard on myself and unless I am working and moving forward, I am dead in the water.