George Lange, Portrait Photographer Interview Part One

About George Lange

George Lange is a portrait photographer.  To see his work, check out his website here: Lange Studio.  

After the interview, George and I had some fun taking photographs in Kyle’s workshop outside of BDW.  Check out part 2 here: http://bit.ly/17GWGLd

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What projects are you currently working on?

This week, the main focus is the show at City Club here in Boulder.  We’ve been working  on choosing the images, getting the prints made, hanging them in the gallery so it makes sense, pushing out the word, writing an artist statement, and including a caption under each image telling the stories.    It’s frustrating because I look at the show and there are only nineteen pictures.  For each one of these pictures there could have been 100 others.  Getting it down to 19 was really hard.  I also don’t think of my work as art.  Even though the space isn’t a true gallery, this is the closest I’ve ever come to having a show.  Just seeing the printed pictures is a different experience.  I typically view pictures on a screen and only this big [holds up his fingers to indicate a very small frame].  With Instagram on a tiny screen you think, “Wow, these are amazing pictures,” but then you blow them up and they don’t look as great.

Another project is my book that is coming out on September 1st.  It’s titled,  “The Unforgettable Photograph.”The book suggests ways of seeing and appreciating your life while giving tips on how to document its unique and wonderful qualities.  Workman Press has organized a public relations campaign for the book; I actually just interviewed at eight different magazines in NYC last week.  We’ll probably do some television shows closer to the launch.

I also met with Powell Communications that does the PR for BDW, and they really love you guys.  People may think Boulder is a small closed community, but BDW showed me how national – actually even international – the network is.  You think by moving to Boulder you’d be out of the loop, but after talking with Powell I learned that BDW has helped them double their business in the past year!  The relationship between Boulder in 2013 and the rest of the world is really powerful.  The head of the City Club, Sina Simantob who is a developer in Colorado (he built the Pearl Street Mall, The Boulderardo, St. Julien, etc.) told me that in order to make big money in Boulder you need to travel, but I’m not so sure.  You may need to travel a little, bit it’s amazing what an international city Boulder has become.

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You also photograph TLC, correct?

Yes, I’ve been photographing fifteen TLC shows this year.  I’m photographing Honey Boo Boo again in two weeks.  I’ve also been working on an assignment for Pinnacle Bank, a large bank in the West which has me traveling to Colorado Springs, Nebraska and Missouri.  I just completed the annual report for White Wave, which is Horizon Dairy and Silk products.  I have been doing all of the photography for Cardinal Health for over ten years.  I have traveled all over the world for them and, in May, I’m off to Columbus.

What’s your current role in BDW?

One of the most exciting things I’m doing is BDW.  David and I haven’t yet really figured out which door I’m entering but I have a key and title of “artist in residence.”  Pulling into BDW, I know I’m entering one of my very favorite places in Boulder.  It’s filled with great ideas –  smart and super nice people.  I feel like when you look for home, you look for different things, and for me, it’s the community.  I really need that community and since I’ve walked into BDW, I knew I wanted to be a part of it.

What has been your experience moving to Boulder so far?

I love being a part of Boulder’s community as a whole.  I moved here last July and I don’t want to say I worked hard, but it was a conscious process to become part of this community.  I want to know the creatives, business people, students…  Even the woman who runs my bank is a riot.  She is so great, has such an amazing energy and is so well-connected.  I have just met amazing people here.  To learn more about the community, I started hanging out at the co-working spaces.  If you’re in NYC, you never really know what you’re putting out there because the bar is so high and competitive you feel like it’s never enough; I’m never successful enough, I’m never famous enough or I’m never rich enough.  When I came here and people knew my work it was little bit heady as well as incredibly humbling and exciting. People knew all of this work I’ve done and all I’ve been doing is taking pictures.  I’ve haven’t been exhibiting or promoting but it gets shown commercially, and all over the web.   All I think about is taking pictures; I don’t even look at them, I just take them.  I come here and I’m forced to look at them to do a show. and the book.  Being embraced in Boulder has been really nice.

My photography has always opened doors for me.  I’ve shot in Washington and then, all of a sudden, I am in the Oval Office. Without my camera, I would have never been there.  Or I’m at a research facility in Germany, or a hospital in Belgium or a manufacturing plant in Mexico, and I could never have gotten into these places without my camera; it opens doors.  I come to Boulder, and the work has opened doors.  It’s been really fun.  It doesn’t make you anyone’s best friend but it opens doors to start a dialogue.

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What are some of your favorite projects you’ve worked on in the past?

All my projects have really started with obsessions.  I was shooting in Columbus for Cardinal Health and there was a tiny ice cream shop.  I would go there, they had flavors I have never heard of, and I couldn’t believe how delicious they were.  I realized the woman  making the ice cream was approaching her work like an artist approaches a body of work.  Jeni Britton, of Jeni’s Splendid  was a total creative that would do this amazing line of ice cream.  I got her number, we had dinner and became really good friends.  I started photographing the company and they would pay me in ice cream.    We both understood what we were working on and we let each other do our thing.  We created these works and now she sends ice cream to my all of my shootings.

Another project started when I was in Western Massachusetts at Jacob’s Pillow and saw a dance performance.  The last piece was a 7-minute piece where a guy bit a woman’s tongue for the entire performance; she was drooling and it was just crazy.   I thought to myself, “I need to meet this choreographer.”  Her name is Aszure Barton who is a well-known Canadian choreographer.  I spent months tracking her down and we finally had lunch.  She arrived in sunglasses and almost didn’t want anything to do with me because she thought i was a stalker.  We became friends and I became the photographer for her company.   The body of work I created from this wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t reached out.  We now really trust one another and we’ve just become really good friends.

What was it like working with Glenn Beck?

It was one of the craziest, most fun projects I’ve worked on.  I grew up a big liberal in Pittsburgh and I didn’t ever want to photograph Republicans.   I wished them well, but I didn’t want to be part of their PR machine.  It was a way that I stayed true to myself and slept well at night. Even though it was a bit obnoxious, it was a deal I made with myself.  So I got this assignment from Turner to photograph this guy, Glenn Beck, and I didn’t know his politics, but we just ended up having this crazy chemistry.

We did 10 different concepts and ideas in New York in one day.  He was on a diet, so we decided to put a dog collar around him with a piece of cake outside of it.   It was absurd.  It was a really good shoot though.  They asked me to shoot him again, so I rented Richard Avedon’s studio.  Everyone from Marilyn Monroe to the Beatles had been photographed in this teeny room.  Avedon had  died and you could rent out this amazing room with ghosts flying all over.  Most of the ideas for Glenn’s book weren’t good, but I did them in good faith.   At the end Glenn said, “I hate California.” And I said “How can you hate California?  That doesn’t make any sense.”  So he really got me started.   I saw a map on the wall,  got an Exacto knife and cut the state of California out the map; it’s shaped like a tongue.  I put it in his mouth and said “eat this.”  He started eating it and acted like he had indigestion.  I then asked him to spit what was left at the camera, so he spat this huge wad of California at me.  The cover of his book ended up being this photograph of California in his mouth like a tongue coming out.

They called me to do his second book, but I said, “No, I’m not going to do this.  I know his politics and I can’t be involved with him.” An editor called me and said “You guys have some really crazy chemistry going and you really need you to pursue this.” I ended up doing his second book cover and it got even crazier.  Then we were off and running.  For six months I was taking these incredible pictures, but I told him until he completely trusted me I wouldn’t put them out into the world.  He said “Okay, I really trust you,” and I put the pictures out.  It started a three-year relationship.  He actually calls me his communist friend and we could not be more opposite politically. It’s turned into one of the richest creative projects of my life.  He is also very generous creatively, financially, and as a friend.  It’s completely bizarre but great.

Overall, my clients and I work really well together; I usually partner with them for years so it allows me to really understand what they’re doing and what they need.  It frees me to push the envelope because I have their trust too.

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What are you initial thoughts on the importance of creative spaces?

When I have the camera in my hand, I’m in a completely different zone.  I can make anything work well.  I just need to be able to connect with my subject.  That can mean a lot of different things including super loud music and dozens of lights firing with crazy energy.  Or it could a quiet moment in a simple room with beautiful light on a third floor attic.  Then there’s everything in-between.  When I have my camera in my hand I’m completely uninhibited.  I’ll say anything that comes to my mind, I’ll take any picture I can imagine and I’ll open myself up.  I’m  comfortable failing. because it’s a process working toward an interesting photograph.  You just never know what’s going to really work to make an interesting picture.  Some people might not think that they are interesting, but I find fascinating things about everyone.  You never know where that great picture is going to be.  Compare it to people who go on those dating sites looking for the funny, rich, skinny, blond, athletic type and then they find someone they love who is poor, fat and lazy.  It could be a perfect match.  So the idea that we might know the perfect place and idea for us is a fantasy.  I don’t know where the best pictures are going to come from.  I don’t know who is going to be the most amazing person I ever met.  There are certain people in your life that are going to change it forever.  Jeni Britton, the ice cream genius in Columbus,  Aszure Barton and even Glenn Beck have changed my life.  I had no idea that Glenn Beck would change my life.  It’s the same thing with a place.  There’s an attic in a theater on 4th Street in the East Village in Manhattan where the occupants moved out and didn’t take their stuff.  It is the most magical space I’ve ever photographed in; it’s a junk heap, but the light is beautiful.   All the stuff in it photographs amazingly and I took  beautiful pictures there.   I’ve worked in fancy locations and the most expensive studios in NYC and LA, but it is hard to beat that magical room on 4th Street.  You never know when everything is going to come together.  The fun part is going out every day and exploring people, places, light and yourself.  You try to get everything to line up, but you can’t push it that hard.   You have to be into the natural rhythm of things and let things line up for yourself too.

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What do you aim to capture when you photograph people?

My thing is I want to capture what it’s like to kiss someone.  There is something that is both grounded and otherworldly.  There is something intimate, but you’re communicating through feelings.  I love that idea.  I love that you can communicate and have this experience that’s just between two people, but can also have waves.  It can go out into the world.  When I take a picture, I’m trying to understand the most intimate part of the subject and myself and I’m not thinking about anything but that moment.  There’s a piece of me that has done this for so long that I know and can understand how images go out into the world.

Even with this show, the guy we put on the poster of the show, Claudio,  had been in Cirques De Soleil, had an international following from that, and now is the star of SNL in Brazil.  He reposted my invitation on his Facebook page and we’ve received the craziest ripples from this moment we had in a studio in NY two years ago.  I love that.  I’m trying to capture and figure out how we’re all connected and making everyone really special.  Those are the questions I ask myself every day.  The only way to photograph that is to really experience it.   I consider myself a storyteller.  People should understand you’re playing with it a little bit.

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Part 2: http://bit.ly/17GWGLd

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