George Lange, Portrait Photographer Part Two “I believe if you’re in the right relationship, it should free you”

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.  This interview has 2 parts; here is part 1 if you didn’t read it already: http://bit.ly/11xSyw5

What is the most important thing you learned from Annie Leibovitz?

Choreography.  There’s a certain way that people interact and we all have our own rhythm.  With Annie, just by being with her for a year, I could see the dance she did with her subjects, clients and herself.  I didn’t want to be Annie Leibovitz, but by studying her, I left and had to figure out my own rhythm and choreography.  I took many years to find this, but when people ask me what I learned it’s definitely choreography.

Is this choreography trying to make your subject comfortable while you take photos?

It’s part of it, but I don’t necessarily need people to be comfortable.  I don’t care so much if they love me, it’s not as much about that as it is about the jumping off point that makes people really interesting; then I’m interested.  I’m trying to figure out how things fit together.  I’m trying to find something that’s funny, so the person I’m photographing is in on the joke (I try not to make fun of people).  Let’s attach a chair to a wall,  put clothespins on Jim Carey, and crawl around on the floor like tigers with Honey Boo Boo.  I’m just trying to also entrertain myself too.  I’m not trying to say anything profound or make a major statement of life; I’m trying to enjoy myself and have others enjoy themselves too.  I’m more concerned about the wake I leave behind.  I don’t need people to love me, but I want to leave people loving themselves.  A lot of people have self esteem issues about how they look.  I don’t really care what you look like – I don’t care what your hair looks like, how you’re make-up is done or what you’re wearing. Mostly I’m interested in who you are.  I’m interested in a good playmate. Creativity is mostly playing together and trying lots of things.  It’s equivalent to trying on clothes.  This is fun, this works, this is weird trying this shirt on as pants, or this is crazy wearing this hat backwards.  That’s what I’m interested in with people.  It’s not the way they look.  Having done this in LA and NY, I’ve been able to hire amazing make-up artists, stylists and hairdressers, so I don’t have to think about those things since professionals are good at that.  The truth is I’m not that visual of a photographer.  I’m happy taking pictures with my eyes closed.  It’s not my eyes that drive my photography, it’s really all the other elements.

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Why did you decide to move to Boulder?

The straight answer is that my brother Andrew had a heart attack.   It was one of those phone calls that instantly changes your life.  I spoke with him the morning and then I got a call later that day he was in a hospital in a coma and probably not going to make it.  I flew in that night from my home in Maplewood, NJ.   Andrew was in ICU at Boulder Community, and I just camped out for two weeks where his friends all gathered and poured so much life into that room.   On a Thursday night, I left the ICU late, went home fell asleep, and at 5:30 AM the phone rang.  It is generally a bad call to get at that time of day, but it was the nurse who said, “I’m here with your brother, let me put him on.”  He said, “I’m awake.  Come over!”  He was home a week later and now he’s totally fine; he got married, he’s hiking and he’s great.  My wife visited Boulder around that time,  looked around and asked, “Are we moving here?”  And I said, “I haven’t even looked up.”  I have only been in the hospital or sleeping.”   Yet as soon as she said that I thought, “Why not?”  I’m at the point in my career where I do have a certain level of freedom, so we decided to move our family out to Boulder.  We didn’t want to waste the summer packing, so we put everything in boxes in two weeks and just headed out here.  We have two children, 2 and 5, so they were at a good age to move.  We don’t talk that much before we do things.  Even when we had kids or got married, it all seemed like natural evolutions. The  discussion for our second child eating dinner together one night alone when Jackson was 3 and sleeping upstairs. Stephie said,  “There’s something missing from this house.” And I asked,  “New sofa?  Good juicer? What do we need?”  She said, “The rest of our family.”  The move out to Boulder was similar and we got out here that fast.

How has the move affected your work?

I didn’t know how the move was going to affect work.  It didn’t seem like  a growth move, so my goals were to maintain the clients I had in NY, get some local work and reduce my overhead.   The biggest surprise, is that this is turning into the greatest career move I could have made.   I am actually shooting more in NY than when I lived here, and have new clients out here in Boulder and Denver that I love.

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How is the community different from where you were living before?

I grew up in a really tight, wonderful community in Pittsburgh, and I hadn’t been able to find that in my adult life.  I’m not blaming anyone, but the community where we lived in New Jersey just outside of NYC was filled with people who were very busy.  They were getting up at 7AM, dropping kids off at daycare, working super hard, coming back after 7PM.   If we wanted to have dinner with someone it was, “Okay, how about in six weeks?”  My schedule is so crazy I need to do things spontaneously.  My perception was that people were nice, just not available.  Everyone we met out here in Boulder is nice and a little crazy sometimes, but the community feels much more available.   Moving didn’t seem scary, it felt like a fun thing to do.  Now when I’m back in NYC, many express jealousy about the move.  People say, “I can’t believe you did what I dream of doing.”  Everyone loves Boulder.  Boulder has really good word of mouth reputation.

People get locked into their lives and believe they can’t get out, but you’re never stuck.  You might lose money selling your house or breaking a lease, but we have this one precious life and every second is special.  With my kids, if someone tells me, eating this hamburger will take away one minute of being with them, then I’m not going to eat it.  I want every minute I can get with my wife and kids, and I would never do anything to consciously jeopardize that. If you just accept the most important thing in life is your family then material things aren’t as important.  Your house and stuff aren’t that important.  When my father died, he didn’t take anything with him; he didn’t take his wallet, watch, clothes, or house.  We came here with nothing and we’re not leaving with anything.  In between, we have these 70-80 precious years.  I don’t want to be irresponsible, build something up and throw it away for no reason, but everything that’s precious to me came out to Boulder.  When we moved out here as a family I had everything I needed, Boulder felt really special since the first day.  But yes, when you move, it’s a big deal.  Stephie and I are both artists so we are very comfortable with change; we really try to reinvent ourselves every day.

My memory is horrible, I can’t remember so much of what happened  – that’s my nature.  That’s another reason why I take pictures!    Too many memories clog my brain; I don’t want to be thinking about memories so much; my great pleasure is having experiences with people I love and meeting new people.  I don’t get that much pleasure spending  time thinking what was, what I did.  I thought by the time I was 50 my career would be over; they would be onto the new, young photographer, I’d be out of ideas or I’d be stale, but the opposite has happened.  I feel freer, more alive, full of ideas and as adventurous than ever.  I think that comes from a long term relationship with my work and it is all fed by being in such a great marriage with my wife, Stephie.  I believe if you’re in the right relationship, it should free you.  It shouldn’t be holding you back.  You should feel more adventurous because someone is watching your back, supporting you completely, and letting you love them – and that all makes you feel freer.

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Is there a specific type of space where you feel the most inspired?

When my camera is in my hands, good things happen.  Every day I take pictures.  Every day something happens because the camera is in my hand.  I think of things I never would have thought of, I meet people I never thought I’d meet, I say things I never thought I’d say, and I make money I never dreamt of earning.  All good things happen when I have the camera and it’s a huge gift.  It’s like your own magical rock that has special powers and when you hold it, it glows and you can do things you never thought possible.  It’s crazy, just crazy.  It’s getting even more like that.  It’s just super fun.

I’ve never lived in a place as beautiful as Boulder.  Every single day at some point, I stop, look around and think to myself, “Whoa, I can’t believe what the clouds do here,  I can’t believe what these mountains look like and how beautiful this day is!”   We have so many beautiful days here.  In terms of beauty, that’s a great way to live your life.

For spaces, I’m not sure.  I can tell you the type of spaces I like.  I like distressed spaces more than new ones.  I like small pieces of  light rather than big.  I dislike looking at infinity.  I don’t like photographing the ocean or a sunset; they’re too much and overwhelming.  I like a smaller more contained experience.  The places where I can think the most clearly and come up with the most ideas is my morning shower; I take long showers, let the water bang on my head and it’s where I get centered for the day.  Airplanes are the best place for writing.  I write more and better on airplanes than anywhere else.

Any words of wisdom?

Haha… none!   I would say that people shouldn’t be afraid!  Don’t be afraid of failure, loving, of someone not liking you, or making mistakes.  One of the things I’m the most proud of in my career is that even though I don’t consider myself conservative at all,  I live very ethically.  If someone lets me into his/her life to be photographed that it’s a huge responsibility and privilege.  If someone lets you into their life, you have to show respect and consider it a privilege to photograph and interact.  You should not take advantage of that.  When you’re a photographer, you have incredible power to describe people and tell a story about them in ways that are either accurate or mean.  One of the reasons I didn’t photograph Republicans for years was because am an only interested in glorifying people and I didn’t want to part of their PR machine.  When I walk in your door to photograph you, I’m walking in trying to understand who you are, and tell your story.  I also believe in karma.  If you go in and take advantage of  someone, that’s not a good way to go through life.   I am almost superstitious, even with something like litter.   I’ll think about something on the side of the road for 5 minutes and drive back to where it was and pick it up.  I’ve had a lot of good luck and I think it’s because I’ve hopefully put good things out into the world and the world takes care of me too.

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Thank you so much George!

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