The Lounge: Clay Stang

by Heather on February 21, 2010

It’s hard to believe it was almost two years ago when I put fingers to keyboard (using terrible posture as it turns out) and launched HMAb. You never forget your first posts and one of my very first was a follow up interview with Clay Stang after his public portfolio review with Leslie Burns on APE.

I’ve been a fan for Clay’s work for a long time. His Interactive Photoshoot series You Call the Shots is so cool (if you haven’t seen this- go to his site and check it put now), I’ve had a million ideas about how to expand on it and Clay has sat patiently on the other end of the phone, listening to them all. We’ll let you know when those are realized- right Clay?

Clay and I had a conversation a couple of months ago and he had some good news- he was busy! He also spoke with a deep maturity about the past couple of years. On the eve of my 2nd anniversary, I thought it would be interesting to share these reflections with you- and Clay agreed. He calls this piece Background leading to Foreground.

I came from a small market mentality in Calgary. Kind of a big fish in a small pond – if you will. So when moving to Toronto my confidence overshadowed the reality of my new market. I had been working professionally in a big market (New York) and a small market (Calgary/Vancouver) for over 6 years. I had a pretty good idea of how I existed in these markets and felt that the transition to Toronto would be seamless; I’m just moving location but the work will stay the same. I was wrong. Being a big fish in a small pond gets you hired (not all the time) on three things: the merit of your work, budget, and your name/reputation (sometimes it was more because of the latter). I was shooting everything from table-top to environmental portraiture. Because I had proven myself to be a good all around shooter, people had trusted that no matter the magnitude of the project, I would be able to handle it. It went so far as to the style of shooting – natural light, studio lighting, mixed lighting, etc. I was hired to shoot it all:

© Clay Stang

© Clay Stang

© Clay Stang

© Clay Stang

© Clay Stang

© Clay Stang

© Clay Stang

© Clay Stang

I took that trust for granted when coming to Toronto. I had been working so long in my past market that I had considered that trust transferable. Wrong. My book at the time consisted mostly of arty commercial work that I had done for free to appease my own sensibility:

© Clay Stang

© Clay Stang

© Clay Stang

© Clay Stang

© Clay Stang

© Clay Stang

© Clay Stang

© Clay Stang

© Clay Stang

© Clay Stang

I felt there really was no delineation between art photography and commercial photography. I wanted to be the Canadian Nadav Kander, which is an oxymoron. I don’t think this could exist in the Canadian market, it’s too small and too conservative. I really didn’t recognize that I wasn’t being honest about my market and how to exist in it. My name had meant really nothing here (Toronto). I had been in all the awards annuals (PDN, CA, AA,ADCC, I even beat out Nadav Kander one year at the Lucie Awards- work for the Alberta Ballet, above). However this meant little. I lacked the trust factor. My mistake/ego was the assumption that people knew who I was and were open to a new photographer hitting the market. That took a couple of years to set in.

I’ve learned a lot about humility which in turn has made me not only a better person but a better photographer. I’ve realized that you can never rest, you must always approach every project like it’s your first project. Hiring the right photographer for a project not only is determined by style, but also personality, energy, intuitiveness, connection, and many more disciplines are involved in the decision process. If an AB or AD has never met you then there is only your work and assumptions. When building a campaign most AB/AD’s don’t want to rely on assumptions and for good reason. I recently did a project with a senior AD that I had never worked with. I had met and spoken a few times but he said “he was waiting for the right project”. WOW, it’s true. I always figured they were saying this to brush me off. The right project came along and because of it’s success, he trusts me:

© Clay Stang

© Clay Stang

My style has altered as well. I’ve taken the ego out of my commercial work. Some recent jobs:

© Clay Stang

© Clay Stang

© Clay Stang

© Clay Stang

© Clay Stang

© Clay Stang

© Clay Stang

© Clay Stang

I have a better understanding of the difference between my personal style and not only the trends of commercial photography but the desired approach to the Toronto market. Each project requires a unique approach depending on the project, agency, client and the scope of the project (budget). Commercial photography is such a different animal than editorial or fine art and thus should be handled differently no matter the scope of the project. From a pro bono to a high end campaign there is a certain professionalism that is expected. I’m not saying that I didn’t realize this prior to moving to Toronto. I realized the big difference between confidence and complacency, as well as the relationship of trust that needed to be developed. Humility is a necessity, it affords us the luxury of self awareness. This awareness has lead to a successful couple of years. That’s not to say that I can’t do better, not to mention that I recognize the importance of going international. I just finished a job with Cossette New York:

© Clay Stang

© Clay Stang

Yep that was shot during the winter she was shot in studio and the background I had to clean off the lawn and put in fake trees.

I think perseverance and patience has also been a big factor in my success. If you really think about it although I’ve been shooting for over 11 years I’ve only been in Toronto for 4-5 years, that’s still a relatively young career. The people that I’ve been slowly meeting are starting to give me projects.

I love photography. I love looking at it, I love doing it, I love talking about it, I love reading about it. Sometimes that’s not enough. It’s not always easy to exist in it.

“…it’s a conceit to think we know the ways of the world, to live life refusing to expect the unexpected. The surrender to fate is a rejection of faith”. – Joshua Halberstam

So, for now my faith runs strong.

*And lets give an official HMAb welcome to Clay’s latest production (with wife and HMAb friend Liz Ikiriko)- Esme Jane Ikiriko Stang, born last week. If her birth had been on time rather than two weeks late, I’m doubtful that this post would’ve been written at all.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

shanghoon February 22, 2010 at 12:09 pm

Thanks to Clay for sharing honest and personal comments.

danno watts February 22, 2010 at 8:20 pm

awesome article.
thanks for sharing, clay.

rocksteady,
danno~

Don Giannatti February 22, 2010 at 10:15 pm

It is posts like this that make HMB one of the most important blogs on professional photography out there. Wow. This is such a great article. Thanks to Heather and Clay for these insights, candid and real.

Andy Hurvitz February 24, 2010 at 4:13 pm

I really enjoyed this perspective on art, commercialism and the way a photographer approaches his work.

Leave a Comment

{ 2 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: