Five Fab Fotos with Ian Spanier, A Visual Conversation with Imaginative Professionals

Meet Ian Spanier, Freelance Photographer:


There is nothing original anymore, there’s new, and different, but everything can be traced back to some influence at sometime or another. As photography has changed, mostly through technology at this point, finding your voice has become harder and harder. For me, reminding yourself of your influences is a necessity to stay focused on where you want to go. There’s a reason, at least for me, the masters are the masters. How they affect me now I feel continues to force my eye to a certain place, allow my brain to interpret things I see and create images the way I choose. Limiting this number to just five is not quite accurate, and not listing the great painters that influenced me like Sargent, Hopper, Chuck Close and Homer leaves out much of what formed my vision. Nonetheless, here’s five of my favorites:

Photos by Richard Avedon

Photos by Richard Avedon

1. My ultimate influence is Richard Avedon. Although Irving Penn was really my first influence, Avedon’s images of the American West introduced me to the beauty of loneliness and forced me to teach myself large format photography. His fashion is world-reknowned, and what I think I respond to most about it and use in my own work is that the fashion becomes just a part of the image. As I am primerily a commercial photographer, the opportunity to make artistic images in that world is limiting, it’s about the product. Avedon mastered the mixing of both selling the product and creating an image that could be in any gallery.

Photo by Brassai

Photo by Brassai

2. For my senior thesis in college I wanted to make a study of nighttime. I was a double major in Art and Psychology and was very interested in the mystery of night, and how the invention of the electric light opened up the world of night to humans more than fire or gaslight ever did. Low-light has become an ever-present conversation now with the advancements with camera sensors and faster lenses. Brassai had an appreciation for night, and pushed the envelope of what film could do long before the digital world was even an inkling of an idea. I had found this image on a postcard at a gallery when I was about 19 years old, and it sunk in through my senior year in college when I chose my thesis topic.

Photo by Edward Steichen

Photo by Edward Steichen

3. Along the same line as Brassai, Edward Steichen’s haunting images of New York always attracted me. Being a lover of New York City, his iconic images attracted me always, and as I learned about more of his work, what truly influenced me was the breathe of his work. Steichen, along with many of his peers, shot everything. I have always followed that path. I’ve said in the past that there was no “one” subject for me. I shoot what I see. Steichen, and even more so, Penn, did the same, and always made me know I could do the same. The tendency of putting photographers into categories never fully applied to me, and I’ve always fought it because they were able to do- so can I.

Photos by Harry Benson

Photos by Harry Benson

4. My first job in the magazine industry was as the photo assistant in the GQ Magazine photo department. There I met my mentor, Harry Benson. I knew Harry’s work in college, and when he walked into the magazine office for a meeting my mouth dropped open. Soon after Harry and I became friends, and I was fortunate enough to have many lunches and visits with Harry over the years. Harry has witnessed so much history, and his stories influence me always. Photography is very much a game- who is in charge, the photographer or the subject. Harry is a master at getting his subjects to do what he wants. This psychological battle is constant, and being able to witness Harry do this in person was invaluable.

Photo by Watson

Photo by Albert Watson

5. Albert Watson is a master lighter. Before I even knew what the difference was between a studio strobe and a Hydrargyrum Medium-arc Iodide(HMI) lights. Watson’s work had an impact on me. Whatever he was doing fit my asthetic and I needed to learn how he made his subjects come alive not only in what they were doing in the image, but the story that the lighting told. I truly believe that successful images are not soley about what the subject is doing, and that the lighting- be in artificial or natural, helps to tell the story of that fraction of time when the shutter button is pressed and an image is burned onto the film or sensor. As I developed my own lighting, Watson’s influence was a constant reference point, the main reason? He understands the sun. For me, understanding the way the sun is in all the many forms we see it not just in time of day and year, but diffused, direct, indirect, broad and tight and so on. Applying that understanding when shooting with or without strobes, modifiers and any light shaping tools was and is key to how I see lighting.


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