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An interview with Richard Laird
Richard Laird was born in Dublin, Ireland 1941 and moved to New Zealand at the age of 16. He became a jazz bassist at 19. In the early sixties he lived in Sydney, Australia and then London, England where he became house bassist at legendary Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club and performed with leading jazz artists. He moved to USA in 1966 on music scholarship and became a member of the ground-breaking Fusion group, Mahavishnu Orchestra in the early 70's.
It wasn't until 1973 in New York that Richard took to photography, which became a full time career in 1982. He has had assignments for record labels as well as shooting corporate portraiture, and stock for FPG International. He joined Alamy.com image library in 2001. See their details in our stock libraries section.
EPhotozine caught up with Richard in June at Alamy.com for this interview.
EPZ How long have you been digital?
RL I began the process of 'thinking' about going digital in the early 90's. Took a few classes, read some books, didn't like it much. Of course, I was not computer literate yet, so the whole technology thing was quite daunting. However, it wasn't until August 1997 that I made the leap. Got two MACs, scanners and a printer.
EPZ Why did you make the move to digital?
RL Mostly because I saw the tremendous creative potential and also because clients were demanding digital services.
EPZ What gear do you use?
RL We have two MACs, a 9600 with around 500Mbs at the studio, and a 8600 with 350 Mbs + 500 G4 board installed at my apartment. We use a Linotype Ultra flatbed and Nikon LS 2000 scanner and an Epson Stylus EX printer. I rarely shoot digital, but I do use an Olympus CL camera on occasion, as needed. Mostly we scan transparencies or prints to convert to digital. The Olympus E10 is my next digital purchase, really great for the price.
As for software I use Photoshop v.6.1 for most of the work. I like many other things too, Kai's Power Tools - all versions, Paint Alchemy, Extensis Photoframes, Eye Candy. I also continue to use Live Picture 2.6.1, a now defunct company and an extraordinary program for image editing. It's been mostly eclipsed by Photoshop 6, but still has some great tools for editing, the sharpening/softening and colour correction are really excellent. I also make extensive use of Painter 6, Bryce 4 Illustrator 9, Corel Photo-Paint and Studio Artist.
I have a large collection of books, tapes and instructional CDs by VTC on all of the above. Photoshop is the mainstay and the current version really rocks. I've done all my B&W darkroom work since 1974 and Photoshop is the darkroom from Heaven - a photographer's dream come true.
EPZ What do you have in mind when taking a photo and then editing it on the computer?
RL It largely depends on what the intention is. If I'm shooting a landscape, cityscape, scenic or nature 'type of' subject, I'll notice things that can be 'corrected' later which might otherwise cause me to avoid the shot, you know, like phone lines, flat light, dull skies. We did a stock shoot in Paris a while back, the light and the weather were awful. Many of the images were saved by digital tweaking. Other situations might be in the studio. Creating composite images, something I enjoy doing. This requires careful lighting schemes so that all the elements look right. In general, I like to finish up with an image that looks more photographic than digital, subtle, not overdone. There's so much ghastly, tasteless, idiotic imagery out there these days. Everybody, it seems, has Photoshop and access to 'instant' art. The challenge, as I see it, is to communicate an idea clearly and simply, while maintaining photographic principals and values, i.e. composition, light, tonal range, colour, texture.
EPZ How long does it take to create a picture from the idea in your head?
RL This can cover a wide range of time frames. Some of the images I have on the Alamy.Com site involve Painter 6 techniques along with Photoshop. I've spent over a week just painting some of these images. Mostly though, once I arrive at a concept and have the images on hand for a composite, it goes quickly, an hour or two at most.
EPZ How would you describe your style?
RL I'm not sure I have a style! Really, I rarely have a preconceived idea when I'm working, just let things develop in a natural way based loosely around an idea. That's how I've produced my most successful stock photos for over twenty years - and it's no different with digital, kind of a jazz approach, improvised.
EPZ Who are your influences?
RL I began 'looking' at photographs for real around 1973. I had some art background from my education in Dublin and also some 'Brownie' experience. I began to learn who the great ones were and look at their work: Cartier-Bresson, Gene Smith, Ernst Hass, Bill Brandt, Paul Strand, Atget, Ansel Adams, Irving Penn, Avedon, Kertez and many others, both well known and not. There's such a rich legacy to study. Most younger photographers today, and art directors too, have never even heard of these artists.
I also began and continue to notice painters. Painting is the ultimate primal visual expression. I particularly like Matisse, childlike and a genius of colour and design.
As far as digital influences: when I was just getting going, John Lund, a San Francisco based photographer, had a big influence on my work. He uses Live Picture too, which was my first image editing software. Now there are many, many highly talented digital photographers and illustrators all over the world. Digital IS now what photography was 100 years ago, very wide open, huge potential for new visual expression.
EPZ What are you hoping to achieve in the next few years?
RL The advances in digital technology, i.e. high quality printers with permanent inks, offer photographers a great opportunity to get their best images out into the world as fine art and have total control over the finished prints. We can make our images on watercolour paper etc. This is one of the things I would like to do. On a different note, I would like to achieve deeper and deeper levels of consciousness, serenity and awareness through the daily practise of meditation. This is what REALLY matters. Everything else comes out of this.
To see more of Richards images at Alamy.com go to www.alamy.com