Hugh Kretschmer

At the forefront of the world's photography

His camera is just a tool to clearly express from a simple idea to the more complex concepts

[dc]W[/dc]hen it comes to images worth a thousand words, surely we will find in one of its corners the signature of this artist born and raised in Los Angeles, EE.UU. His camera is just a tool to clearly express everything, from a simple idea to the more complex concepts. Mr. Kretschmer has been at the forefront of the world’s photography for 25 years, adapting and recycling techniques throughout drastic changes like digitalization, without compromising his vision and the mission of art on this planet.

-Do you remember your first camara? which one was it?
-It was a Pentax, Spotmatic F, 35mm, SLR.  I loved that camera and I used it through college, shooting my smaller assignments with it when they didn’t require a view or medium format camera.  When my father gave it to me I later realized it was part of a rite of passage that all my elder siblings had gone through before me.  He had introduced all of us to photography at one point or another, hoping it would stick with one of us.  When he finally got to me at age 13, his fifth child of seven, the quest stopped.
My father was a photo-instrumentation engineer for McDonnell Douglas during the Mercury through Apollo missions and he had the most amazing photo lab he built in the old bomb shelter next to the house we lived in.  That day he showed me everything, from loading the camera to developing the black and white prints.  When I saw my first image appear in the developer, I was hooked, and have not looked back since.  I recently found that first print in a tattered, manilla envelope amongst his belongings after he died.  The image was a close-up of the mouth of a water spigot with a drop of water hanging to it.  It’s a pretty poor looking print of a mundane subject but it has so much meaning to me today.

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-I’m under the impression that most of your works have an internal message of social protest such as: Tension, The Presentation or Materialisim, Is that correct? Does the message create the piece or the piece reveals the message?
-Every one of those examples you mentioned are personal images, generated with no art direction by a magazine, purely me.  So, I guess there is some personal message behind them, but as far as social protest or ulterior motive, I am not exactly sure.  My images are borne from an internal question, “What if…?” and seems pretty superficial when I think about it.  I do see social commentary as a common thread in my work but as far as making a statement as an objective, that is not me.
As far as whether “the message creates the piece or the piece reveals the message”, it all depends.  If it’s a commission, the process starts with a manuscript, and the idea evolves from it.  On the other hand, if I am making a piece on my own, it starts with the photograph and the idea unfolds from it.  The difference between the two is that obvious, where if it is created for art then it is the piece that reveals the message and if for commerce then it is the message defines the image.

Gastronopolis / Hugh Kretschmer
Gastronopolis / Hugh Kretschmer

-I can’t say which photo is my favorite, there are too many and too beautiful, can you tell as which one is your favorite and why?
-I think my favorites are such because of the work behind them more so than the fact that they are beautiful or turned out well.  I really don’t have one particular favorite but if I was to pick a series, it would be Gastronopolis.  It was a personal project I did when I first arrived in New York, in the mid-nineties.  I worked on the series between jobs for about a year and was truly a labor of love.  I made all the props, backdrops and sets that were a part of the shoot, with the costume being the only exception.  I made a miniature city out of black cardboard and metallic pen, a crescent moon out of wood and galvanized sheet metal, and the alien’s head piece out of a kid’s army helmet, armature wire and silver fork.  It was a risky venture, I felt, because the visual story  was complete fantasy and I had to create the look of the whole production.  I based that look on Art Deco design and influenced the costume off of Fritz Lang’s silent film, Metropolis, but in a very loose way.  I wrote a storyline about an alien who materializes off the shores of Manhattan and, trying to assimilate, finds herself in strange situations.  Her drive is instinctual and yet she does not know why she is there, until a revelation reveals her true reason, to consume the entire city.
I put together a treatment with supporting sketches and mood board and submitted it to various magazines but no one was interested until they saw the finished images.  I then took it upon myself and put out the call to all the people I knew in my industry in New York, I didn’t know many, and asked those who were interested to volunteer their time towards the cause.  the biggest challenge was finding the right costume maker and I went to the Fashion Institute of Technology and posted a listing in the career office.  I got a few takers and asked them to submit ideas.  One participant shined above the others and her name is Teresa Squire, who is today a well known costume designer for Broadway productions these days. To this day, 14 years later, I am still friends with her and my producer, Aurelie Jezequel.

-Your work in advertising is the living proof that it’s possible to mix successfully art and business. Do you enjoy it? why? Does it help you in some level to grow as an artist?
-Advertising is quite a different beast compared to editorial work which is where I started my career.  At that time, most of those editorial assignments started with a manuscript that the photo editor would send me.  I would be asked to come up with an idea, derived from a particular aspect or important point in the article, and providing a sketch of that idea.  From there it was pretty handoff and I was able to have a lot of freedom in creating the photo-illustration.
Advertising is quite different, as I am sure you are aware.  In that arena the ideas are flushed out ahead of time, and the comps are created and approved by the client before the photographer is even contacted.  What I can give to the assignment is my own sensibility in the lighting, set design, props.  It is not exactly having complete “carte blanche”, but I do have an opportunity to put my sensibilities and influence in play, to a certain extent.

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-With 20 years in the world of art, you must have gone through hard times. Did you ever think about quitting? What encouraged you to keep on going?
-Not quitting, necessarily, but certainly changing, evolving, and adapting as best I could.  I have gone through three or four transitions in my career and, to me, they have all been integral in my longevity.  The first time this happened stemmed from a feeling that my creativity was stagnating and I thought I was seeing the beginning of the end if I continued with the work I was doing.  In many cases, art directors and photo editors were asking me to mimic elements from certain images in my portfolio but “create something completely different”.  I get what they were after but I wasn’t willing to repeat myself, even for the money. At the time, my vision was changing, expanding to encompass a broader way of seeing and illustrating concepts. So, I shifted gears and changed course, pointing my images in a completely different direction.
During each “evolution”, there were lean times soon after, but I eventually would overcome them and glad to have taken the risk.  In just about every case, I benefitted from the experience in a multitude of ways.  Not only creatively, and pushing my photography forward, but also with some really great assignment work.  In one case, an art director, David Suarez, created a whole ad campaign based on a test I did that he saw in a promotional card my agent sent him. That was an incredible compliment no words could trump.
What keeps me going is the next idea.  I have a backlog of concept drawings in a many sketch books.  Some I’ll never end up doing but then there are those I have to bring to life or else it just won’t be right.  I’m always curious to see how the final image will look compared to the original sketch and in some cases I can tell from the beginning of the process that it was meant to happen.  Not every idea works out to be great or even a good photograph. And, then there are others that were so disastrous that they are way better as a sketch.

-There’s an important part of the photographic world who reject the use of Photoshop. ¿What do you think about it?  What is your most useful tool in Photoshop?
-I think digital editing is here to stay, and Photoshop was the gateway.  Yes, it is a bit unfortunate that the photographers who are starting their careers today now will not have the experience of doing without it. There is a great deal I have learned from working before digital that I carry with me today and use quite regularly.  They are not digital techniques but look like them in the finished photograph.  All of the photographs you asked about two questions ago were created using collage assemblage and are done in front of the camera.  I try to use as much in-camera technique as possible and is why I get the look I do in my photographs.  They are more tactile and it is worth it to me to spend the extra time in pre-production to get those results repeatedly.  I am also not as well trained in Photoshop as others and there are things I just am not able to render as successfully as others.  I think a realist painter would make the best Photoshop technician because I can see a direct link to the two different mediums and the skill set required to achieve the amazing results they do.

That said, my favorite tool is the X-acto knife and one I am pretty good at.  I still use collage assemblage and that tool is integral.  I am currently working on a fine art series where collage is the main ingredient but it’s a little different than the way I have been doing it before.  The process is extremely labor intensive and challenging to get right but really fun to see how a piece turns out at the end.

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-You came from a family of artists. When the time comes and if your son tells you that he wants to be an artist. ¿what would you advise him?
-It’s funny you should ask that because my daughter has expressed an interest in an art career and I am honestly hesitant to the idea.  It is eventually her decision, but I would much rather see her follow a career with more financial stability.  I have suggested she FIRST get a degree in veterinary medicine, which is something else she has shown interest in, and then she can always fall back into the arts if she desires.

-And the last one, if you would have the chance to talk with one artist from any time, who would that be and what would you ask him/her?
-Wow, that is quite a question.  Only ONE artist?  OK!  I think, today, I would like to talk to Richard Serra about his enormous sculptures.  I would like to watch his entire process, from the design, to fabrication, to installation.  I have read about the process he goes through to achieve the precision his sculptures exhibit and the physics involved in their free standing form, but to watch it all happen would be amazing to me.  I once had a chance to work in a prominent gallery, here in Los Angeles, and working closely with some of the artists represented there, I discovered technique and found it many times more fascinating than the art itself.  In Serra’s case, however, it is BOTH.

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Autor: Cristóbal Páez

Nació en Argentina a finales de los años setenta a orillas de la cordillera de Los Andes entre caña de azúcar, limones y una dictadura que ya despuntaba sus últimas locuras. Terminó la escuela como pudo y con 18 años se largo a viajar. Se unió a un circo en Buenos Aires, tocó el charango en las calles de Arequipa, comerció fósiles en el desierto de Atacama, vendió anillos en Rio y semillas para brujerías en La Paz. Llegó a la Europa de las vacas gordas y entre brindis y trasnochadas las vio adelgazar. El amor a las letras lo arrinconó en una de las esquinas de la vida, y con casi 34 años y la medida justa de rabia, fundó Verböten para escribir hasta morir o hasta que la tinta se acabe.

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