For the next installment of the Q&A photographer series, I am happy to welcome Luke Townsend! A phenomenal sculptor of light and master tactician. Please enjoy!
CHRIS – Let’s start with a little bio, tell me about yourself.
LUKE – I first need to thank Chris for letting me reign on his turf today. I first met Chris during Halloween a few years back when he took my picture in my Popeye costume for his project. Chris is like a world wide superstar and growing rapidly, it’s an honor to be a part of his blog.
The name is Luke. 22 year old photographer. I grew up in Kansas and got out as soon as I could. I went to culinary school (French Culinary Institute) in New York right out of high school and continued to work in two restaurants there for a couple years. I came back to Kansas a few times and worked at the Manhattan Mercury during that time where I had the opportunity to photograph talents such as Alan Jackson, Taylor Swift and Charlie Daniels. I eventually weeded my way out of journalism and into the realm of portraiture when I got a job at J&C Imaging. I wasn’t really supposed to have a job there, but I wouldn’t leave so instead of shooing me away, John put me to work. After a few years of that, Tom Leopold sent me a facebook ad from Robert Clark saying he needs a new studio manager. Bye-bye Kansas…literally. I had less than a week to pack up my shit and move back to NY to work for a National Geographic Legend. I mean really. Last night, I chilled with Rob, David Alan Harvey, his assistant Mike Courvoisier and a few international Nat Geo photogs. What a life. Now, I’m the manager of Ten Ton Studio here in Brooklyn. Clients include Vogue, Numero, National Geographic, Harpers Bazaar, Interview, NY Magazine, etc. We’ve had the Black Eyed Peas and Ron Isley in the studio as well. I may not get to go with Rob on assignment, but I get to watch the industries top photographers produce shoots and it’s amazing. Especially Sebastian Kim. He is big already but gonna be an icon for sure. He worked for Richard Avedon and Steven Meisel…I mean you can’t beat that.
You can see my work www.luketownsendphoto.com and take a peak at my blog www.luketownsendphotoblog.com.
CHRIS – How did you become a photographer?
LUKE – It started in elementary school. I had gotten an old Polaroid landview camera, the one with the bellows and all that, from a friend and I would take it everywhere. I remember running around the kickball court pretending to photograph the game. Can you say “Loser”…I digress.
Did the whole photo thing in high school. Actually got the worst grade on our final project in the photo class because I had taken a trip to Chicago with the band and spent all my time printing those pix. Actually, I spent all my time in HS in either the kitchen or the darkroom. Was also in the photojournalism class. The next big step was the Mercury. Didn’t get the job at first. Still not sure why. I got a call a week later and they said they might be able to use me after all. Thank God. Gotta love those guys, Rod Mikinski and David Mayes. Awesome people, very inspiring. John and Cindy La Barge were a huge step in my becoming a photographer. That’s all that needs said about that. So many people have helped me get where I am, it’s kinda crazy. Joe McNally for sure. I learned flash entirely from this man, straight up. He’s a genius. Now I’m in NY, starting at the bottom again and I am fortunate enough to know the K-State crowd. Jeff Tuttle and Jim Richardson were a huge connect in getting this job in NJ. It’s all kinda spiraled into a neat little career. Lots of HARD work and late nights doing stupid stuff at Kedzie Hall is pretty much how it began.
CHRIS – Why should I book you as a photographer?
LUKE – Cause I need to make that money.
CHRIS – How would you describe your style?
LUKE – Not really sure I have a style, I just make the pictures I see. I definitely like a challenge. I also like location work the best. Photographing someone in their environment, where they feel at home, is what I love to do. It’s different every time, always full of surprises and it takes a certain attention to detail to put a puzzle like location work together. Add all that up and somewhere in there you have a style.
CHRIS – If you had to pick your favorite piece of equipment, what would it be and why?
LUKE – Prolly my SB-900 flash. I love that thing, sometimes a little too literally…and again I digress. It can do anything (despite many peoples perception), it’s light, portable and always available. Hence why I consider it available light.
CHRIS – What advice would you give to aspiring photographers?
LUKE – Embrace your mistakes and don’t be afraid to make them. Got that from McNally. You can learn a lot from your bad frames. Study them, draw diagrams of your set and practice.
CHRIS – Care to share 5 recent photographs?
I was in NY for a workshop with Joe McNally and the day after Michael Jackson died. It was crazy. I hurried up to 125th street to the Apollo Theatre in NY and began shooting. People everywhere. Everyone was singing to the music streaming from the Apollo speakers. They would dance and cheer for the fast songs and then weep and sob for the slow songs. It’s like everyone was best friends. Everyone had that one thing in common, Michael Jackson. He’s touched the lives of everyone you can think of and has inspired so many folks. Young and old packed under the awning all day long, together. It was beautiful.
Simple the best twirler K-State has ever had. Needed to do something super cool with her. What’s more cool than FIRE! Had my dad help build a platform for Jess to stand on, waited until the sweet light, light the batons on fire and went to town. Little scary for her because I measured wrong. The platform is built to fit on a boat ramp, which it’s on, but my back legs are too short. I had to find rocks to stabilize it, which somehow worked, don’t ask me how. Simple light too…2 small flashes pushing through an umbrella, that’s it.
I’ve always loved this pic of Sarah. Never got many good comments about it but I thought it deserved more attention than my blog can give. All natural light here. Reflector from behind bringing in that cool separating light.
This great couple out in Zeandale, KS was very patient with me while I drug them out of their warm house in the night so I could take their portrait. I had my friend Tom Leopold with me as my assistant, who happened to burn the crap out of his hand that afternoon…the day after Christmas…so it was pretty amusing watching him lug c-stands around with one hand through the snow. Turns out that they haven’t had a portrait taken of them in 20 some years. This was not for any assignment but for personal work. I saw this house as I was driving by late one night and I knew that I had to photograph it with the owner and what a treat it turned out to be.
Rachel is so beautiful and such a great person. I miss her much. She was one of my models when I first got to J&C, almost 3 years ago. She knows how to model and was very good at figuring out what I wanted and she even taught me how to salsa! She’s wonderful, just look at her pictures.
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