Agency MJ artist, James Quantz Jr. was interviewed about his life as a photographer.
Q: Tell us a bit about your background.
A: I went to a traditional university and double majored in history and business. I then ran a company for a while, doing large-format landscape on the side. I’d stay up until 2:00 AM learning my craft: film, manual, darkroom. I sold the company and went to The Portfolio Center in Atlanta and learned studio lighting, styling and Photoshop. After school I assisted for a couple years and moved into conceptual, stylized photography.
Q: When did you first start taking photos and what did you shoot?
A: Early on I shot golf courses in black and white with a 4x5.
In 2007 I attended a PDN on-the-road seminar series and met with some reviewers from an agency in Atlanta. I had a book of landscapes and portraits and had done a couple out-there composites by playing around with some of the capabilities of Photoshop. Each person at the review was drawn to this work and said I should be doing that. I would think up the craziest scenario and if I could pull it off I knew I could go in that direction.
Q: Lighting and style for different markets?
A: My lighting looks very similar to both sports light and movie posters/key art—campaigns for movie and TV shows: rim, hard lighting, deep shadows and crisp highlights.
I really love films and sporting events. I go to films just to watch the lighting and then bring a cinematic style of lighting to my work and make it as dramatic as I can get away with. This works across both celebrity high-key imagery and sports.
For sports, it is the heroic with the stadium and fans in the background. I’m persistent and this paid off when I got into the door at South Carolina University. This has given me access to top-tier athletes and full creative control.
With a movie, you have a certain plot point and have an epic event. You're trying to capture that during a still. An action or romantic movie will be a different feel. I’m telling a story with the photo.
Baseball work is softer, but I’m still trying to recreate that epic moment during a game - - the big play. I fantasize about what that might look like. I also like low-key natural light as in the celebrity window-light portrait I recently shot.
I enjoy using humor and details - - when the viewer can go back three and four times to see details they didn’t see the first time. And to build out a landscape that could stand on its own and makes a stronger image when you can bring in characters.
Q: What is your conceptual process?
A: Pre-visualized and a plan of action. It starts with an idea. For the Chelsea Handler piece they wanted something that revolved around travel. So we started with an airport, the Avedon image and luggage from the 50s. Then we played off of the baggage claim area and involved animals and people in an activity to insinuate something going on—another elephant simulating a pose and the other elephant pulling luggage off of the carousel. The elephants were shot at a local zoo. We mixed and matched several elephants to make one.
Q: How important is the technical aspect of your work to you?
A: With my work, it can go wrong if it's not done absolutely correctly. I learned the zone system and still use this knowledge. I also learned Photoshop very well. A lot of art buyers (about 50%) have said, “This could have really gone wrong if you didn’t pull it off right.”
Q: Collaborative process?
A: If we go back to the athletic work and Chelsea Handler we have a creative call and the idea of what they want to do. They’ll either have it scripted out or an idea to start with and we then toss ideas back and forth. From that point, optimally we put together a background so when we’re on set we have a brief.
We use the background shot on set and drop the subject in when we’re shooting. It gets them motivated and lets them use their imagination while shooting. So there’s verbal and visual interaction.
For the Gamecocks, I had already shot the background in the studio and had print out for them to hold during shoot. We then dropped them into the scene. For athletes it’s easier to show them – the cooler you can make them look the more they are motivated.
It’s the same with celebrities. I have backdrops and drop them in so they can see what is working and what isn’t. Before they leave they see a rough layout of what they are going to look like. They can give their input.
Q: What about retouching?
A: I do all my own retouching.
Q: What's it like working with you on the set?
A: I try to have fun, joke around, have a good time. People like that and hire me for that as much as being able to deliver visually.
Q: What do you most hear from art buyers/clients about your work?
A: Most people flip through the entire portfolio and seem to enjoy it. It’s different than what a lot of art buyers are presented with.
Q: Do you have repeat clients?
A: Yes, two recently. I’m a big believer in wrap parties and taking everyone out after. If people like to hang out with you, then hopefully they will want to work with you. I take everyone out including the assistants.
Q: How are you using social media?
A: I take photos on shoots, release photos I’m working on during retouching, BTS snaps throughout day, cows for Chelsea Handler. I have a blog and a Behance account. I use HootSuite for sending out to social media channels.
Q: What would be your dream career?
A: One week photographing NFL and next week photographing celebrities. That would be the top for me.