Talks to photographer Frank Rocco.
Interview By Kathleen Whitfield
©John Bigelow Taylor
How did you get into
photography & why fashion etc.?
I have loved taking pictures since I was seven or eight
years old. My cousin had a Polaroid camera and I thought it was the
coolest thing in the world. My first camera was a Polaroid camera just
like hers. I then moved on to a film camera, but get this: it was a 110
I had wanted an SLR 35 mm camera
forever, but other interests like playing music won out. I didn’t get
an SLR until a was a freshman in college (university). Now I happened
to be at a school that had only two photo courses; so I took them both.
They had a great art program and Communication Arts program; I majored
in Communications and minored in Studio Art.
I then did the most
logical thing: went to work at a desk, in a suit, for three years.
After two and a half, I told my boss I was quitting and going on an
extended vacation in Europe until my money ran out. I even planned to
take a bartending course so I’d have a shot at making more money on the
road. My boss didn’t want me to quit without having another job and
offered me a four week vacation and a job when I got back.
It was almost unheard of to get four weeks in a row. I took her offer
and went to Europe for four weeks, came back and had a job ...that I
I went on interview after interview trying to find another job so I
could escape the current one. By Christmas, I was ready to take
anything ...and I did. I took the first crappy job, a crappy
photography job that I was offered. I didn’t think I could make money
taking pictures ...and I didn’t ...at first. I moved from crappy
photography job to slightly less crappy photography job, etc.
While I was
shooting portraits for two companies, I thought it would be ideal to
have a darkroom near my house, so I looked into classes at on of the
local schools. I liked the classes; without them, it was hard to get
motivated, no matter how much I love shooting, to shoot all day for
someone else and then go shoot some more for myself. So I took every
class that fit into my schedule. There were only a handful of classes
that I hadn’t taken, including Large Format Photography. I ran into an
old friend who mentioned that her school, The Fashion Institute of
Technology, had quite a number of night and weekend courses, so I
took every one they had (that I hadn’t taken before).
While I was taking my second large format class, I was completing an
assignment that involved a still life shot, a Polaroid transfer and a
shot of a model. It was then I realized that I actually love both of
these extremes. I loved setting up the still life shot: with limited
equipment, it took me all night to do basically one shot. When I shot
the model, it took about five minutes ...literally. I love doing both,
but while I may retire someday and shoot only still life, I love
Fashion is one
of the areas of photography that lets me work with lighting and set up
scenes rather than just capturing what’s already out there. I love
photojournalistic style and the sport of capturing the moment but
fashion lets me experiment in a semi controlled environment. I believe
the lighting here is the art. I love the clothing and the make-up, but
it’s the opportunity to experiment with the light that keeps me focused
What do you
regard your style to be?
I would really like to leave that
up to other people to decide. One thing I’ll say about my lighting is
that I have studied and am constantly studying the light and try to
know all the rules so that when I’m breaking them, it’s usually on
purpose, and sometimes due to necessity and rarely just luck.
Even though I shoot in
a variety of situations and with a variety of palettes, I think the
constant is my perspective and how I envision the world and I believe
that constant is my style, if that’s what you want to call it.
Do you photograph
on digital or film?
I shoot both digitally and with film.
About eighty percent of what’s on my web site is shot digitally, and
that ratio is constantly growing. I love shooting film, but shooting
digitally allows me some freedoms and speed that I don’t have with
film. I haven’t sold or given away my film cameras yet ...in fact, I
still have a darkroom (that doesn’t get much use).
Where and what
have you worked on?
I work in and around New York City. My
studio is downtown ...a couple of blocks from where I worked that
nine to five job. One of the latest things to come out that I’ve worked
on were portraits of musicians and music industry people. I shot Just
Blaze and Outkast’s manager, Blue Williams for a new magazine called
Process. It’s not my usual thing, but I love shooting musicians and
people in the music business.
Is there still a boom in America or is
there more of a restraint on advertising/editorial at present?
I think there’s been a drought since about
2001 in New York. The attacks on September 11th didn’t help, but it
started slowing down before that. There seems to be a little bit of a
pick up recently, but it’s too soon to tell if it will last. One
photographer I know is moving to London to try her luck at finding work
there. There seem to be a number of new web-zines, but I don’t
know if the advertising is there to support them. I still prefer
reading a magazine I can hold.
Where do you
think fashion is heading…new trend etc?
It’s hard to tell where fashion is headed.
Old things keep coming back and it almost seems that the seventies
revival will head straight into an eighties revival. For me, it’s more
about individual pieces and not necessarily what’s "in". I love working
with stylists who can mix and match pieces that look like they’re from
different eras and make it work, but there’s something to be said for
about community - Do you belong to any organizations - give anything
I don’t know ...I guess I’d
like to mention that working with an organization like ASMP (The
American Society of Media Photographers) has helped me a lot.
Belonging to a community is a great resource for photographers since we
tend to work, for the most part, alone. A shoot may be crowded, but
that’s only part of the process. Most of us run our businesses alone,
edit and retouch alone, and even if we have someone to help us run
things, we often don’t have peers to relate to. I have been on the
steering committee of the New York chapter of ASMP for four years and
have been the membership chair for the last two. I’m always meeting
photographers who are new to New York or new to the business entirely.
It’s also just a good thing to be involved.
Go view Frank's site or e-mail him:
Frank Rocco Photography