Spotlight for Inspiraton - Chris Crossley
This week's Spotlight for Inspiration is reserved for my new friend Chris Crossley. I call him my new friend because you cannot help but want to be his friend after learning so much about him and his life. I cannot help but call him my new friend because he opened up himself and his life to me more than many other people have. Our interview took three days to complete; mainly because of our 16 hour time difference...but also because we delved deep into many different topics. This interview is one of my favorites because of everything that was shared!
Chris, tell me... where are you from? how old are you? are you married? kids?
I am from Talbot, Victoria, Australia. Married to a wonderful woman named Marites. I have 2 step kids; Kyle and Kenneth. And I am ancient... ouch 50! Born on 17-04-1963.
Haha... you are not ancient!!! You are wise!
Ha , that is like saying you're not fat but comfortable. :)
Not at all. You really are not old.
What is your background? Have you always done photography or did you start out in a different path?
I am a graphic reproducer by trade... to place it in perspective ... I was Photoshop before Photoshop was invented. I worked in a dark room with film, lights, rubylith, enlargers, drumscanners, and created what artists desired but couldn't achieve on bookcovers/posters/illustration sections, etc. I started in 1981. I had a camera since I was 9 but became a photographer when I met my wife.
I became a photographer because no one will hire me(because of Parkinson's) and I needed to make/do something that I love...
WOW, it's interesting how you started out. Photoshop before Photoshop! …And you said you picked up a camera when you were 9.
Tell me about that, how did it happen?
The camera was a Kodak instamatic. The one where you would take a shot and then pull out a print and watch the image magically appear in front of you. I saved up money from doing odd jobs with the neighbors...chopping wood, mowing lawns. We didn't get pocket money... You earn from work .... save for what you want.
The pictures I took were of family and my dog.
So, this money you earned was to buy that camera? What interested you in buying a camera in the first place?
Yes... I wanted it... it was like instant gratification. I just enjoyed shooting and then seeing what came out...but... the downside… I didn't know how expensive the film was.
Haha, I love that... I always say photography is instant gratification for me as well.
The cost of film...that doesn't get explained to a child... so after the gloss wore off it was back to drawing.
Oh, so you can draw!!!! That's great to know! You were an artist even before photography!
Yes… I can still draw but Parkinson’s slows me down. Drawing was a release... which now photography is.
Beautiful. Love to hear that. Okay... so you drew, then you bought this camera and took photos of your family...then what? You grew up taking pictures?
I’ll show you some.
Yes, either drawing my family or shooting them.
Holy Cow, those images are INCREDIBLE. You are SO GOOD. I am beyond impressed
You became a graphic reproducer. How long did you work doing that before you developed Parkinson's?
Ha, you want the whole story... it could turn into a country music song.
In 1981, I started as an apprentice... I learned colour, I learned about film and darkrooms... dish developing film...how rgb and cmyk was different. Then, that demon Photoshop came on the horizon. I started with version 2.0. It was either learn it or lose your job... so, I taught myself Photoshop.
During this time, I was working as a t-shirt designer / re-designer, as well as my fulltime job. Days would start at 8 and finish 2-3 am the next day and then start again. I did this for close to 2 years... I think that is what started my downfall... You can only put your body through so much.
I started to develop a cough that wouldn't go away... and then one morning, at the toilet, in intense pain I started passing blood. I had a kidney stone. I went to the get it taken out. They operated and took it out through my back and by accident clipped the bag that one of my lungs sits in and collapsed a lung. But, they didn't know until I complained of pain in the side.
So, I went to have an x-ray... it went from just a technician to 6 specialists looking at my scans.... I had developed Sarcoidosis.
a chronic disease of unknown cause characterized by the enlargement of lymph nodes in many parts of the body and the widespread appearance of granulomas derived from the reticuloendothelial system.
It took 6 years to go/dormant and while brushing my teeth I couldn't remember how… that was the first sign of Parkinson's. In 1997.
Oh and a byline to this... while all this was happening... my best friend decided to hang himself in my shed and I had to get him down.
See, country music song!
WOW, that's a LOT to take in...I am still processing. Thank you for sharing all this, I truly appreciate that you are opening your life, to all of us, in this way.
After you found out that you developed Parkinson's disease, how long did it take you to leave that job?
The job left me. They reduced my hours and virtually forced me out.
...And when you were out...what went through your mind? What exactly made you decide to go into photography?
I still have a job.... but haven't worked... still waiting to get called in... so, rather than sit on my hands and cry ... I thought what else am I good at?! Photography. I have pushed read... YouTubed my head off, learning everything I can.
Ok. I had the impression this happened a long time ago. How long ago did you develop Parkinson'? When did you delve or dedicate your life to photography??
I worked with Parkinson’s... it has been a gradual decline in work... when I met my wife was a creative start. 2011... was the major turning point. Up until then I was depressed/ suffering from the why me's. When I met Marites... I made the decision to live life rather than let life and the chance for life go by. Make sense? Creatives are such fragile beasts.
Yes, it totally makes sense. Completely. And... I agree...we are very fragile.
So, let me make sure I understand everything right. You developed Parkinson's but kept working, the decline was slow and your hours became less and less. You eventually stopped working and met your wife. She inspired you to live life and become a photographer.
Is that correct?
Close enough... but work reduced my hours not me... I have taught myself to type left handed to edit left handed... I can still do the job I was trained for but Parkinson’s.... simply makes employers run.
Let's talk about your photography now. You studied and taught yourself everything you know. How was the transition from your previous work to photography?
It may sound trite but it was easier than I thought it would be.... the grounding that my work gave me helped.
That's exactly what I thought!
I can view a concept as a composite and work out what would be needed... I am still a bit rough... but it takes time. Photoshop is such a massive beast... I would be lying if I said I knew it all... but I do ok.
What made you decide to go into fine art instead of portrait photography or any other genre?
I love art... it keeps my connection with it. Portraiture I do... but with an artist feel.
How long have you been doing it?
This is my 3rd year... haha, still broke waiting for that break / discovery.
Tell me about your style? How did you develop it? What is it about?
A massive collection of fantasy books..... and Jessica Drossin/SueBryce/Peter Coulson have a lot to do with my style... the rest is inside my head. I love moody lighting... pictures with expression and emotion. creativeLive... has helped too.
I can sometimes, while driving or just zoning out, have a flash of inspiration... what I would give to have access to a willing model.
Tell me more about what inspires you.
So, at night I play with Photoshop... thinking, playing, getting ready for the next shoot... the style comes from the endless playing.
My wife....she gave me reason. I love her eyes... I am drawn to eyes… you will notice the connection in most of my pictures... from the eyes.
Yes, I have seen that. What inspires you in regards to your ideas?
I am a collector of information... I see something and an idea will pop ... Pinterest helps but ... I have a savage desire to have my own work not just a variation of someone else’s.
Whirls and patterns can create an idea for me... and sometimes it is just a comment that is said during a shoot that throws me off into a completely different style from where I first started. I love light and the use of it can create moods, either happy or sad.
I still have a lot to learn with lighting that is where EBay has been my friend...managed to get decent lights cheap...learning as I go!
My next question is... do you find it easy or hard to find clients for your photography business?
I find it very hard, based in the bush, I beg, plead and even offer petrol money to get people to model for me and when all else fails… I throw myself to the mercy of my wife whose modeling I love but who in turn is over it. :) I sometimes catch her in a modeling mood.
How do you plan for your images? What is your workflow?
I write about them... I can see what is written and turn it into images. Ok, to explain this is how my latest shoot started… through this explanation to the team of people who helped me.
This is a self-funded project that I am working on. I had an idea… loosely based around an image I saw which sparked the concept. I imagined the black feathers extending down one side of her face, down her neck and end just below the curve of the breast and extending slightly around the model’s back. Then, down one arm to the elbow or at least the evidence that something was there… the shoot would be based around the public's perception of one’s beauty and the person's own self-hatred of the same. Shooting as the creation happens... and then showing the pain of the deconstruction… "The removal of the feathers from the arm... back.... face ". Hopefully, portraying self-harm of the beautiful as something only the person who does it, feels it… and yet can't explain why to others....
Wow, this is deep. I love that you explain it with such a rich detail. What a wonderful way of planning!
Do you go with the flow as things and ideas unfold during the shoot?
With most things I operate from what is inside my head and then act out and explain the emotions I want shown. With the shoot that happened above, I had to shoot with the flow. The model I ended up with was more fashion than actress and so, I changed accordingly. I have learned that if you are unwilling to change if something doesn't work then you will have no pictures. I change, I alter concepts on the fly… as I talk to the model and watch how they interact with their environment and me. If I work like that… good shoots happen. :)
That is definitely some good advice!
I've noticed your wife is in a lot of your images. Do you mostly use her for your photos or mostly models?
If you go through my Flickr stream, Marites (my wife), steadily decreases in the amount of times she is in my pictures. I try new lighting on her or ideas, but patience is wearing thin!
I noticed in the last images you showed me that you created an entire set for the shoot. Tell me more about that. Do you usually create a set and add a lot of props?
The place already had most of what you saw. All that was added was a telephone and a doona cover. I prefer to find the environment in which to shoot, rather than expend money to build.
What about the wardrobe? Do you have a wardrobe library or do the models bring those in?
I am steadily gathering clothes... as a man you get weird looks when you are hunting for dresses, eBay helps as well.
HAHA! I bet. I love that though. I, truly, love the idea that you are a male photographer and that you are gathering clothes for your own wardrobe!
Now that we are on the topic…
As a male photographer, how is it for you dealing with female models? How is it in Australia in general? Here, in the US, a lot of people don't like touching their models in order to fix something like their hair, etc. Male photographers, sometimes, also like having other people in the shoot.
Dealing with female models, I am a total gentleman, I don't touch… I ask them to do it, if I have a hair and makeup artist, I ask them to do it. If you start touching, here in Australia, you will lose models very fast.
Do you think PS is a necessary tool for our genre of photography?
Photoshop is not necessary.... ha, what would we do without it! The program compliments us, it adds to our vision, it tidies up those bits that we miss or need to put in.
What is your favorite PS tool?
The layers pallete... masking is so much fun!
What is your favorite part of the whole process?
Seeing the finished project ... sometimes, I can't let go and touchup here and there… concerned that I missed an element.
What advice do you want to give to the members of our group?
Don't give up on your dreams! What may seem rough and childish… given time will be gold. An image, finished, gives us the opportunity of starting another...
Love it. It is wise advice. Nothing more true than that. It was a pleasure getting to talk with you and hearing your stories, hearing about your life. Our conversation went deep. Thank you so much.
Thanks for your time, Rocio!
Chris' Gift of Inspiration: