Monday, September 17, 2012

Elliot Ross & Jordan Swartz

Elliot Ross and Jordan Swartz are two emerging photographers figuring things out. Both talented rising stars influenced by music, they bring a sense of raw energy to their photographic practice. Elliot has some great advice about New York City, while Jordan speaks about photographing on the road. 

Elliot Ross

Elliot received his BFA from Savannah College of Art and Design. He has worked for Annie Leibovitz and Mark Seliger, and is now a freelance portrait and music photographer based in New York City.
To view more of Elliot’s work, visit his website:

Ashley Kauschinger: You graduated about a year and a half ago, and you have already worked for some amazing photographers. How did you break into the industry? 

Elliot Ross: New York City is all about who you know and your reputation. I was fortunate enough to have friends from college already doing well for themselves in the industry. Six months before moving to Brooklyn I did an expeditionary trip up here to check out where I might want to work, meet some people and really figure out what I wanted for myself. Having a rough plan is a must in my book; otherwise this place can swallow you up. There are just so many people who want the same jobs and that are just as hungry if not hungrier than you. Basically what I'm saying is that you have to really want it to succeed here. 

I went to (and still go to) as many art functions as I hear about: magazine parties, gallery parties and especially friends' parties. It's a lot of fun, but most importantly you begin developing relationships. This is what is going to get you hired. People here want to bring on others that they enjoy hanging out with, not an uptight kid with a resume trembling in his hand.  Here and there I shoot random agencies emails looking for work, but it's really about creating a circle of people you can trust and collaborate with. The best promo is a 6-pack of Brooklyn Lager and surrounding yourself with talented friends. 

Annie and Mark happened through good friends of mine, Jim Lind and Michael Didyoung respectively. I spent a year bugging both of them and finally things worked out. I'm not sure if you can call this "breaking into the industry," but I was definitely hooked up. 

AK: Now that you are gained some life and work experience, where do you see your own work headed?

ER: Well that's a great question. I've been asking myself that a whole lot lately. Once I left the bubble of college I found it really difficult to find time to shoot. My first boss in the City told me, "The first six months are going to kick you on your ass, New York City will own you." He was right, except it was more like a year. I've worked 100hrs in a week before and I've gone a month without a day off. It's not pretty. But what matters is staying in motion. Now I've gotten to the point where I can work less and start taking on some shooting of my own. I'm beginning to answer that question for myself. Recently I've gone back to my roots a bit, shooting live shows and musicians. Next week I'm doing a model test. So this moment in time for me is all about rediscovering myself as a photographer. It's going to take time. I will be incorporating all the lighting knowledge I've learned from Annie, Mark and the others that I've worked for and morphing that with my own vision. It'll be a big leap for me. 

AK: Your work is varied and experimental yet overall has a beautiful sense of light and mystery. Can you describe your working and thought process when you create photographs? 

ER: Images come largely from events in my past. I feel that my work has a subtle dark undertone to it. A feeling of unease or a problem unresolved. For me it's similar to waking up from a dream knowing that something went wrong but I can't quite see through the haze to put my finger on it.

Supplementing my concepts are current social issues. Every morning over my cup of coffee I spend an hour reading different news sites and blogs I frequent. It's a good practice that gives me a sense of perspective. I always want my work to have purpose even if it doesn't seem grounded in reality. The key I've realized is to be honest- with myself and with my subject. Only then can I start getting the substance I want within my story. 

Jordan Swartz

Jordan is an autobiographical photographer travels on the road with bands. He received his BFA from Corcoran College of Art and Design in Washington, DC. Jordan runs the blog Empty Stretch ( under the name thefacelesskid which talks about his travels, and features other photographers.

You can buy postcards of his westward journey here:

Check out Jordan’s website:

AK: Your work, Making Trouble/Making Friends, is a really extensive document that is blurring the lines of art and life. How did you begin this experience of shooting your life and how did the series develop? 

JS: I started photographing in high school and it was a way for me to document what my friends and I were doing. I grew up in the suburbs so at 16 when I could drive, my friends and I just went everywhere trying to find things to do, also around that time my friends who had always been in bands started getting good, so I photographed them as well.
The series "Making Trouble/ Making Friends" is just the new working title for this group of images. I don't really work in series and this is the newest edit and title for my ongoing work. Those photos are from the last four years of me moving and traveling all over the place. A teacher in college once compared my work to Walt Whitman's "Leaves of Grass" where it is just an ongoing thing, there is no final or official version of that poem and that is sort of how I like to think of my work.

AK: This series has a pulsing musical energy. Is music an influence to your photographic work? 

JS: Music is a huge influence for me. One of the main ways I travel is with bands. My best friends in We Were Skeletons have been amazing and taken me on almost every tour, to the point now where it is assumed I am going. Through them I have met a ton of other bands, which now take me out as well. Actually for most of August I will be on tour with our friends The Caution Children. Music is just a huge factor in my life. I essentially don’t own anything except a box of records at my aunt's house. A friend once asked if I'd rather never photograph or never listen to music again, I still can't answer.

AK: What is your process of self-promotion? How do you create a balance between making work and promoting it?

JS: About once a week I sit down and email as many people I can find, just trying to share my work. Also it is old news by now, but tumblr is an amazing outlet. I try and post new photos on there fairly regularly. Also, I run a blog/publisher called Empty Stretch, where we feature and interview photographers, so sometimes I slip my own work in there. The balance is tough and something that is discussed often among my photographer friends. A lot of my friends hate it and just want to be making photos, but early on I found a lot of photographers through the Internet so I have always been a fan of photographers with an online presence, and I try to keep mine up as much as possible.

Thank you Elliot and Jordan! I look forward to what you will both accomplish in the future. 

Please join Light Leaked this Friday for our first Photo Friday post. 

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