Photographer of the Day: Matt Hill

ADC Member brings images out of the darkness

August is winding down, but it’s still Photography Month here on the ADC blog. We are featuring a different photographer every day of the month. Some are seasoned professionals, some are young up and comers, and some are just amateur shutterbugs taking snapshots on the side. One thing they have in common: they are all ADC Members, part of our globe-spanning creative community. We hope that you enjoy their work as much as they love creating it!

matt-hill-headshot-2014MATT HILL
New York, NY, USA

How old were you when you took an interest in photography, and when did it become more than an interest?

I had loved and been fascinated by photography my entire life. My mother had a darkroom in our bathroom when I was growing up and my grandfather (Mom’s dad) and grandmother (Dad’s mom) both were avid photographers. I guess you could say it was written in my DNA.

It became more than just a curiosity when I processed and printed the first roll of film on my own. The moment I saw a print coming up in chemistry under a red safety lamp, I was hooked for life. I gave all of my extra money to learning and getting better at photography, and then some. And before digital, every frame cost you money. It was a serious commitment.

What do you love most about photography as an artform?

I love most when photography transcends taking and becomes making. At that precise moment, the photographic artist exacts control over a mad amalgam of science, math and art to deliberately harness light bouncing off something else and recording it with something sensitive. If one is tenacious enough to master these things and courageous to break these guidelines with vision, then amazing things can be drawn with light. A photograph is so much more than time recorded in two dimensions. It’s a deliberate choice to take that light for eternity and place it in a bounded reference – i.e. a printed photograph or a digital image displayed with light (an uncanny reference to itself – which I love).

Metaphysics aside, I love that this insanely amazing confluence becomes something that can drive emotion, commerce, politics, and more. Photography has, is and will continue to change the world. That is powerful, heady stuff.

What is your favorite thing to shoot?

My absolute favorite thing to shoot is intangible: time. I chase it through long exposures. I seek to put as much as I can into a single exposure while telling stories of landscapes and portraits of people at night.

What is it that attracts you to long exposure shooting?

The long exposure is my way of fucking around with normal. I’ve always cheered for the iconoclast in literature, business, etc. and I guess this is my way of supporting evolution. I want people to question the basis of their assumptions regarding time and beauty and what recording a still image could be. I want to stimulate curiosity.

Outside of that, it is purely selfish. It makes me happy to make long exposures. Standing by your camera at night, waiting for an eight-minute (half-hour, two-hour…) exposure to “fill up,” I have time to examine what is happening in front of me and appreciate that no matter what I am seeing at whatever crazy frame rate my eyes see at, my camera is going to compress it all into one moment. And no matter how many times I have done this, I am still surprised by the outcomes. What is still. What shows motion. How these things all add up in a single exposure.

And during these exposures, I also get to use any light source I want to deliberately draw out more details or create fantastic effects. Literally, if I can dream it, I have all the time I want to make it happen. That’s an advantage day photographers do not have.

“The long exposure is my way of fucking around with normal… I want people to question the basis of their assumptions regarding time and beauty and what recording a still image could be. I want to stimulate curiosity.”

What is your favorite piece of equipment?

Ohhhh. You ask this of a photographer? We are notoriously gear-centric. Sorry, I am not going to be able to list just one thing.

My favorite lens is my 14-24mm Nikon f/2.8. It’s my go-to for getting sky and earth in photo to include as many time-being elements as possible.

My favorite new toy is my Pixelsitck. It just arrived a week ago from Kickstarter. I firmly believe it’s another amazing tool for illuminating and light-writing with repeatable accuracy and nearly unlimited creativity.

And without my PocketWizard Plus III radio transceivers, I would not be able to pull off a lot of the flash tricks that I do when creating portraits for my Night Paper project. Irreplaceably essential.

Which person most inspires your photographic passion? Which professional photographers do you look up to?

No one inspires me more than Gregory Heisler when it comes to portraits as an act of storytelling. He is a modern master, incredible educator and the most humble human I have ever met. I have always been stunned by Gregory Crewdson’s large format low-light portrait scenes. Amazing productions, impeccable technique.

But I must say that I don’t study photographers. I have been fortunate to meet nearly all of the heroes I’ve had at one time or another, but I truly find more inspiration in Walter Murch, Wayne Coyne, Nick Cave and Tom Waits. To me, Walter affirmed that allowing all of your passions to infuse each other is a healthy practice. Wayne affirmed that weird and honest go together in beautiful ways. And Nick and Tom are storytellers that exceed at reaching into darker areas and celebrating what others shun and discredit. Darkness and light belong together; it’s the ratio that makes a photographer’s vision unique.