Photographer of the Day: Stewart Traver

ADC Member brings the whimsy

It’s the weekend — and the end of the first full week of Photography Month here on the ADC blog! We’ve been featuring a different photographer every weekday, from professionals to amateurs, all with the common theme that they are also card-carrying ADC Members. We leave this week off with a ‘whimsical’ treat.

StewartTraverHeadshotSTEWART TRAVER
Brooklyn, NY, USA


How old were you when you took an interest in photography?

I took an interest in photography when I was very young. My grandfather was a photographer, but his day job was an engineer, building skyscrapers and other large buildings in Atlanta. When I was young he was always getting the family to pose in his carefully constructed compositions.

I had always been fascinated with photography but it didn’t become more than that until I moved to Los Angeles after college. I got a job at Quixote Studios as a stage manager handling the equipment and peeking in on big production photo shoots. After a year of working in the grip room I became friends with a few assistants, and one day one of them asked me if I would like to work on set. I jumped at the opportunity, and the next morning at 6 AM I met the other assistant and we drove the equipment to the Beverly Hills Hotel and set up the lights and equipment in a room in the lobby and shot Shakira. It was an eye opening experience to say the least. After that I spent six years working with some of the best photographers and learning each of their unique ways of composing their shots all while honing my own craft and finding my voice.

What is your favorite thing to shoot?

I like shooting people the most because you are inviting them into a world that you’ve created. Furthermore, I like conceptual photography because you have the ability to create a narrative that would otherwise be absent from, say a portrait. To be able to direct them into this narrative space and have the subject play the part opens up another world or dimension in which to create unimaginable stories. I’ve always wanted to create a new genre of photography called ‘whimsical’, not to be confused with surreal. There is playful twist on reality which brings more of the humor into it. Opposite of Man Ray’s surrealism that departs from reality where he is “photographing [his] visions.”

“To be able to direct [people] into this narrative space and have the subject play the part opens up another world or dimension in which to create unimaginable stories.”

What is your favorite piece of equipment?

My favorite piece of equipment is my Mamiya RZ67. Not only because it’s medium format, but because of its versatility. I can shoot polaroids, and any other available film stock. I can switch between a number of lenses and there are a variety of add-ons such as a prism finder versus the waist level finder. You can really build out the camera to meet your specific comforts and needs. Another reason I love this camera is that it can work without batteries, although you can only shoot at a shutter speed of 1/400th a second.

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

Over the course of my assisting career I worked with a lot of great photographers and some not so great. I got to see some photographers mature and grow into really great and inspiring photographers. But the one that inspired me the most and continues to inspire me, even though I haven’t seen any new work from him in years, is James Minchin III.

A few months after I had first started assisting, a fellow assistant asked if I was available to work with this photography on a music album cover shoot. He also warned me that I would have to be extremely alert and focused because we would be shooting with five different types of polaroids and eight different types of film stocks. Everything from black and white to color, and from 160 ISO to 3200 ISO. I was a little nervous but when I got to the location, which was an abandoned warehouse in downtown LA, I was blown away by how James Minchin composed his shots and how he chose what type of film to shoot where. We would be switching out film every few frames so we had to write on the film backs which type of film we had in each at any given moment.

James truly put the art form back in the already saturated digital market with so much manipulation happening in post. He was manipulating the actual medium and capturing it naturally. It truly inspired me and made me understand that the phrase that I’ve heard many times on set, “Anyone can push a button” was not entirely true. The photographers that lived by that statement believed that the true challenge in photography was directing. And not just the subject but the whole circus, from clients and make up to props and art department. It’s a careful choreography of people, objects and events, which is true but James didn’t worry about all that, he worried about the actual art form. Not to mention we even had the polaroid called 665 that had a film negative that you could “clear” and put in a holding take for the lab to process. His images have a beautiful sense of motion and time that tell some many different stories. I will continue to draw inspiration from James Minchin III and the style of his photography.