Meet the Artists: Photographers Rick Brady & George Sass
This past spring, What’s Up? Media continued its artistic and collaborative endeavor with the Arts Council of Anne Arundel County with the second ever quarterly art exhibit on display in the Power Technology Center in Annapolis. The exhibit, which opened last April and continued through summer, featured local photography, curated within a Chesapeake theme.
At the exhibit’s opening reception, two of the featured artists were selected for Best in Show honors. They are local photographers Rick Brady and George Sass, and we discussed each artist’s background and approach to their chosen medium in this Meet the Artists Q&A.
When do you first develop a passion for photography and what was the first inkling that you felt inspired to really try your hand at it artistically?Rick Brady: I first started shooting family events with the first model of the Kodak Instamatic. I recall using the Kodak to shoot photos for an eighth-grade report on the environment, so I guess that makes it my first “artistic” endeavor. Most of my early photography did involve capturing family members and my father soon allowed me to use his Beseler SLR, complete with flashbulb attachment. Next came high school and working with the yearbook team covering various events. Moving up to a new SLR with several lens choices, it was normal for me to have a camera on hand for any gathering of friends or family.
I credit my mom and dad for opening up the possibility of pursuing photography as a career. Seeing my expanding interest in photography they enabled me to study photography at the Rochester Institute of Technology. The four years there of study and interaction with other students and the excellent group of professors gave me a great foundation for professional photography.
George Sass: I’ve been an amateur photographer most of my adult life. When I was running my ad agency in Annapolis and New York, I had the opportunity of hiring some of the very best fashion and sports photographers in the world, (Irving Penn and Walter Iooss, for example), and their body of work and work ethic were an inspiration to me. Fifteen years ago I took a one year sabbatical from my ad agency to take a 6,000-mile trip on my boat throughout North America and was assigned by a national boating magazine to write and photograph a six-part series about my travels. I enjoyed writing and shooting for the magazine so much, I retired from my agency upon my return and spent the past several years working as a freelance photojournalist for national and regional boating magazines, winning a series of awards along the way. About a year ago I began to focus more on my fine art photography and have enjoyed seeing my work exhibited throughout the state in various art shows and exhibits. The fact that my wife, Stacey, is a working artist, a watercolorist, is an added inspiration to me.
What camera and ancillary equipment do you currently use?RB: I have been a Canon user since the first F-1 model was released, 1971 I think. I grew with them as Canon moved to auto focus and then to digital. Before digital, I preferred Hasselblad for black and white and various 4x5 systems for most advertising shoots.
I currently shoot with full frame digital Canons and L lenses. Lighting is determined by the shoot, multi light Speedotrons for most studio work, several types of monolights for location. I now prefer a lighter load for travel and use multiple Canon speedlights that can be radio synced from the camera. These days the laptop computer is standard on most shoots along with multiple portable drives for image backup.
GS: Although I shot Nikon pro gear for the past several years, I began experimenting with the Fuji mirrorless system two years ago. Not only is the Fuji system much lighter and smaller than the typical pro DSLR gear, but its image quality is impressive. This past year I switched entirely to the Fuji system, and now shoot with a Fuji XT-2 body and a selection of prime (fixed focal length) as well as f/2.8 zoom lenses. For wildlife I also have a Fuji 100-400mm lens with a 1.4X teleconverter, giving me a 35mm equivalent of an 840mm lens.
What is your approach to choosing subject matter to photograph and how best to capture it?RB: Since the Chesapeake Bay has been the focus of my personal work the Skipjack fleet was what I first pursued. I’m guessing there were about two dozen boats on the Eastern Shore that dredged on a regular basis in 1979. I shot at Tilghman Island mostly and, whenever possible, drove there when fog or snow was predicted. I shot some of my favorite images in poor weather. I never staged photos of the watermen working, I felt better capturing life as it was.
GS: Because of my past magazine work, I’m always trying to tell a story with my photography. And if I’m shooting a scene that’s been shot and published before, I try to show it from a different perspective. For example, I recently shot at the Grand Canyon and was certainly aware of all the existing picture-perfect shots of the area. But I happened to be there during a very unusual tropical storm that had originated in the Sea of Cortez. The lighting and clouds were much more dramatic than if it had been good weather. My weather resistant camera gear made it possible to get some dramatic shots. I also enjoy photographing people, mostly “at work portraits,” and have learned to engage in conversation well before pulling out my camera. It’s important to connect with people in order to capture the true essence of their personality.
What is your development and/or photo editing process?RB: I’m glad I learned on film, but I don’t miss it. I do miss the process some, removing Kodachrome slides from the little yellow box, good tunes always playing, viewing the slides with a loupe, and the satisfaction of seeing that you captured the shot you had envisioned a week earlier. Now you just look at the back of the camera.
I have always shot “raw” in digital and I love the flexibility to adjust the image in so many ways. Many of my commercial shoots required that a series of images be uniform in density and color and digital software allows me to do just that. I use both Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom, the job usually dictates which one is best suited.
GS: I shoot RAW with JPGs as a backup. I then download and select my RAW “picks” using a program popular with AP photographers, Photo Mechanic, because of its speed in selecting and rejecting. My “picks” are then imported into Adobe’s Lightroom, where I do 80 percent of my editing. I also shoot HDR (High Dynamic Range) images, bracketing three shots of the same scene, and then edit in PhotoMatix. This system eliminates the need to fool with variable ND filters in the field, allowing me to capture the entire dynamic range of a scene, such as bright sky and dark foreground.
Do you have any “golden rules” that you abide by regarding your photography?RB: Every “rule” creates a good reason for breaking it. I think my only personal rule is to treat every person that winds up in front of my lens with respect.
GS: Yes, “get closer and get lower.” Many landscape shots can be boring without a strong element in the foreground. So, I often try to find something interesting, like a boulder, a tree, or a big chunk of driftwood and then get closer and lower with a wide angle lens. Of course, one of my favorite rules is, “F/8. Be there.” Another one, “If you want to take more interesting photos, stand in more interesting places.” As a boating photojournalist, I’ve been very fortunate to have taken voyages to some of the world’s most interesting locations like the Galapagos Islands, Iceland, the Aleutian Islands, Baja, the Pacific Northwest’s Haida Gwaii, and, of course, the beautiful outer Bahamas.
Are there any photographers (local/national, historic/contemporary) that have inspired you and how/why?RB: The first person I would recognize was not a photographer, but a watercolor artist, the late George D. Post. George was a dear family friend and we also worked together at a textbook publisher, producing training materials for Fire, EMS, and Nursing programs. George was moving into watercolors of the Chesapeake area and needed photos to use as reference for his painting. A bad heart kept him from shooting during the cold months of dredging season so he arranged for me to sail with Capt. Wade Murphy on the Skipjack Sigsbee. Watching the sunrise from the Bay, sharing a fresh oyster stew with the crew, and learning about Skipjack history from Capt. Wade got me hooked. I spent a lot of time on Tilghman and the shore starting with that first sail.
You can’t think about Bay photographers without Marion Warren and Aubrey Bodine being at the top of the list. I never tire of flipping through their books. My late brother in law, Chuck Prahl, Jr., produced many beautiful photographs of the Chesapeake region. Chuck shot from a wheelchair but his work rivals that of anyone on the Bay.
Currently I think Dave Harp is doing some of the best work in the Chesapeake region.
GS: In landscape and nature, I think Frans Lanting is incredible. His book, LIFE, A Journey Through Time is amazing. I also admire David Muench and his son, Marc Muench, for their landscape work. Valerie Jardin, a French photographer who now lives in the U.S., is my inspiration for street photography. And for nautical work, there is no one better than Onne van der Wal. I had the pleasure of working with Onne for a number of my advertising clients, and his work continues to inspire me. And lastly, I remain friends with a National Geographic photographer, Steve Uzell, who I hired 25 years ago to shoot a high fashion campaign on Mt. McKinley (Denali). Steve has become my mentor, helping to guide me and advise me during these past couple of years.
When did you first connect with the Arts Council and how has your role with the organization grown over the years?RB: I’m new to the Arts Council, joined shortly before entering this show. As I move from my very technical commercial work in the medical field I decided to start exploring new ways to show my Bay work and the Arts Council was my first stop.
GS: After joining the Maryland Federation of Art two years ago I became much more aware of the local art scene and began following the work of the Arts Council last year.
About how many days per year do you shoot? Are there any favorite locals spots?RB: I’m probably down to about 50 days a year of full dedicated shooting, a mix of commercial and personal efforts. That does not include the days to process and file the images. I’ve been shooting around the Annapolis area for some time due to proximity. Just as I did at Tilghman, bad weather motivates me more than blue skies. I’ve been shooting around the industrial side of Baltimore Harbor a bit lately, even giant cranes look good with the right light.
These aren’t “shooting days,” but I spend a great deal of time editing and scanning the film images from 35 to 40 years ago. Much of what I shot no longer exists on the Shore, a good scan and a little Photoshop brings them back to life.
GS: I probably shoot 200 days a year. Locally, I enjoy shooting at Quiet Waters Park, and I shoot a lot of the Chesapeake Bay from my boat, ViewFinder. There are so many beautiful rivers and creeks on the Bay as well as charming towns like St. Michaels, Chestertown, Easton, Oxford, Chesapeake City, and, of course, Annapolis.
What advice do you offer to budding photographers?RB: I tell aspiring photographers to never stop learning. While I had the benefit of RIT starting out, the new photographers have YouTube and manufacturer instructional sites on the web that are sharing great information. I use the web as a resource if I’m exploring a new technique or considering a new piece of equipment.
Community college programs can also be of great benefit, I used my local college to get a jump start in Photoshop years ago, best money I ever spent.
GS: Don’t become obsessed with gear and technology, especially if you don’t have unlimited funds. Learn how to use the camera you have, and learn everything about it. Become so familiar with its operation, you don’t have to think about anything except your subject, light, and composition. And more than anything, get out and shoot every day you can.