Portland based photographer Parker Fitzgerald is today making his debut on Ben Trovato with a breath-taking story featuring Jennifer Sullins with Option Models, styled by Randi Whipple. Parker Fitzgerald is best known for his commercial work photographing everything from major car brands to obscure kitchen products. We caught up with the humble photographer, talking about his journey towards becoming a fashion photographer, and how his first Ben Trovato editorial, All Earth Was Once Sky, came to life.
Parker tells us he had a cursory interest in fashion photography growing up, but has only recently started studying it seriously. Before he ever even thought about becoming a photographer, he aspired to be a concept and character designer for games and movies: “I would flip through lookbooks for inspiration and incorporate fashion pieces into my drawings, and that summed up my interaction with the fashion world. After awhile, I got a digital camera in order to take my own photos for reference. It was around this same time that I started working as a graphic designer near Portland, where I developed a hatred for stock photography. I started taking photos to use in my design projects, which is when I first started to personally explore photography as an art form.”
However, with the 2008 financial collapse, his company had to let most of their designers go - him included: “- I found myself out in the world as a freelancer fresh from college with only about 9 months of work experience under my belt. My first gig came pretty quickly, though, and was as a set designer and extra on a fairly large video production project. Between takes, I would pull out my 30D and snap behind-the-scenes shots which I later was able to sell back to the production company. I ended up being hired by them to work on a side project they put together intended to test-run a set of Canon 5D Mk II cameras they had just acquired. It all dominoed from there. Before I knew it, I was getting work as a photographer. This was all happening around mid-2009.”
And now you’re shooting fashion? “I’m still very cautious about calling myself a fashion photographer - mostly because I still haven’t had a lot of experience working with agencies and designers.
I also think there is a certain level of artistic legitimacy required for the title that I haven’t quite yet achieved.
But I definitely love fashion and editorial photography first and foremost, although most of my work still comes through entertainment and music photography. As I progress, I hope to incorporate more fashion and editorial work into my schedule. I’d love to shoot the types of things I used to draw.”
All Earth Was Once Sky is an amazing set of pictures, how did it come to life? “This project began when I contacted Jennifer in late 2010 in order to try and convince her to work with me. Jennifer has an incredibly striking look and she and I have very overlapping sets of aesthetics. It took us almost a year to finally get together, which was fortuitous in so much as I progressed considerably in that time. After finally meeting for beers, we decided that what with fall having come, and Halloween approaching we wanted to do something with a more haunting feel. We used the word ‘ritual’ as a starting point and built from there.”
The location is a vital part of the story, how did you go about choosing it? “In order to help generate a feeling of the ethereal, we wanted to shoot in a more arid, rocky environment (the areas surrounding Portland being more or less overly verdant), and so we chose a place called Horsethief Butte. When it came down to the day of the shoot, though, time constraints forced us to consider closer locales. To make matters worse, the weather was uncharacteristically sunny and warm. We had been hoping for the dreary clouds that typify Portland this time of year. We eventually chose an island in the Columbia River that I’ve been frequenting a lot lately. It’s absolutely beautiful and has so many different varieties of landscape all in one compact spot.
In the end, we just rolled with what we had. The previously-unwanted light wound up giving a feeling of duality to the photos that really appeals to me. We were trying to go for a darker look and at times ended up with the opposite. It seems almost Providential.
I’m extremely fond of the results.”
What were the main sources of inspiration when shooting the story? “There are a number of photographers that I’ve really been enjoying lately that produce a kind of haunting, lo-fi photography using strong vignettes and film grain, combined with ethereal subjects and environments. Aëla Labbé and Alison Scarpulla are a few of my favorites, and I constantly draw inspiration from their work.”
And in your day-to-day life, where to you draw your inspiration from? “On a more daily basis, I constantly draw from Tumblr. I follow some amazing streams. My close friends also keep me motivated. They have very well-developed senses of aesthetic. Ideas, too, are a constant source of inspiration.
I have always held to notion that the pursuit of art is the pursuit of beauty and thus pursuit of the divine.
Someone once said, regarding painting, that it wasn’t the subjects or the pigments or the paintings, but light itself that should be an artist’s first and true love. This easily applies to photographers. As a character designer, I was fascinated with Byzantine Iconography for that same sort of reason. I was drawn to the spirit-striving nature of the artwork. That’s really where the title for the story comes from. All things on earth have come from the sky, or heaven, and should ultimately lead upward back towards it. I find this concept still to be true about what drives my photography.”
How was it working with this specific team? “I’d never had the pleasure of working with any of these folks before our shoot. Jennifer, as I’ve said, is someone I’d been very excited to get the chance to work with. She is by far the easiest, most relaxed person I’ve yet to have in front of my camera. Her eyes in particular have an intensity that is especially attractive to me. She’s a darling, too, what’s more.
Randi is friends with Jennifer, who had really wanted to incorporate one of her headdresses, which consequently turned out to be the centerpiece of the entire shoot. It was an absolute pleasure to work with her. She’s all business, quick, and sweet. Most importantly, she’s patient.
Lastly, I’ve been living and working with my brother James ever since he moved to Portland in May, but we’d never had the opportunity to collaborate on a shoot out in the field together. It was a great experience. As might be expected, it can be a bit of a mixed bag working professionally with family, but I really would prefer it no other way. There is a level of trust between us that would be incredibly hard to replicate with anybody else.”
We were lucky enough to also get a comment from stylist Randi Whipple on the styling of the story: “- My native American heritage has had a strong impact on my art since I was a child. I always had somewhat of an innate ability to pull together headdresses and the like using mixed media. I felt that for our shoot, fur, feathers, and bones helped to bring out a dramatic animalistic element in Jennifer.”
Last but not least, Parker, what’s next for you? “That’s definitely the question of the hour. As it happens, I have a piece of paper in my desk that has a set of short and long term photography goals written on it. Having a story posted to Ben Trovato was definitely near the top. Whenever I cross a line off of that list, I’m struck with a momentary feeling of “well okay, now what?” I’d love to pursue fashion much more vigorously. I also want to start planning more involved editorial shoots. Photography is such an odd industry, and I constantly feel forced to subvert what I really want to shoot with what I need to shoot in order to stay in business. I believe, though, that an artist can eventually build a bridge that spans that gap. I expect having a story on Ben Trovato to be a very important brick in that bridge.”
“And who knows? Perhaps I’ll just be forced to go shoot another story worthy of Ben Trovato! “
Shooting All Earth Was Once Sky, Parker used a Polaroid 195 for the Polaroids, a Voigtländer Bessa R2 for the 35mm film, and a Mamiya Universal Press for the medium format shots.
Photographer - Parker Fitzgerald
Hair and headdress - Randi Whipple
Model - Jennifer Sullins @ Option Models
Photography Assistant - James Fitzgerald