IPA Interviews with Winning Photographers

Interview with

David Leaser

1st Place in Nature – Flowers Category 2015

What is your background?

I am self-trained and have had a passion for photography for as long as I can remember, from the time my parents’ put a Polaroid Swinger in my hands at the age of seven. As a teenager, I lived on a working Arabian horse farm and began taking photographs of horses for magazine publication. I pursued my passion through college as a photo editor and editor in chief for my college publications but fell away for nearly two decades as I entered the workforce in the high tech industry. On a business trip, I renewed my interest in photography, taking photographs of a botanical garden in Miami. The early work was primitive, but it led me to sharpen my skills again. Within a few years, I had published four books featuring my work, which led me to explore fine art photography.

What kind of photography do you most identify with?

Fine art photography. I have also published four books which combine fine art photography with photojournalism.

Explain your style in 100 words

Employing modern technology, I layer together dozens of images in focus stacks to achieve a bees-eye view of nature to show the intricate details and forms of flowers in a way many have never seen before. My style has been compared to the Baroque masters of the Renaissance who featured photorealistic images of flowers against black backgrounds and the botanical illustrators of the 19th century who decontextualized flowers against solid white backgrounds. When you combine this technique with the subject matter — rare and exotic flowers, many of which have been lost to cultivation — you will see flowers from a viewpoint which could not have been achieved even a decade ago.

How did your style change over time?

I’ve been exploring light more than ever to achieve a signature style. In my early work, I photographed flowers and nature in a natural setting. Now I am much more interested in the architecture and form of the subject, so I seek to emphasize that.

What photograph left a lasting impression on you and why?

Two Callas, by Imogen Cunningham, from 1925. The form speaks to me.

When did you discover your passion for photography?

When I was on a field trip as a little boy, carrying my Polaroid Swinger around. I think I shot three rolls of film on a single train at the Strasburg Railroad in Pennsylvania. I pretty much had a camera in my hand from then on.

Describe a real-life situation that inspired you?

I was in the Amazon photographing landscapes. If you’ve never been there, you should go if you can. It is so peaceful and pristine. While I was there, I started to focus on the tiny flowers on the rainforest floor. I sort of had a “Horton Hears a Who” moment because you can see complete ecosystems in these flowers – tiny insects and lizards that blend in and are hardly noticed.

A few days later, I was sitting in a café in Quito, the capital city of Ecuador, when I had an epiphany: Lots of people are photographing beautiful landscapes, but what about those tiniest of flowers that are overlooked and even stepped on? Maybe I should try to elevate them to the point where they can be enjoyed and appreciated.

What’s your most embarrassing moment related to photography?

I think I am always embarrassed by — and maybe in awe of — how little I know about photography. Many years into this, I am still learning. But I see that as a good thing. It gives me the freedom to be open to new ideas and techniques. I am truly humbled by the amazing photographers I meet.

What jobs have you done other than being a photographer?

Working at a marketing manager for IBM for many years. Worked on a newspaper in college and also worked as a lifeguard into my early 20s.

What is your dream project?

Creating a series on vanishing wildlife, then printing on enormous, oversized cotton rag using the platinum/palladium process.

Name 5 photographers who have inspired you

Karl Blossfeldt
Imogen Cunningham
Frans Lanting
Peter Arnold
William Henry Fox Talbot

What would you do without photography?

I cannot imagine not being able to express what I see in a visual medium. I would need to take art classes, fast.

How do you know when a body of work is finished?

I never do. And I don’t think you should ever close the door.

Is there one photograph of yours that you are very proud of? Why?

Tiger’s Eye. I have been told it is the most award-winning photograph of all time and an edition is in the permanent collection at the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens in California. It has been my most popular seller, too. Many collectors tell me they never tire of looking deep into that image.

What is your most important gadget? Is there something you can’t live without in your studio?

The Nikon Closeup Lighting System. Nothing else allows me to achieve the even, diffuse lighting I need to express myself.

How did you start taking pictures? Why do you take pictures?

Originally, I was fascinated with the gadget, the Polaroid Swinger. Later, I found out I could make money with photography. But today, I take photographs to make people smile. That is the greatest reward.

What was your first camera?

Polaroid Swinger, then a Minolta SLR.

What camera do you use now and why?

I use the Nikon D3X. The camera provides me with the image resolution I need to create my work, but more than that, the machine is just a solid workhorse.

What role does the photographer have in society?

I believe photographers have a role documenting our world and creating art. I am most interested in creating art. It seems that so many photographers today have a political agenda and mission with their work. I have no interest in that, but I hope my work leads people to appreciate and preserve the miracles of nature. And I hope it makes them smile.

You can find out more about David here

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