Photo and Interview by Mike Morgan
Timothy R Lowery is an APA|DC member based in Washington, DC who photographs fashion for editorial publications both here and abroad. He was interviewed by our April Featured Member, Mike Morgan at the end of April.
Mike Morgan: So, let’s start at the beginning. Tell me how you got started with photography?
Timothy R Lowery: I started my journey with photography when I was fifteen, actually. I bought my first camera…a Canon AE-1.
M: My first camera as well!
T: My older brother had bought a Canon AE-1 while he was stationed inVietnam, and when he came home he was taking lots of pictures; and you know, I looked up to my big brother and I wanted a camera like his. So I worked for a year and a half after school and did whatever I could do to earn what I could earn, and I finally saved up enough money and bought the Canon.
T: I immediately felt a connection to photography. I was hooked the first time I pressed the shutter release button! Soon after purchasing my camera, I started taking photographs for my high school newspaper and annual. I took advantage of any opportunity to shoot. Back in those days, it seemed as if I were neglecting something essential if a day went by without me doing something related to photography. Toward the end of high school I was looking at enrolling in the Art Institute of Atlanta and pursuing a career as a professional photographer. But I was dissuaded by members of my family who felt like a more prudent decision would be to get a business degree at an in-state university, so that is what I wound up doing. Even while in college, I continued to shoot as much as I could. . but by the time I graduated so much was going on: becoming an adult, trying to get a job, all that stuff; and over time I stopped taking pictures and for many many years I did not pick up a camera except maybe a “point and shoot” camera while on vacation. For twenty-years after college I was very focused on my commercial real estate career, leading successful projects throughout the country.
M: So how did you get back into photography?
T: In 2010 I was feeling a need for a creative outlet. . .and at the same time a really close friend of mine was going to Aveda Institute. As part of the learning process, local photographers would come to my friend’s school and shoot portfolio sessions for them. I flippantly said one time to my friend “I could shoot better images than what you are showing me”. My friend said, “Well, why don’t you do it?”. . .and that’s really how it all started. I went and bought a new camera and I bought some constant lights (I didn’t have strobes back in those days) and I started shooting hair shots. That’s really how it started. Eventually I started shooting once a month for Aveda, shooting all of their students’ portfolio work. So my progression was very organic: nothing was planned, nothing was strategic, nothing was really thought out. It was more responsive than proactive.
M: So how did you get from that point to shooting these very involved fashion editorials, in such a short span of time?
T: The next level for me was working with a local fashion designer who had seen my work and asked me to shoot her look book. Accordingly, I evolved from hair to fashion to editorial, and again it was very organic. Just to fast-forward, two years later my most recent editorial is coming out in Zink Magazine in June, and at the same time I’ve negotiated rights for Velvet Magazine in the UAE to have the exclusive Middle-Eastern rights, so there’s been a lot that’s happened in two years. One thing has led to another thing. . .and eventually better models, better clothes, better stylists, better equipment has been the result.
M: That’s amazing, so in that short of a period of time?
T: Yes, two years!
M: That’s incredible, meteoric.
T: Well, meteoric is going from obscurity to Vogue. So I don’t feel like it has been meteoric…but it has been an amazing journey in a short period of time.
M: You’re in a very interesting space in your career right now with your successful commercial real estate career and the success of your editorial photography.
T: It’s a very interesting space, and you know I’m constantly asked: Would you want to be a photographer full-time? And I always say I would love to, but I’m not 20-something years old any more and I’m not at that point in life where you just drop everything and go, “Oh, I’m just going to go and live out of a suitcase and shoot pictures.” But I do have a passion for photography and I love what I am doing. I’m learning something new every day.
M: I think it’s a very unique story, and I think most people who have the financial means or money from some other source and decide that they’re interested in photography, they’re dabblers you know? They’re just going to do a little bit here and there, there not going to commit to building a talented team around them and then actually producing truly impressive, very detailed work, and if they’re shooting fashion they’re not shooting it with such technical precision and the type of forethought that you’re obviously putting into it.
T: I really do put a lot of forethought into every editorial that I shoot…and as far as technical precision, the last two years have taught me so much about the technical aspects of fashion editorial photography. . . from good composition to lighting!
M: I think your work is pretty amazing. I’ll be honest with you, when they told me I’d be photographing and interviewing you I was not familiar with your work. I went to your website, and I said who is this guy and what is he doing in DC?
T: From a fashion photography standpoint, it’s a great question!
M: You know when photography students come to me and say they want to shoot fashion I tell them, “Pack your bags, go to New York or LA, you’re not going to be able to build a career here.” So I think you’re in a really unique position, and an enviable position. For most photographers it’s the financial burden of running the business and having access to capital that stalemates their creativity and wears them out.
T: I’m deeply sympathetic because I know that’s many photographer’s plight, and so when I look back on my life in hindsight, I kind of owe my family a debt of gratitude in one regard; because my business career has created this vehicle that now allows me to financially shoot what I want to shoot.
M: So having said all that, tell me a little bit about where you draw your inspiration from and, even when you were starting, how did you determine what your end goal was, and how did you decide what kind of images you wanted to create in the first place?
T: When you ask that question, I immediately think back to the end of 2010, and I was shooting the look book that I referenced a bit ago, and I remember saying I want to devote 2011 to just learning how to shoot fashion editorials. What I loved about editorial was the story, and I wasn’t sure how you tell a story in pictures when it’s all fashion? So some talented friends and I started brainstorming about some stories we wanted to shoot. The first editorial I shot, Center of Attention, I didn’t even know what to call it, to be honest with you. I came down to a furniture store in Georgetown and told them I needed some furniture for a photo shoot, and believe it or not they loaned it to me. I had a local model, not even agency represented. . .and I found a local stylist. We put all this together and that was my first experience with editorial. Truthfully, we didn’t even have a “story”. . .we created the story after we shot the images. So I learned it is much better to go into the shoot with a story rather than vice versa.
M: How did developing a storyline change things on your shoots?
T: Soon after that first editorial shoot, I decided I wanted to do an editorial inside an office space about a group of people who work together. . .I named the editorial “Taking Care Of Business”. This time I went into the shoot with a whole storyline and I knew the characters and how I wanted to shoot them. It made doing the shot list so much easier!
M: When you’re developing your story, and say it’s an editorial client, do you run your storylines by your editor and do they ever contribute to it? Or is it just a private conversation that goes on with your team and crew?
T: It goes both ways, because if it’s for submission you have total control, but if you’re shooting for a magazine they have certain parameters you must follow. You know a lot of times they want to approve the talent, they want to approve the stylist, and many art directors want to be right there viewing every shot. Thankfully most of the magazines that I have worked with and worked for, have just allowed me to be me and use my own creativity rather than imposing their vision for the editorial.
M: I have to say, it’s an enviable position to be in, when you’re just going out there and you’re making the art you want to make, and along the way you’re getting work published.
T: That’s exactly it, from my perspective it’s like painting a beautiful painting. You know many of the great painters were dead long before their paintings were ever appreciated; imagine the rejection in that. And you know, we’ve all dealt with some rejection. But I never take it personally because at the end of the day this is my art. I want everyone to love it, but if you happen to hate it, it doesn’t degrade the fact that it’s art in my opinion, and that’s really how I see photography. Even in portraiture or architectural photography. . .it is art!
M: One thing that I think makes this so unique is your talent level, I mean there are so many people who just have an interest in photography, but the key is not just your influence in business but the fact that people can look at your work and say, “Ok, wow, this guy really knows what he’s doing, he’s coming here to actually do something – he’s not just some hobbyist using up our time.”
T: Well, I’m very serious about my photography. . .but let’s be honest, everything is about aesthetics in photography. So either you have an eye for it or you don’t. I personally believe that it is a god given talent or universe given talent, however you want to say it. I didn’t ask for it, but I’ve always had it…and I am very appreciative for whatever level of talent that I have been given.
M: Tell me a little more about working with a team, and what that’s like in terms of the genesis of coming up with a storyline to how you game plan.
T: It all begins with a concept, and to be honest with you the team brainstorms, so it’s not always my idea. But usually it’s an idea and then the first thing we do is a mood board: you go to the internet and you pull images that are inspirations, that have the same feel, the same mood, the same setting, some commonality and we create a mood board and then the mood board is circulated amongst the team and we start talking about what kind of clothes we want to shoot, what resources do we need, what fashion houses can we pull from, etc. Then that leads to talking about the hair, the makeup and the location where we are going to shoot the editorial. I then reach out to the modeling agencies once we decide what kind of model we want. And I have to say that I am very thankful that we have been able to have models come from New York to DC to be featured in our editorials.
M: I think you’re the reason why they’re willing to come to DC.
T: Well, thank you. . .I always take good care of the models and try to make their experience on set as good as I can make it.
M: This is a fascinating story, it’s so different from the path of most working photographers. So I did have one last question for you: what is does the future hold for your photography, what do you hope to eventually accomplish with this second career?
T: That’s such a difficult question for me, it really is. I want to keep taking photographs, and I want to keep telling stories, and I want to keep creating my art. I’ve made a conscious decision that I’m not going to put my camera down again. So that’s where it begins for me. I’d love one day to be able to work with certain magazines, and hopefully continue to grow, and have them say “Hey, we’ve got this amazing project we want to shoot, and we think your aesthetic would be right for this.” However, I don’t have a crystal ball, and have no idea what tomorrow holds, but I hope that I get to one day be able to spend a good portion of my time doing what I have a passion for.
M: Well, it sounds like you’re making it happen. It’s pretty nice to be in a position to write your own destiny and do it the way you want to do it.
T: It’s getting easier and thankfully, I have more options these days. . .and I appreciate all that is currently happening with my photography. As I said before, it’s been an amazing journey!