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Interview with archival photographer Marc Romanelli

Marc Romanelli has been shooting successfully for over twenty years. He is headquartered in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he lives with his wife and his young daughter. Marc’s images are curated by Getty for stills and motion, Corbis (motion), Creatas (motion) and Workbookstock, Hola, Blend, Bluemoon and Alamy for stills.

John: Marc, I know you’ve been shooting stock for a long time… and currently you don’t shoot on commission. Can you tell us about your early career? How did you come to be an action shooter?

Marc: I started painting, drawing and sculpting as a child and only picked up a camera at the age of 17. I started photographing found objects… crushed cans, tree bark, rusty metal… the world was revealed to me through the lens of a 55mm micro Nikkor. Seeing that up close was a revelation for me, followed by wide-angle lenses that distorted reality in other wonderful ways.

I started shopping my bag around Manhattan and eventually pestered Life Magazine for some assignments. I got a Modern Photography cover at 23, and then signed with Image Bank at 24. I realized early on that the freedom stock afforded me was the way to go. I traveled extensively on very low budgets, kept overhead very low while at home, and reinvested the earnings in travel.

About 20 years ago I made the decision to focus on shooting people, feeling comfortable directing people on recreational sports shoots who (then) recently moved to the mountainous west…Santa Fe. This eventually morphed into a lifestyle of shooting and anything else I’d like including some fine art stuff.

John: Do you license your own stock, license only through agencies, or do you do both? What agencies handle your work?

Marc: I do not license my own, but am represented by Getty for still and motion images, Corbis (motion), Creatas (motion) and Workbookstock, Hola, Blend, Bluemoon and Alamy for still images.

John: RF, RM or Micro?

Mark: I shoot RM and RF. I haven’t shot Micro and probably won’t in the future.

John: You shoot both moving and still images. How long have you been shooting Motion and how did you move into that field?

Marc: I first started filming on the move in 1997. I call it the “second wave” of Image Bank guys who got their feet wet filming on the move. I had the intuition that I would take it naturally. I’ve owned an Arri 16s, an Arri BL2 3mm and currently a Panasonic HVX200 camcorder (on sale cheap).

John: Do you think you need a different skill set to shoot on the move?

Marc: A different set of abilities… absolutely with movement you have to create an arc in time, maybe 20-30 seconds and tell a story. You are responsible for moving the camera or subjects in time and space and not relying on a decisive movement that crystallizes in a single frame.

John: How does the move fit into your future plans?

Marc: Motion is an integral part of my imaging business and an increasingly important part. Technology fever is forcing photographers to recognize that hybrid cameras capable of capturing 1080p stills and motion files are here to stay. The world sees movement as the most natural, emotional and effective way to communicate.

John: How do you approach a photo shoot? That is, ideas, plans, distribution, etc.

Marc: Focusing on what you do best seems to work (in an increasingly volatile environment). One clue I try to tap into is the question “does it feel real, authentic?” Easier said than done.

Particularly now, when the visual paradigm is undergoing a sea change from excess, sprawl, and self-centered focus… to reality, community, shared responsibility, and contraction. I work very intuitively… I choose friends and people I know about whom I have an idea; I rarely work with models.

I also don’t shoot in a studio. My preference is to find real locations. This can present challenges, but I prefer the authentic feel of a workplace.

John: Are you involved with the world of fine art?

Marc: I have ventured into the world of fine arts, since I had an individual exhibition of my personal work in black and white in Santa Fe and also a group exhibition.

John: What do you find most satisfying about your job?

Mark: I enjoy photographing my 3 year old daughter. It keeps my photography skills sharp and my photo intuition on high alert…she tries to capture the mercury visually!

Juan: Anything else you want to share?

Marc: I view my decision to shoot as determined by matching talent to location, while keeping an eye on how I could differentiate my images from what’s out there.

I tend towards what I call “situational” shots, lifestyle shots that are grounded in reality, and I subscribe to the notion that the end users of my images are essentially looking for uplifting, inspiring and positive images. In fact, sometimes the most positive thing that comes out of a shoot is the relationship; interaction and communication with talent, whether they are friends or acquaintances. It is as if there was a kind of “charged positive residue” that has been created by the action of the photographic event. Usually, if I’m experienced, I know I’ve done a good job capturing something.

The industry is in the process of change. What do you think are currently the biggest challenges for you as an action shooter? How are you dealing with those challenges?

Our business is evolving at the speed of light and is driven by the digital revolution, mass democratization also called “crowdsourcing”, the availability of exceptional and now affordable digital cameras, and new portals and sales platforms creating a surplus, an excess of images that chase fewer buyers. This is particularly true now considering our fragile economy.

To do? I choose to shoot what I know, shoot what feels right, branch out into shooting moving and still images, finding new agencies that want to build their collections quickly like Workbook did, loading them up with images but not forgetting the “girl who brought you to the dance.” “First of all… that would be your bread and butter agency. In my case that agency is Getty.

John: Marc, thanks for sharing that with us!

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