One of our missions at Behind the Frame is to make the work of photographers approachable and personal. We believe photography is a democratic and accessible medium—why obscure its meaning rather than bring the viewer closer?
To this end, we will be publishing interviews with each of the 20 photographers whose work is available for purchase in our inaugural sale "Always a Beginner." Get to know these impassioned image-makers a little better!
For our first interview, we sit down with American photographer Michael Sugrue. Mixing visceral photojournalism with cinematic polish, Sugrue tells us more about his start with the medium...
BtF: How did you begin your work in photography? Was there a "decisive moment" when you knew it was a special medium for you, when you felt truly committed to it?
MS: I was on the swimming team in college and not really focused on academics at all. A teammate of mine suggested a photojournalism class—he had taken it as a means of creative and intellectual challenge, but also discovered a great reward. Once I tried it, I was hooked. The mix of left and right brain engagement really suited me. Solving unique creative problems without definite, traditional or even correct answers really appealed to me then, and continues strongly to this day.
BtF: When you were beginning photography, were there any people, artists, books, films that served as essential inspirations? How about now—any sources of creativity you discovered recently that give you that jolt of "beginner's" passion?
MS: I was raised by an artist mother, who eventually worked (and still does) at the Detroit Institute of Arts. Once, when a particular exhibition came through town, she turned me on to the great street photography of the 1950’s and 60s. Ultimately however, I started to fall in love with photography when she showed me an exhibit by the great Canadian photographer Yusuf Karsh. His stylized, yet extremely personal, photography was, and continues to be a real inspiration for me.
I’m constantly inspired by other photographers, but also artists in the fields of painting, filmmaking, and sound design. Any creative field that has the ability to move and affect our senses in profound and unexpected ways is always something I’m drawn to.
BtF: Cartier-Bresson famously said, "Your first 10,000 shots are your worst." Can you share a humbling moment that happened to you recently with regards to your photography? A moment when you realized, like all of us, that there's always much more to learn?
MS: My particular example was a lesson in putting your head before your heart. This past summer I was photographing at a vineyard in Napa Valley. I had scouted the location thoroughly, and ambitiously thought I could get three particular shots in an extremely narrow window of time when the light was perfect around the sunrise.
After capturing the first shot, I drove my car to the next location, a particularly precipitous section of steeply inclined vines. Halfway down the hill I realized my car would not be coming back up, at least under its own power. Just then, the loose ground began to give way, and I slid about 20 feet further down the hill, coming to rest inches from the edge of a massive ravine. Needless to say, I realized then that my scouting should have also taken into account sound logistical planning. I learned that blindly following one's creative instinct can raise one's auto insurance premiums!
—Michael Sugrue, interviewed by Behind the Frame
Editor's note: Sugrue's work is now available in our inaugural themed sale, "Always a Beginner."