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Behind the Lens With Richard Conde

Behind the Lens With Richard Conde
Richard Conde By

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Meet Richard Conde:
My work has been featured in National Geographic and recently chosen for their permanent stock collection.

Most of my work consists of jazz photography, travel photography and dance performance events. Currently I am the senior staff photographer for the Jazz Museum in Harlem and the club photographer for the Birdland jazz club in New York City. I am also represented by the HP Garcia gallery in New York City. I have earned a Masters of Fine Arts and Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the School of Visual Arts in New York City. For the past few years I have worked on assignment for several travel organizations. My work has been published in the New York Times, Down Beat Magazine, JazzTimes and numerous magazines and album covers, the most recent with Verve Records.

Gear:
I currently use the Nikon D3s and D3 cameras. My choice of lenses: the 70- 200, 17-55 and 24-70 Nikon lens.

Teachers and/or influences?
I come from a fine arts background, so for me Rembrandt and the painter Caravaggio are a major influence. Their one-directional approach to lighting influences the emotion and passion of my work. The painter Peter Paul Rubens influences my usage of color. The great jazz photographer Herman Leonard is also a big influence on my work, as well as Richard Avedon. Avedon helps me to see the meditative inner workings of my subjects. Ansel Adams, the great landscape photographer, is my tech guru. He helps me to see the surface tones and gradations of my work.

I knew I wanted to be a photographer when...

I was able to get past the point-and-shoot phase of my work and started producing work which connected with me emotionally. At that point I felt I was able to finally express myself as a visual artist.

Your approach to photography:
I try to keep everything simple starting with my camera bag, I pack light and take only what I need. It's important to know your equipment, that only comes by practicing, shooting everyday and developing your photographic eye. It's important to establish a relationship with your subject; the closer the relationship is the better the picture will be, it's as simple as that. I always strive to create a photograph no one has seen, it's important to get past the clichés of point-and-shoot photography. Lastly, I try not to take myself too seriously; there are plenty of photographers out there who are more talented than I am.

Your teaching approach/philosophy:
If I had to give a young photographer advise I would say this, shoot everything until you find what interest you. Practice, practice, practice; the worst thing in the world is to be confronted with a great moment and only to find out you still do not know how to turn the camera on. Know all the rules before you can break them. Get past the level of becoming a point-and-shoot photographer; create photos no one else has seen.

Remember that in life there is a moment, it maybe big or small but it will always be there waiting to be photographed, you have to be ready when it happens.

Shoot your camera like you're shooting a video; you have to shoot thru the moment in order to capture that great moment. Do not take yourself too seriously; there are plenty of photographers out there who more talented than you are. I try to make what is invisible visible. That is my approach and philosophy in a nutshell.

Your biggest challenge when shooting indoor (or low lighted) events:
Low light photography is always a challenge, the Nikon D3s and D3 cameras help me to resolve that issue. I find Jazz photography and dance performance photography the most difficult lighting in which to shoot. If you master the technique of low light shooting, you can shoot anywhere.

Your biggest challenge when shooting outdoor events:
Shooting outdoors is the easiest part, the biggest challenge is working with rude or unfriendly photographers at these outdoor festivals. There are many photographers out there shooting these events for all the right or wrong reasons. Most of them forget what we do is an art form; they cannot seem to get past just being point-and-shoot photographers. Most of them act like paparazzi and seem to make it more difficult for guys like us who truly consider this work as art. I cannot tell you how many times as a young photographer I was rudely dismissed because I dared to ask a technical question. This "every man for himself" mentality is truly hurting our profession.

Favorite venue to shoot:
The Birdland jazz club is best venue to shoot in; I have been the house photographer there for four years now and I find the lighting there to be perfect. The lighting is one-directional which is perfect for my style of shooting.

Favorite festival to shoot:
The Newport Jazz Festival is my favorite place to shoot. In 2011, George Wein (the founder of Newport) attended one of my jazz photo exhibitions in New York City. He purchased a few prints and invited me to shoot Newport as his official photographer. I had a great time and the memories are too many to mention.

Where was your first assignment location?
My first job was a photo shoot for Benny Golson's CD cover, which was shot for Arkadia Records. The shoot went so well I was hired for two other photo shoots, which included a photo shoot in Scotland.

Your favorite musician(s) to photograph:
I look for musicians that bring life to my photos, and it's hard to pick a favorite, so I would have to narrow it down to three. First would be Pharoah Sanders: his mannerism and facial features are ancient and timeless. Second is Esperanza Spalding: her mannerisms are free-spirited; it's like watching a flower dance in the wind. Third is Roy Hargrove: watching him play his trumpet is like watching a child play in the playground for the first time. Each one of these musicians seems to become one with their instruments, and make photographing them unpredictable and exciting.

Did you know...
No one would guess I was a New York City Police Officer for 20 years. While all my fellow officers went out to the bars after work, I was at the jazz clubs photographing musicians and trying to get there autographs.

Your favorite jazz story:
Shooting at the Blue Note in the early '90s, I was photographing Nancy Wilson. I had a front row table and was shooting with a camera which made a very loud camera noise, it sounded as if someone was tap dancing on the stage. She was singing a ballad and right in the middle of the song she leaned over to me while singing and sang, "you should not do that anymore." What a class act; she could have embarrassed me but she did not. She changed my life and I guess I changed her lyrics, a moment I will never forget.

View the Richard Conde photo gallery.

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