We’re delighted to announce that Michael Prince has joined the Marianne Campbell Associates roster! To get to know a little more about Michael, we sat down for a conversation about what makes a good drone photo, his obsession with found objects, and being in the right place at the right time.
On your website, you write that you gave up your bohemian lifestyle to study photography. That seems a little like an oxymoron?
It is! It’s a bit of a joke, but I’ve had a great life and I’m super grateful. A lot of my career has been about being in the right place at the right time. I married my wife in her last semester of college, so that was sort of our honeymoon in Florence, Italy. I hadn’t studied photography before then, and I TA’d for her photo professor, and he let me take the advanced photo class. That was my introduction to photography. Just walking around Florence taking pictures. When we got back to the Stares, I worked for a very small newspaper driving around on a moped and learning how to take pictures and talk to people. Then my wife got a job at the Museum of Modern Art, which brought us to New York, and I started assisting. I did fine art for a few years, and one day a famous collector bought a photo, which led to me getting into a smaller gallery, which led to me getting into a really big gallery. I was lucky; my first show in New York sold over 50 prints. That was at Howard Greenberg. Then I got into museums, and then I started shooting commercially and shifted away from fine art. What I appreciate about commercial photography is it’s less about the connections you have and more about the work you do.
Could you explain your fascination with photographing stuff you found on the beach?
I have a little mathematical formula: Object x Time + H20 = Something Interesting. You find things on the beach that have no business being on the beach, and they're sad—plastic bottles and other things that are destroying the environment. But you also find things that tell a story, and I like to see how time in the water has changed them. Sometimes you can make something interesting out of something ugly, which I’m intrigued by.
Making the cover of Bulgarian Forbes must be a highlight of your career. How did that come about?
Oh yes, I’m big in Bulgaria! I did a shoot for Forbes US of The Rock. Whenever that happens, they make the pictures available to their global network, and they don’t even tell me. The Rock posted it, and that’s how I saw it.
One thing that stands out in your portfolio is a really bold use of color. Is that intentional or simply a reflection of your aesthetic?
I think with a lot of things in art, you as a viewer see as intentional, but it’s not necessarily the case for the artist. Years ago when I was working in fine art, one of my dealers was looking through my portfolio, and she said, “Why did you take all these pictures of fences?” At the time I took a lot of pictures of fences, and I didn't even realize it. It’s the same thing with color. I don’t necessarily start taking a picture thinking about the color, but in the back of my mind, I am of course. There are so many things I am thinking about, first, about the composition, the expression on the face, how to get a smile, an honest expression. Color wouldn’t be on my list. Now I’m going to have to think about it!
So, you got one shot at a portrait of Bill Gates—what if he had blinked?
It really would have sucked. We were at the New York Public Library, and they only gave us a little bit of space. Those 20 x 24 Polaroids are huge. Just the camera itself has two or three guys that come with it to operate it, plus your own crew for lighting. It was for a Forbes Philanthropy conference. The same day I shot Bill Gates, I shot Warren Buffet, and a few others. There’s security and secret service and bomb sniffing dogs. It’s pretty chaotic.
A significant amount of your commercial work involves health and the health care industry. Is that a passion beyond a proclivity?
Yeah, I’m a geek at heart, and I love meeting scientists and doctors and hearing about the research they’re doing. I do a lot of research stuff at hospitals and it’s really fascinating. My son is in grad school studying biochemistry and it’s fun to brag about him to doctors, of course. I’m also intrigued by labs. You’ve got these usually white spaces with little pops of color, various test tubes and other really interesting things. I will use color in a white environment.
What makes a good drone photo?
For me it’s about composition and the graphic elements of looking at something from way above versus at ground level. The photos I feel are most successful are the cargo containers, where at first glance, you don’t even know what you’re looking at, and the umbrellas on the beach, there’s that potential for it to become something different from what it really is. I like fractals. Walking down the beach, you see the water making patterns in the sand; flying at 30,000 feet, you see the same patterns in the mountains. It’s amazing to me how you can use the drone to get that different perspective.
And of course, there are all those super bold, saturated colors…
Oh yeah, well I definitely do post-production work. When I was doing fine art, I was also doing retouching at the same time for another photographer. I really learned how to do high-end Photoshop retouching. When I’m photographing that’s what I’m shooting toward. I don’t consider what I see in the viewfinder to be my final photograph; it’s my jumping off point. I’m always thinking about what I’m going to do to refine the shot.
Speaking of jumping off… everyone likes a good jumping photo, but rarely do you see them in a professional portfolio. What is it you love about these photographs?
I’m a jumper myself. Some of the funniest ones are me failing miserably. There’s the idea that it’s scary, especially when you first try it. I love little kids watching the bigger kids and thinking, “I’m going to do it next year.” The big kids help the little kids do it. There was this older woman and she really wanted to jump. These guys in their 20s calmed her down and talked her through it and she was so grateful. Flying through the air, you’re free for a little bit, and then you hit the water and it’s cold and refreshing. And the beauty of it—the human body doing something amazing is always intrinsically beautiful. I love a kid who can nail a really good backflip. I live right there—it's a pier near my house.
How does your personal work affect your commercial work and vice versa?
They’re two sides of the same coin. Whether I’m shooting for you or shooting for me, I’m going to be taking the same picture. I approach a picture the same way, whether I’m working with models or my friends or kids or doctors. I'm really super relaxed and I joke around with everybody. It's the same me; I want you to relax and enjoy the moment as much as I am.
Welcome to the MCA family Michael, we are thrilled to have you!