Mike Basher: The Beauty of Polar Opposites

Tue 12th Jun, 2018

By APA Admin in Charlotte, NC


   All images © Mike Basher photography


Mike Basher photography ranges from colorful, digital, commercial work of people and products to meditative black & white, shot of nature on film. 

by Sherrie Berger

Where did it all begin?  Can you speak to what it was about your upbringing that led you on these two paths?  And why photography?

I don’t come from a long line of photographers. There are zero in my lineage. But, I remember checking out my mom’s point and shoot when I was a kid, and thinking it was this interesting contraption. I don’t really recall ever taking any photos as a child, probably because of the expense of it (I also come from like zero money). But, my senior year of high school, you know…when you’re supposed to figure out what you’re going to toil away at for the rest of your life…I took a photo class. All of a sudden, the light at the end of that long, dark tunnel became brighter. I’ve always been very mechanically-minded (I guess that might have led me down the product road), and I like being “out there” “doing stuff”.

My approach to photography has always been an angle of making something. I don’t ever record what’s going on from a literal standpoint, really, so I can’t say my work is very journalistic in the traditional sense. I enjoy the personal challenge of trying to tell a “thing’s” story with one photograph…whether it’s a kayak, or some grouping of rocks in the water. I try to apply myself to this scene; to this problem to make my own creative interpretation of it…not just make a record of a particular moment in time. The two approaches differ slightly, but to me, the results are almost polar-opposite.

Which came first?  Was it the great outdoors of upstate New York that inspired the passion for natural beauty and landscape or was it your adventurous passion for sports and activities that led you to this career.

I’ve always been one to march to the beat of my own drum, which includes enjoying things at my own pace. For as long as I can remember, I have enjoyed being outdoors, and as far from “regular life” as I could be. To me, the expected approach to life never really sounded that appealing: grow up, get a job, grow up more, keep working same job, then grow old. I think that this aversion to what you’re expected to do with your life path has had its effect on all of my work in that I prefer to show just enough…it’s just enough, but well thought-out with few peripherals.

Photography has always been a way for me to just talk myself through creating something…whether I’m trying to tell the story for a product in the studio, or wading through chest deep water to get in the perfect position to photograph a cypress tree. My mind is more at ease working though these challenges than not.

                   © Mike Basher photography

You have a strong commercial body of work as well as a totally separate fine art series of work.  Many photographers would be interested to hear how you balance the two worlds.  Can you address that dichotomy from both a business and practical perspective and from “how you get into the zone” creatively for each.

Haha. I think few would consider the way I’ve gone about my career as being practical. I went from building a decent body of commercial work to a complete segue with my fine art work, and try to juggle both. I’ve come to realize that my life would feel incomplete without both, though. Aside from your “day job” type work, every photographer MUST also have some personal work projects they can apply themselves to. I think it’s a necessary part of being a creative. Plus, art buyers generally are more interested in what you’ve created on your own, without the constraints of the cooks in the kitchen that come with commercial campaigns. 

I started getting in a rut commercially (and you also have to consider the flavor that platforms like Instagram have left their mark on professional photography) a few years ago. I felt like brands were all chasing a very similar look, which was not mine, and I don’t feel I should have to rely on Lightroom plugins to make a living.

So…I just wanted to have a side to my photography business which I was in full control of, and which suited my personal style and, although I despise the word: vision. It just happened to be black and white, and it just happened to be working with large format film. I have my reasons for working this cumbersome and challenging way, and all lie in the aesthetics of the final image. It seems that with all of the digital camera advancements going on from month to month now, why a dollar fifty sheet of film? Because it’s a monumental challenge to keep what I’m chasing after on one. single. sheet. Digital gives you too many options.

Your two websites have distinctly different vibes.  Was this intentional?  Can you speak to the creative decisions that led you to the looks of each site.  

Both sites are actually from the same template, but I have them set up a bit differently than each other. The fine art site is tweaked to be more of a slow-scrolling gallery. Big photos pop up first, with the option to switch to thumbnails. This is to hopefully get people to sit and maybe even ponder a bit. The commercial site is set up to display thumbnails as default, as I’ve found that art buyers and photo editors don’t have a lot of time, and if they click a page on your site, and like ten sweet photos fill their browser, they can quickly get a feel for your vibe, without having to dive in too far. They see logos, recognizable faces, some clean, cohesive work, and if it suits what they’re looking for, they’ll get in touch.

Your “about” pages are different as well.  One is short, direct and to the point, the other is more of an artist’s statement.  Can you expand on that choice as well.  I did note that both sites show you doing your work, and offer a glimpse of you behind the scenes working.

Ah…the ever-challenging “about” page. I think there’s a certain mystique in what photographers do for a living. In this day in age, where you have to try so hard to connect with people, it offers them a window into what you do, and in some instances, shows what you’re capable of managing. It’s like a resume in a photo. Commercially, here I am…directing stuff, or, check out how far I’m willing to go to get the shot on this big box camera. It’s important to allow a peek into your world.

               © Mike Basher photography

It appears that your fine art work has a zen quality: peaceful and meditative.  Your commercial work is more direct but here still, you have a definitive style.  How does one style of work inform the other?

I’d say that the immediate connection between both bodies of work is that they center around shape and form. I like to shoot flat compositions. Very little of my fine art work has that classic “leading line” in the frame to sort of invite you into the image. I don’t consider it landscape photography. I like to work very two dimensionally, and with quiet, but sound frames, which I think can be powerful. To me, composition is everything. Absolutely. You hear a lot of photographers praising light, but without sound composition first, you’re just resting on the laurels of something with nice light falling upon it. How everything is pieced together inside that rectangle you’re working with is the nucleus to a photograph.

Please share some examples as to how/when the more fine art work inspires your commercial photography.  And vice versa, if that is the case as well.

Both styles of photography inspire me on their own. I don’t like repetition. Although there might be tons of security in it, I am not the type of person who could be like an assembly line photographer. I generally don’t repeat my work. I don’t write down lighting diagrams or settings, because I like to work with what’s in front of me, not try to make what’s in front of me work for my lighting, if that makes sense. That is a limiting way to work. The same goes with my fine art work. When I’m out making photographs, I really analyze what’s in front of me, and before I pull out a camera, try to work up an image in my mind. Then I undergo the sometimes arduous process of trying to make that photograph happen. Often times, especially with my fine art work, I will set up a composition and not be happy with it, and will move the camera repeatedly to try to make it work. Sometimes, it just won’t line up into something I’m happy with making an exposure of, so I won’t. The failure to succeed with making that photograph I was chasing fuels me to keep searching for something similar elsewhere. 

Why do you choose to work with large format film for your fine art work?

In college (art school), I vividly remember day one with the view camera. Students were freaking out after being introduced to this clunky contraption, but I really liked it. I enjoyed composing on it, and I recall the incredible sharpness from my first batch of these seemingly massive negatives. I’ve always seen the camera as a tool to pull information from, so shooting 35mm was child’s play at that point, as far as I was concerned.

But, we’re talking the end of the 90’s here. I had a Nikon F5, and a few lenses that had come from my life’s savings. I wanted to get into commercial photography, but I didn’t own a medium format system, large format system, or lights. That was the industry standard back then. Landscape photography also interested me, as I was always looking for a reason to go hang out in the woods, but I had absolutely no idea how to make a dime selling art. In hindsight, I think my photography was too immature and lacked cohesiveness to even make a crack at it.

I started picking up editorial work while I was in school with a few motocross publications (an interest of mine), and was hired after graduating by a publishing company in SoCal, who had seven titles. Over the next few years, I was shooting action, lifestyle and product work for these titles almost every day, and kind of had free reign, which in hindsight was pretty sweet.

I made the switch to digital late. I think it was 2005. At the time, I was shooting 25 grand a year in film and processing for this publishing company, and I liked the instant results from digital, especially on deadline. But, after a bit, I had stopped using my meter, and had come to rely on the TV screen on the back of the camera. There was a definite disconnect between my brain and my finger. In 2009, I bought a 4x5 field camera, a lens or two, and started using it more and more, as sort of a training apparatus for creative focus.

My work flow with my fine art work today is almost literally one exposure per composition. Unless it’s super windy out, or some really tricky situation, I never make a second exposure, and I never make a second composition. I chase that balanced photograph in my mind; the image that made me stop in my tracks while observing a scene, meter, expose, then pack up the camera and move on. This approach has made its way into my commercial work, in that I don’t usually build up to a photograph, but compose it, light it, and meter it before I even turn the camera on.

Commercial work:     www.mikebasher.com
Fine art work:         www.bashergallery.com
Instagram:             @mikebasher

New exhibit: REVERENCE, June 1-30th, 2018. Charleston, SC: http://ellarichardson.com/exhibitions.php

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