A Look at Seth Olenick's Gorgeous and Hilarious Book of Comedians, Funny Business
I wanted to share with you my good friend, Seth Olenick's new coffee table book of portraits, Funny Business, of over 200 famous comedians. Seth is an amazing photographer, but he is more than just that, he is also an amazing friend who has been so gracious as to take the beautiful photos you see on the blog of myself. I met Seth in 2008 when he was photographing my husband, A.D. Miles, for the book. Over the years we've remained friends as fellow photographers/ artists/ visual types. I wanted to share with you this interview I did with Seth and encourage you to take a look at the book and please order a copy for you or a friend who loves comedy or beautiful portraits or photography or just needs a good laugh!
Interview with Seth Olenick:
1. When did you start photographing comedians and why were you drawn to comedian subjects?
The first comedian I ever photographed was Todd Barry at a storytelling event for Heeb Magazine back in 2003. It was my earliest days of shooting with a digital camera, and I was using a small Canon point-and-shoot. Seeing this from the stage, Todd proceeded to make fun of me for having such a small camera. It was probably my first interaction with a comedian too, and as a fan of comedy for many years, I kind of loved that I was being singled out (whether it was positive or negative). As the photo editor of the magazine, I made sure that I was the one photographing the comedians we featured from that point on. I just loved that we could have fun with the shoots, and it wasn't all about folded arms and serious looks on their faces. It's where I finally felt free to have a good time and loosen up on a photo shoot as much as I wanted my subjects to loosen up.
2. Did you ever want to be a comedian? When you were little what did you want to grow up to be?
I have wanted to dabble in comedy for many years, but felt like I wasn't totally ready. I finally did standup for the first time last Summer the day after my 34th birthday as a sort of challenge to myself. If I didn't do it then, I probably never would have. Of course I haven't done it since, but I think I finally feel comfortable saying that I will do it, and know that I'll actually follow through. The book is taking up most of my free time, so I haven't had a chance to go out and do another open mic, but I plan on it in the next few months.
Growing up, I had always wanted to be a filmmaker. In middle school my brother and I would make stop motion Lego movies with our huge camera that took VHS tapes and could be set to shoot one second at a time, then give us a minute to move the pieces into their next position. I moved into shooting live action videos in high school as a way to avoid getting up in front of my classes to do presentations. With access to the editing bay at my local cable station, I was able to add in special effects to my videos and shoot on green screens. Back then, not everyone had access to that stuff, there was no iMovie, and only major editors had Avid or other editing programs that existed back then. So the kids in my classes were always impressed with the videos, and some started doing their own videos as well. I knew that I wanted to go to school for film, but then my last year of high school I took my first photo class and really started to enjoy processing film and making prints on my own. I then chose to focus on photography instead of film, but it's still always in the back of my mind, and hopefully I can make the transition at some point.
3. What was your process like for setting up the narrative in each portrait?
Each shoot was totally different. There were some subjects that I knew what I wanted to do ahead of time, and I came prepared. For the most part, however, I tended to take a more improvised approach. Most often I would just show up at the subject's home, take a walk around and look at the rooms, objects we could use, and even textures like wallpapers or something else that could work as a good backdrop. From there I would throw some ideas out, and we would go back and forth bouncing ideas off one another until we came up with a couple viable options. I love working that way because they come from such a creative place, and I like to think I do too. Sometimes in trying to one up one another, you come up with some crazy ideas that just work.
For my shoot with A.D. Miles, we spent almost an hour shopping for items at the Goodwill which we used in our shoot - a terrible Bob Ross-inspired landscape painting and a wooden side table. Both of those items led to some amazing photos, but it was the last minute idea that we thought of as I was about to pack up my lights that ultimately made the book - placing his cat in the oven.
Every now and then someone would look at me like I was crazy, asking what my idea has to do with them. Truthfully, I don't always look to match the idea with the person, but once the shot is done and we look at it, the photo just makes sense. I think there are very few photos in the book that people will look at and feel like the idea is disconnected from the subject. At least that's what I hope.
4. I know it is difficult, but can you choose one of your favorite photoshoots out of the 200 photos in the book and tell us why it sticks out in your memory?
My favorite shoots for the book are the ones when the subjects didn't question why we were doing what we were doing, and just went with my crazy ideas (or better yet, added to the crazy idea to make it "our idea" rather than "my idea". If I had to single out one shoot, I might say the one with Jon Hamm was a favorite. We had never met before the shoot, so when I arrived at his house, he wanted to sit down and talk before we started shooting. This was not something many others had taken the time to do, and when you don't already know the person, it can make it tough for them to feel comfortable in front of the camera. In that sense, sitting down to talk relaxed both of us, and he trusted me and what I was asking him to do. The shoot culminated in another sit-down over a beer and an amazing shot of Jon as a princess. Who else can say they've got a shot of Jon Hamm like that?
Here is a sneak peek of a couple of photos from the book:
I selected the photos of some of my closest friends and funniest people I know. Seth did such an amazing job capturing their unique comedic personalities.