What's David's Secret?

Indre for NEUE Magazine.

Whether its iconic portraiture, fashion editorial or exotic travel, David Todd McCarty blends both fantasy and authenticity to create iconic images, that evoke an emotional response. David started off his career in advertising, working as a creative director for many years. Consequently, he understands the need of art directors more then most. From passion, excitement, sadness, to being straight up quirky McCarty knows how to reflect this well in his beautiful portraits.

At a time when photographers are often mimicking one another, photographer director David McCarty is flourishing. What is his secret? Having patience, perseverance, while creating masterpieces. Find out more in this exclusive interview where I get to know the creator behind the art.

BF: What makes your creativity thrive?

DM: I don’t think I look at creativity as a thing. I don’t know if it’s something that has to be catered to, or pampered. I think of creativity as a solution to a problem. But if your asking how I stay inspired, then I’d have to say it’s sort of involuntary. I create because I don’t know what else to do. Some days you don’t feel inspired and you search for inspiration in the work of others. I can read a great piece of writing and decide to write something myself. Or see a movie. I can see a great photograph and that will inspire me to want to shoot something myself. Books, Magazines, You Tube, Pinterest. There is such a ridiculous world of content out there. Any style, any execution you can imagine. Almost endless, you always have to decide how to take that inspiration and make it your own.

What’s your vision? What’s your voice? I have never considered my own style continuously. What I meant is I don’t know what makes my photography different from others, but I know it is. People have told me that they can see a photo and know it’s mine. I’m not sure why that is. Maybe someday someone will tell me. So then you go shoot. I take a lot of pictures, so to me, shooting is just gathering material. Editing is where I get excited I love to edit. Today’s dark room is a computer. And that’s where most master photographers created their magic. It was always in the dark room.

BF: Out of all the clients you have shot, who has stood out the most?

DM: I guess one that stands out, maybe not as the best photo I’ve ever taken or anything, but the process by which it came about, would be a series I did of the artist Victor Grasso for Salt Magazine. One of the shots of Victor, with a real octopus in his mouth became the cover. It was an interesting series. We shot them all in his garage, which is also his studio. It’s a simple one story garage he has one wall painted white and this is where he paints. We shot against that. The idea for the octopus was Victor’s. He was working on a series of paintings inspired by Jules Verne’s Captain Nemo. At the time Victor had a large, unruly beard and a shaved head. He wanted to pour corn syrup over his head, which I thought was a cool idea.

He also wanted to do something cool with a small octopus, like put it in a old bottle, the way you see a worm in the bottom of a bottle of tequila. The day I showed up to shoot him, he’d shaved his beard, but we did it anyway. At one point, I just asked him to stick the octopus in his mouth and he did. It was really collaborative and I think what struck me most was that I had a subject that was a part of the shot, not just waiting to be told what to do. This is also what you get from a great fashion model. You don’t even need to tell them what to do; they’ll just start doing it. The best models I’ve worked with take on the spirit of the wardrobe. If it’s structured, they’re still and formal. If it’s light and flowey, they become ethereal. It’s like magic and very transformative.

BF: Why did you decide to become a photographer?

DM: What do I LIKE about photography? It is my art every image is original. I don’t care if you think you’re copying a look or style. Every photo is unique the subject, the light, the angle. Unlike some people who pick up a camera and just decide that’s what they want to do, it took me a lot longer. I was always interested in photography but it was just one of many things that interest me. I began in advertising as a writer and art director, then as a creative director and commercial film director. Photography was always a hobby, but never a serious pursuit. That changed when digital photography became a reality. No longer did you need a dark room and chemicals and all the expense of it all.

The first digital camera I bought was the Canon Rebel. It was the first DSLR to come out under $1,000. It was 6.3MP. Your iPhone is 8MP I think. It cost me $800, and then I spent another $2700 on two lenses, which I still have. It wasn’t fancy but, it allowed me to shoot to my hearts content, and that’s what I did. It progressed from there. Henri Cartier-Bresson famously said, “Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.” “We can probably revise that to your first million today. I’m a big believer in shooting. Shoot often, shoot a lot.”

BF: How do you describe yourself and your work?

DM: As I said before, I’m not good at describing my photography, but I can tell you how I work. I’m known primarily for my black and white work, but sometimes I really enjoy working in color. Either way, I often shoot with a monochrome preview. It forces me to visualize the composition, and not be distracted by the colors. I always shoot RAW so I can make those decisions later anyway. But I’ve always loved black and white. Since I was a kid it always felt classier timeless. I mostly shoot people, and whether it’s fashion or portraits, I tend to blur the line between the two. I like to shoot portraits like fashion editorial, and I like to shoot fashion like celebrity portraiture. I’m very interested in capturing emotion in my subjects. Not always big emotions, in fact I rarely ask a subject to smile, but enough that we get a glimpse into their personality. It might be a smile or a smirk, or it might be their posture or the way they hold their hands. I like to make rock stars look like real people and I like to make real people look like rock stars.

With a celebrity, you want to see their humanity, something beyond the public persona. With a real person, you want to elevate them to stardom. Everyone is capable of achieving that. Shooting people is all about trust. If the subject is nervous that they’ll look bad, they’ll only give you poses that they think flatter them. Or they’ll be nervous and won’t relax. You can’t get good work out of people until they relax. I don’t generally look for tension in my images. Even when I try to shoot something edgy, I end up making it pretty. Once people trust that your going to make them look good, they’ll relax and let you in. Then you can explore and try things.

Not everything works. Being afraid to fail is a terrible thing for an artist or a performer. You HAVE to be afraid to fail, or you’ll just do mediocre work. But it’s scary, so people sometimes don’t want to risk it. But without risk, you’ll never achieve anything great. When it comes to being on set, I’m pretty quiet and don’t tend to over direct. Some people would say I don’t direct at all. I like to create a comfortable atmosphere and let what happens, happen. It’s a more natural approach and designed to allow the tension to melt away. The first series is almost always the weakest. I’m trying to find my shot and the subject is often stiff, or nervous, or looking to me for direction. When it stops being forced, I always find what I want. What do I want? I never know. It’s part of the process for me. When I pull tares, I’m just looking for inspiration, not to try and duplicate someone else’s effort. Sometimes when things aren’t flowing, you just tare it down and do something else.

I have stuff I know will always work and can fall back on in a pinch, but when you’re exploring and you have a willing subject, there are not rules. Then the work begins. The last thing I’ll say about how I work, that I think makes me a little different, is that I always look for simplicity. I want the path of least resistance. I don’t like to manufacture a mood or setting. I like to take what is there and work with it. Most of my studio work relies on a single strobe in a soft box and I shoot 95% of my images with a Canon 5DMlll and a 50mm f1.2 lens. I have a lot of gear and lenses, but I found that I didn’t need a lot of bells and whistles to create images that capture my imagination. Keep it simple.

Written by Heather Lisa Noire

Victor Grasso on the cover of SALT Magazine.
Helena Sopar for an ad campaign. The Gallery in Philadelphia.
Ben Williams, award-winning Jazz Bassist for his latest album.
Ade, model. Personal.
Gloria, performer. Personal.