Back in April during my visit to Chicago as a guest speaker for Chicago Botanic Garden Antiques & Garden Fair, I had the privilege of meeting Paul Lange, an acclaimed New York City photographer, whose work has been featured in Vogue, Glamour, Mademoiselle, British Vogue and The New York Times, and has segued from editorial and celebrity images to fine art photography. One of my favorite photographic series of his is Big Blooms! Paul shares, 'In Big Blooms I photograph each flower isolated on a stark white background and lit as a human portrait subject. Working with concepts of size, scale and gesture, I coax each of my botanical subjects to display some whimsically anthropomorphic characteristic that evokes a feminine persona. Unique specimens are critical and are selected from the hundreds that I cut from Zezé’s lush flower gardens each spring and summer. Each year nature asserts itself with unexpected changes in the gardens, which along with the continual evolution of new species Zezé introduces, yields vastly different results each season. Most recently, with our warm and early springs followed by late frosts in the Hudson Valley, the flowers have the unique and delicate beauty of willful survivors; fragile and enticing in their momentary splendor. As Big Blooms, all of the photographs in this series are made to be printed large-scale.' You will be blown away by the absolute beauty of his work. Please visits his website, www.paullange.com, for more of Paul's works.I was 13 when I won my first camera in a contest: a Kodak Instamatic, and announced to my parents that I was going to be a photographer. 2. What is the one thing in life you cannot live without? A sense of humor, but seriously, I can't live without my wife and creative partner, Jennifer, and our two sons, Matthew and Christopher. 3. Past or present, who has most influenced your direction in life?
Far too many to mention, but a variety of very generous and kind people I encountered along the way, who believed in me and encouraged me to follow my chosen path. My first mentor was Alexander Liberman, the editorial Director at Conde Nast, and when I was 25, he started me on my career as an editorial photographer for his magazines. I've been really fortunate to have maintained close friendships with two of my most revered college professors, for most of my adult life, who continue to influence me with their directives to 'Think outside the box,' and 'Why do you do this?...Your idea has to be determined before you click the shutter!'
4. Who would you most like to meet and how would you spend the day?
My father passed away 20 years ago this year, and it would be so wonderful to fill him in on what has transpired during this time. My Mom is an energetic and healthy 92, and together they were always so supportive and encouraging of this life I chose. It would be so gratifying to sit around the kitchen table, catch up on everything and show him what Jennifer and I have accomplished. He would be amazed and so proud of our two very talented sons, and our collective body of work. Yet, he wouldn't hold back- and he'd tell me honestly what he thought.5. What inspires your creativity?
Light is an integral element to the way I see, and I am fortunate to live in New York's Hudson Valley, where the light is extraordinary. Otherwise, it's the little, almost everyday things- I have a very alert eye, and I am constantly searching for something that makes me stop and think 'what if?' I'm always open to that one magical mistake that can't be conceived of in advance.
6. How would you describe your personal style?Casual and understated. 7. What is your most prized possessions? Time, fresh air, my family and my home. 8. What do you like most about your job? What do you like the least? Photography is my life, and I love what I do, so it’s not so much a job as a life force. Sometimes the days are just too short.
9. What's in the future for you?
Hopefully there will be some time to escape to the beach. I grew up in Connecticut, close to the ocean, so salt air and water are integral to my survival. It's been a really busy year for me with extraordinary opportunities I could never have foreseen- two large solo exhibitions of my work: Big Blooms at the Chicago Botanic Garden this Spring, and my Fowl Portraits, currently at the Hancock Shaker Museum in Massachusetts until August 24th. I have just completed shooting new Big Blooms this summer, and now the edit begins... though this is just a part of a much larger ongoing photographic project, titled Fifty Acres, that eventually will turn into a book.
And then there are all of my other photo projects, vying for time and inspiration...
10. What advice would you give someone wanting to become an photographer?
Enroll in a Fine Arts program in college; not just a photography program, and take every art history course that’s available. Make sure to study the history of photography and visit art museums and galleries continuously. Be curious and passionate for knowledge, never settling for the easy answer. I grew up as a film photographer, and this is the foundation of my work. I would recommend that everyone embrace their tools but not become a slave to them.
11. What valuable lessons have you learned along your journey as an artist?
Be kind and treat everyone with care and respect. You never know when your paths will cross again.
It's important to recognize a helpful hand, or opportunity before it's too late, so be open to outside suggestions and say 'yes!' In saying that, it's imperative to trust your instincts, and don’t compromise what you believe in for short term gain. Struggle is usually good in the long run- it keeps everything in perspective, as you climb up the ladder.
12. What has been your favorite photographic project?
It's hard to say. Over the years I have made so many photographs, but only a very few have allowed me the satisfaction of something truly worthwhile. In the past, I might have said one of my editorial shoots for British Vogue in some remote location: you have a fantastic team of the very best talent to help create something memorable; all to be shot within a week or two...Today, that doesn't hold a candle to the multi-year photographic projects I'm involved with: I don't have to please anyone but myself, and there is no fixed time limit as to when the project is done, allowing me to explore both the conceptual and technical nuances of my creative process...boredom is not in my vocabulary.
One very special portrait project I've been working on for the past 6 years is photographing Foster children for the New York chapter of the National Heart Gallery, a non-profit organization that helps facilitate adoptions. I have tremendous respect and admiration for my young subjects in this series who come to my studio with open hearts, full of hope that my photograph will help them to finally find their “Forever Family.” And I am humbled by their courage and trust in me.
Paul’s photographs are collected worldwide and are included in Aerin Lauder’s art collection. His Big Blooms were the feature exhibition this Spring at the Chicago Botanical Garden, and were the subject of a solo exhibition in Atlanta last summer. The Fowl Portraits are featured in a solo exhibition this summer at the Hancock Shaker Museum in Pittsfield, MA.
A native New Yorker, Paul lives in Upstate New York with his wife Jennifer, who is also his business and creaIve partner.