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Fritz Liedtke - Astra Velum

  • 4 min read

Fritz

"I've always enjoyed capturing the essence of a person in a portrait whether that's a closeup of their face or an environmental portrait or a more photojournalistic image." - Fritz Liedtke

Give us a little 'Fritz Photo' history: your current portfolio demonstrates incredible breadth, showing everything from weddings and portraits to commercial work. What genre were you first successful with and why did you branch out?

I began photographing around the age of 14, carrying my little Kodak 110 Instamatic on a US tour with my dad. We covered 30+ states in 31 days in our little blue Datsun B210, and I took pictures and kept a journal all along the way. Twenty-five years later, I continue to explore the world, camera in hand.
Early on I photographed anything and everything. But one day, looking at a proofsheet of landscape images, I thought to myself, I'm trying to be Ansel Adams by taking these photographs. They're nowhere near as good as Ansel, and besides, why am I trying to copy someone else? From that point on, I concentrated primarily on portraits, which are my true passion. I've always enjoyed capturing the essence of a person in a portrait whether that's a closeup of their face, or an environmental portrait, or a more photojournalistic image.
Eventually I acquired a BFA in Photography and Fine Art. Today my work is a balance of commercial work and fine art work. I've worked in most areas of professional photography, from wedding and portrait to editorial, fashion, and commercial. While I really enjoy the commercial work, my true passion is the more personal work. I work pretty hard to keep a healthy balance between the professional work and time for art, travel, family and volunteer work.
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What is in your camera bag right now?

I have a lot of camera bags. Sadly, the older ones containing the Mamiya RZ gear and the Tachihara 4x5 don't get opened any more, except to peer in at them with some nostalgic fondness. I shoot with Canon 5d MkII cameras, and a variety of lenses, speedlights, and modifiers.

Do you have your own studio or do you shoot on location?

I shoot primarily on location. While I do have a studio, I find I prefer both the challenge and variety of shooting on location. Plus, I enjoy using a person's environment to say something more about them than a simple studio portrait could. I like using natural light, but also enjoy mixing natural and artificial light. Every location assignment is a puzzle that I get to put together usually fairly quickly. It's very gratifying to work hard on location, and come away with stunning images, knowing you've taken what you were given and made something beautiful out of it.

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Your latest fine art project, Astra Velum, utilized Lensbaby lenses and a printing process called photogravure. Can you talk about how this project developed?

Several years ago I was photographing an assignment in San Francisco. One evening my crew and some friends went out to a bar for dinner. One of the guy's girlfriends was there, and she was covered in freckles; I couldn't stop thinking about how beautiful she was. So I asked if I could take her portrait, and she said yes. We stepped outside, and I photographed her by the neon lights of the bar. The portrait turned out to be a favorite, so I decided to see if I could find other freckled folk to photograph.

Being very intimate images of eyes and skin and texture, I worked with simple closeup lenses, as well as a couple different Lensbaby lenses. Over time, as I photographed the series, I began experimenting with how to present the work.

Many of the images I was creating had a very vintage, Steichen-ish feel to them. So I played with tintypes (modern and collodion), but couldn't get what I wanted out of them. I tried inkjet output, but it was too bland and modern. Finally, I decided to try photogravure. I'd seen photogravures in the past, and knew a local master printer (Russell Dodd), but it was a complicated process. Eventually I took a workshop with Russ. The first time I pulled a plate of one of my freckles images, everybody gasped. It was so beautiful. So rich and nuanced and dark and lush. My images had finally come home. Photogravure is a complicated process, with about a hundred different ways to mess up. But I fell so in love with the final product that it was worth the trouble and time it took to make them.

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How did you find your subjects for Astra Velum?

Many of my projects involve trying to find specific types of people to photograph. I'm constantly looking for people I'd be interested in photographing, and have worked with folks I've found at weddings, concerts in the park, classes, and grocery stores. I work with friends and family. I'll post on Craigslist, Facebook, ModelMayhem, and other sites, and people come. I'm always so grateful for the trust and time that my subjects give me. I couldn't do what I do without them.

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Fritz Liedtke has won numerous awards and grants for his work, from the likes of Critical Mass, the International Society of Professional Wedding Photographers and Photographer's Forum Magazine. He has been published in magazines and books, including Shutterbug, Lenswork, View Camera and PhotoLife; and in books such as Visionary Artists, Creative Vision, and Focus on Photography. Fritz's clients have included Tiffany's, Asics, Tamron/Bronica and Adidas. He also teaches photography workshops at universities and photography centers.
See more of Fritz's work at Fritzphoto.com

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