Getting your first internship with Annie Liebovitz seems to make one destined for photographic greatness. Greg Sorensen hasn’t done too bad for himself. Originally from Rochester, New York, he has made a name for himself shooting for everyone from L’Oreal, Elle UK, and Vogue España, to The Face, Target, and British Airways.
But the greatness hasn’t gone to his head. Art, music, and now his newborn son still constantly inspire him. We caught up while he was taking a little break from the chaos in upstate New York. Taking an interview on vacation? “Hey, this is the perfect time to talk—while I’m away in the mountains!” he laughed.
What inspired you to become a photographer?
Originally, I wanted to be an art director, so I started taking various classes to go that route, but I thought photography would be interesting to have in the mix, so I signed up for photo classes as well. I found photography way more exciting, so I focused on that.
I fell in love with photography. When I saw my own prints coming up in the darkroom, I was hooked. I also had a very passionate teacher who told me I should just do it—pack up and go. So I did.
I was living in Cleveland and packed up and moved to New York City. I didn’t know a soul there.
What did you do when you got to the big city?
Working with Annie Liebovitz was my first gig in the city.
Wow! You don’t play around.
It was pretty easy actually! I saw a posting for and internship with her and I rang them up, and they asked when I was available. Going from never being here to working for one of the biggest photographers in the world and doing shoots for Vanity Fair and Vogue was amazing. Seeing things done on that scale still influences me to this day.
You get more jaded the longer you live here, but to have that happen at the beginning was pretty exciting. I feel very lucky to have found something like that when I was fresh off the boat.
Did that internship open doors for you?
Yes! I got lots of assisting jobs after that. I spent the next four years assisting, and, in 2000, I decided it was time to make a break. It was a good milestone with a new millennium.
So what happened when you took the big step solo?
The first couple of years were hard. I did a lot of editorial stuff and I was going to Europe a lot. I got an agent in Europe, but couldn’t get one in the US. Then September 11th happened, and that was such a huge blow to the city. A lot of European clients stopped coming for a while. So the ball got rolling and then halted.
But time passed and things got better, and then I hooked up with Kate Ryan's agency. I started doing more high profile pieces in Europe, such as Italian Elle; I had a whole issue of Biba in France, which was amazing. This work started getting me hyped up in the US.
Why did you go with Kate Ryan?
When I was asking around in the industry about agencies, Kate was the only one who everyone had a positive reaction to—and they were right! She is super supportive on so many levels. I can’t imagine being anywhere else.
Any photo shoot that really stands out in your mind?
Well, if I was traveling there were always good times, but I remember one really embarrassing situation. I was arriving in Spain for a shoot—it was a big advertising job. I met the art director; she was wearing a white blouse, and I accidentally threw my red wine on her. She wasn’t very happy with me. But the job turned out amazing, and we worked together again, but it wasn’t the coolest way to start a job.
Where do you look for inspiration?
I really look in a lot of places. It is a big part of my work. I draw a lot on art and art history. It is always something I am interested in.
Film, cinema, and music—especially the Punk and New Wave scene—, are all very influential to me. Pop culture inspires me too, and also trying to synthesize all those different elements together. If the inspiration isn’t obvious, it affects people in a more subtle way, which I like.
Guy Bourdin, Helmut Newton, Penn, and Avedon all really inspire me with their work from the late 70s and 80s. The work of those people (artists) has been the foundation of fashion photography for the past 15-20 years. Since the mid-90s post grunge era we have been more tapped into their style of work. I see their elements everywhere.
Does someone need to herald in a new time in photography?
Everyone needs a reference point. If it was totally new, someone may have a hard time accepting it. But with a reference point, they can relate to it. If you are doing fashion photography—selling clothes, a lifestyle, an idea—, the customer needs something to relate to.
Each successive movement draws on something from the past. It is a constantly evolving process. It’s almost impossible to create something totally new, especially something that is driven by commerce. Maybe in the art world you can try it, but even then there are references to the past.
Do you have a favorite subject to shoot?
I just like what I do and being behind the camera every day. If there is an option to do something creatively, then I like a strong idea behind it. I don’t really like to walk into a creative situation with nothing. I’ve tried to do that and take a Zen approach, but things fall short if you don’t have a map or a plan. And a big part of a shoot is conveying thoughts to the team so that everyone can bring something that elevates it. A sum is always greater than its parts.
How do you market/promote yourself? Do you do something unique compared to other artists today?
We market on many levels, in many ways. Their is marketing through my agency Kate Ryan via website, blog, and traditional portfolios. I also maintain a personal website, personal portfolios, and have expanded into having my book on an iPad as well so that I always have a book with me because you never know when you are going to have a chance meeting with a potential new client.
And with Kate Ryan we have been working this past year on retooling the traditional portfolio. We worked closely with and editor to re-examine all my work, new and old to get a sense of my style and attributes. Then we worked with the design team at Half & Half to custom design the exterior of the book along with the layout and design of the pages. They had helped develop my logo and branding, so they were a natural choice for extending that to my portfolios. The results exceeded all expectations and the book went over really well at the 2011 Le Book Connections NYC show in June. It is exciting for me as an artist to have such a custom branded book, and that enthusiasm is echoed by the team at Kate Ryan and has already begun to show a great reaction with clients.
What are you working on now?
I’ve had quite a busy year, so this vacation is much needed. We just finished shooting for 125—a British magazine. It was an interesting shoot. We referenced Gerard Schlosser. You never see the whole girl; it’s a bit of a mystery. His paintings are photo realist, but lent to what we wanted to do.
We also recently did a color-blocking story with Gravure Magazine. We set these bold colors and different palettes from outdoor photos. Color has been a big theme in my work. But for the moment I am just working on my tan!
Greg Sorensen is represented by Kate Ryan