Brooklyn-based JJ Sulin specialises in portraits, lifestyle, and conceptual photography and has a long list of clients, including Miller, Hard Rock Hotel, BMW Magazine, Nestle, the US Army, and the Joffrey Ballet.
Your photographs have an undeniable humor. How would you describe your style of photography?
‘Humor is definitely one of the ideas I try to stay aware of when taking a photograph. I like to think of the work as being part of a real experience. The moments in between the big moments is what I am interested in. The big ball, the award ceremony, prom or New Years Eve end up being the smallest of moments. Most of our time is spent living, making dinner, cleaning up dinner, practicing whatever it is we do. And hopefully enjoying all of this’.
What cameras do you use?
‘If I am being paid to make imagery, I almost always use digital, usually the H2 with a Phase back. When I am working in advertising, it is always a collaboration, so to work digitally with a large monitor eases the collaborative process. Everyone who needs a say can see what we are doing and we can all fight about what we think is important and the client gets a well thought-out image, including a couple of images where I go off on my own and follow my own instincts. When I am working on my own projects, I still use a lot of film and Hasselblad. I find when I shoot film, I have to edit internally far more before I even shoot a frame than when shooting digital. My images tend to be more personal when I can meditate on the image before taking it – if even only for 30 seconds’.
Who are your subjects and what are you looking for in a model?
‘It can be hard to find models. There should be some sort of attraction – either the person looks like no one I have ever seen before, or maybe they look like a specific person and that intrigues me. Sometimes I see a movie or read a book and there is a character I can’t get out of my mind and I want to go explore that type of person. But usually it is someone who is an individual – it may be dress, it may be a presence, it is hard to say’.
How much planning do you do before a shoot and how much do you leave to chance?
‘It depends. I am working on a series now that has to do with the Midwest. A lot of that work is hard to plan out. I approach those days more concerned about what I want to convey and then try to make that happen as I wander streets, parks or interesting places that I come upon. When I find someone I want to shoot as a portrait, I will try and secure a location first, make drawings before the shoot, and then at the shoot, I can concentrate on my subject’.
What are three of your favorite locations to shoot at?
‘Finding a location for me is much like finding a subject. In my life I try to shop at small businesses, the local butcher, getting a beer at some old-time place. I am looking for a connection, I don’t like contrived or trendy places. The other day I was making some spaghetti sauce and needed some beef. I went for a walk in a direction I haven’t really explored since moving into my new Brooklyn neighborhood. There is a Polish butcher with several young chubby guys wearing white paper hats behind the counter. The counter is loaded with chops of smoked meat. Hanging behind them are all kinds and shapes of sausage hanging over their heads. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I need to photograph this. Pretty sexy, huh?’