Rube Goldberg machine. (Photo by Jeffrey Coolidge/ Getty Images, Stone+, 108007040)

Jeffrey Coolidge: 3 truths to guide a photographic career

May 10, 2013 | By Jeffrey Coolidge | Art Of Photography

I grew up in Cambridge Massachusetts during the 1950s and 60s. In my family, music and photography were multi-generational avocations. There were instruments, sheet music, cameras and photographs everywhere. I loved my grandfather’s darkroom. The mysterious glass bottles, yellow and tan boxes of glass plate negatives, and the beautiful enlarger lenses.

I didn’t stand a chance, I was hooked.

When I was 7, I was given a Kodak Instamatic camera. A little rectangular, silver and black plastic box. No manual controls, just point and click. I loved that camera and I photographed everything I could. At 14, I inherited my grandfather’s 3 ¼ x 4 ¼ Speed Graphic with an extra lens, film holders, developing tanks, trays and some of the “mysterious glass bottles.” My Dad helped me convert our 3rd floor bathroom into a makeshift darkroom. It was an awesome darkroom, the toilet still worked, I could stay in there for hours.

What inspires you to shoot?

To quote Aaron Siskind, “When I make a photograph I want it to be an altogether new object, complete and self-contained, whose basic condition is order (unlike the world of events and actions whose permanent condition is change and disorder).” Pretty wordy, but what rings true to me is the need to distill order from disorder. I find a beautiful composition soothing and inspiring at the same time.

I have been lucky enough to have had three mentors in my photographic career. The first, Tom Young, told me never to shoot nature photography without a chainsaw. The second, Jerome Libeling told me I had too many closed doors and needed to be more honest in my work. The third, Dick Fish, told me a photograph should tell one story clearly and simply. These three truths have guided me through my personal and professional work.

1. Don’t be passive, be involved and work with your subject.

2. Be honest and open in your work or people will mistrust the image.

3. Tell a story simply (not necessarily a simple story).

What kind of clients do you work for outside of your shoots for Getty Images?

I feel blessed to have had such great clients. Bose, J&J, Colgate, Fed-X, Kodak, Tyco, Dunkin Do- nuts, CSX, Staples and Boston Scientific. Product photography has been my passion and luckily my clients still need their products photographed.

Female had holding apple with snake. (Photo by Jeffrey Coolidge/ Getty Images, Stone, 83903036)

Female had holding apple with snake. (Photo by Jeffrey Coolidge/ Getty Images, Stone, 83903036)


Give us three adjectives to describe yourself.

Passionate, hands-on, excessive.

Do you have any favorite artists?

I have mad love affairs with different artists that last anywhere from a month to a few years. At the moment I am obsessed with the author Belinda Rathbone. Belinda is a photo historian and biogra- pher. But my favorite book of her’s is “The Guynd.” An autobiographical account of Belinda’s marriage to a Scottish `Laird,’ living on a great, old decaying estate. Her prose is from the heart with a wonderful sense of humor mixed with bleak fatalism.

Do you have any projects currently in the works?

My wife, Ellie and I are packing up canvas, paints and cameras for a trip across the American South West in a small camper van. We are collaborating on a joint project of painting and photography for exhibition.

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