It sounds like this is always what you’ve wanted to do. What about this work drew you in?
Well, that’s a little bit of an impossible question to answer because the truth is, while photography is my craft, everything that fulfills me in this work is personal and relational. The technical aspects of photography were, without a doubt, the hook that drew me in. Technology and science both digitally and in a traditional darkroom (side note, if you ever get a chance to watch a print get developed with chemicals, do it… it’s magical) are an endless puzzle of creative possibilities. The rabbit hole kept going deeper and deeper until I realized that beyond the technical aspects of photography there is a whole universe of relational intricacy that can use a camera as a gateway to caring about what you’re doing and who you’re doing it for. About the same time as I started dating my now wife and business partner Jennifer, I realized that weddings were awesome and wedding photographers had a unique opportunity to invest on a personal level with their clients. That’s when I knew that this was it. This was what I wanted to be doing. From there, I have been continually drawn in by the perpetually complex natures of love, joy, peace, kindness, heritage, and relationship. My understanding of life and love continues to deepen and I find myself on a never ending journey of grasping to create two dimensional versions of life’s beautiful moments of heart and soul.
Everybody likes an origin story, tell us about your first camera.
Truth be told, my first camera wasn’t mine, it was my dad’s. His AE-1 with a 50 mm 1.8 lens, tales of his FTb, and unending encouragement were all gifts to me, investments in my photographic journey, long before I got my first camera. I was given a camera by a very kind neighbor after a while but that was never mine either. My first camera still sits on my shelf today and gets used frequently. Purchased at a camera show in Detroit, my father and I settled on a 1971 Canon F-1 with my own accompanying 50mm 1.8 FD lens. It was beautiful. Crisp, clean, robust shutter sound, detachable prism, and most importantly a father’s pride to go with it. There aren’t many things that come with a life time guarantee any more, but the pride and encouragement I get from my dad is one of them. Guaranteed.
I understand that you are highly involved in the graphic design work of your brand. That’s pretty cool! What made you want to take that on?
My grandmother always said, “I like any color as long as it’s yellow.” Similarly, I believe that if you want something custom to fit within certain boundaries, you should be more specific with your boundaries. The Derk’s Works brand isn’t just about the color and the font, it’s a face and body to how much we care about each detail, both big and small in the work that we do. To me, graphic design has always been the slow-mo version of photography (like Neo dodging bullets in the Matrix or something). A lot of our photographic style follows action and forces me to compose an image in split-seconds. Design on the other hand is a process that can take hours or days for one final piece. Honing this cross discipline was a specific choice with the intent to better my photography learning to make better compositional decisions faster. I think any artist should spend some time in another discipline, it develops your voice in ways that one focused path never could. That said, we have had LOTS of help and contributions for very talented designers to get the brand to where it is now… but I still get my design kicks in where I can.
Other than graphic design, what outside influences help give you the unique artistic voice that you have?
Gratefully I have the joy of having my work steeped in the complexity of human emotion. I also believe that we (humans) were created to exist for and to thrive on deep relationship. This prism allows me to draw inspiration from the poetry of music and art, but more importantly and valuably, my art is informed and shaped by the relationship that I have with my wife Jennifer. Our story not only gives me insight into love but also the full development of a long marriage and the meaningful things that last and are worth cherishing. As time goes on, our children grow, and I learn new things that will only add to my understanding of how to make the best images to withstand the test of time.
With The Life Aquatic and Grand Budapest Hotel both in your top five favorite movies of all time, would it be safe to say that you are a fan of Wes Anderson?
Ha, yeah… you might say that ;) The fact that his dry sense of humor plays perfectly with Bill Murray’s modestly depressed deadpan comedy doesn’t hurt either. His stories are well crafted, every detail is set carefully in place meticulously timed to guide his viewers on an emotional journey that is deeper than the story at hand. I think that’s the big thing that I relate to when I watch his movies. My goal when photographing people, is to make images that encourage ideas that are deeper than visual. I’ve said it so much it seems a little cheesy at this point, but I want people to come away from my images feeling what it was like to be in a place, not just see what it looked like. But I suppose, coming back to your actual question… yes… I really love Wes Anderson’s movies…. a lot.
Obviously ice cream should be allowed into the food pyramid towards the base, but do you prefer it in a cone, sandwich or shake?
Well, OBVIOUSLY! While I like all of the above, I think my preference (without other factors, of course) would be shake, cone, sandwich in that order… or all of the above…. if that’s an option.
You shot your first wedding in 2003, how do you keep your focus fresh each wedding without falling into a check list mentality?
I guess the easy answer is to say that I don’t make check lists, but the complex truth is that the deeper I go into this business, art, and the lives of others, the more I find beautiful nuances to explore. I never have to worry about getting repetitive in this work because I always focus on the spectacular differences and unique elements of each couple I am privileged to serve. Weddings might have traditional elements, but the beauty of marriage is anything but predictable.
You seem wear a Tiger’s baseball hat a lot, what’s the story there?
You mean, other than “i’m going bald and like wearing hats? ;) Yes, actually. I grew up in Toledo, which is by many standards, mini-Detroit and home to the Mud Hens who are the farm team for the Tigers… all of these things are insularly to the fact that I’m not really a sports guy. I love baseball for heritage reasons just as much if not more than the sport. My great grandmother, my grandfather, and my father were/are all Tigers fans and I will stand in their shoes, listen on the radio, and cheer on my team rain or shine, win or loose as often as I can. I love an underdog story and they will be my underdogs until they finally make their comeback sometime in 2030… or so.