16 minutes with Geordie Wood
& Mo Mfinanga
- Published September 24, 2014
- Portrait by Jake Stangel
With a minimalist aesthetic, Geordie Wood's imagery frames his subjects in intimate scenes, leaving the viewer with a general reflection of his work. Wood, a freelance photographer, was formerly a photo director at FADER Magazine. Before working there, Wood attended SI Newhouse School, where he first fueled his thirst for photography, which has led him to photograph President Barack Obama, international actors, emerging musicians, among others. Wood lives with this wife and son in Brooklyn, NY. This introduction was updated on October 12, 2017.
Mo: How would you describe the path you took to where you are now?
Geordie: The brief answer to start is that I started taking pictures, like most people do as a kid. My dad had a little 35mm Pentax camera from the 70s and he was always interested in taking photos of my brother and I growing up. I really got the initial introduction of photography when I started assisting a local photographer in my hometown. I had a summer job alphabetizing books based in Harvard Square, and I started to get tired of the job. Because I always had some creative inquisitions, I contacted a guy [photographer] in my hometown who needed assistance, and I started going on photoshoots with him. He then introduced me to the history behind photography, and he let me borrow all these books he had about photography—I kind of hung on to them for a while. That’s kind of where I got the juice from. Want me to keep going?
Geordie: So, I was looking at all these books and found them interesting. I don’t mean to walk you through entirely; I ended up applying to school and getting into Syracuse university, but not explicitly to study photography. When I applied for school, I applied for a lot of different stuff, but in the end my family wasn’t too keen on me going to school for ceramics. I walked down to the Newhouse office of the head of their photo program, and met a guy named Mark Dolan. I gave him my story, and he was a very passionate and excited guy, but he couldn’t get me into the program, because I needed the grades to get in it. But in the meanwhile, he told me to go meet up with the editor of the Syracuse University daily newspaper.
Geordie: I shot my first assignment for the Daily Orange on my first night of school. After that, I started working for the newspaper and ended up getting the grades to get into their photo program. And so I ended up studying photojournalism and studio photography, and that was my story in school, other than the fact that halfway through, I became a little disfranchised with the strict photojournalism structure. I pieced different classes and professors I was interested, which led towards my own journey in school. It was a very unique experience, because it was diverse in a lot of genres of photography.
Mo: I feel like photojournalism is very structured. Did you feel like you couldn't align yourself with that disciplined system?
Geordie: Yeah, basically that’s exactly what happened. I spent all this time to get this photojournalism program, and a lot the time there were some really great people, such as Mark Dolan. The newspaper had, as you said, strict parameters of how you make pictures and a certain way of building a good portfolio. By the end of sophomore year I felt like the class didn’t offer a creative expression. I became not really into it, frankly. I think I ruffled a few feathers with the faculty there. I then decided to start from scratch and approach photography from a different way.
Geordie: So, I got rid of my digital camera and went back to the basics, which included me shooting with a 35mm film camera. I gave myself parameters of using two different lenses, 35 and 50mm, and I wanted to really work on how I want to take pictures and get rid of all the bells and whistles. I started to make pictures that way and figured out over a period of time how I wanted those pictures to look and feel. In conjunction to that, I guess I had this hybrid type of program when I started taking classes in the Fine Arts school as well.
Mo: Even in our saturated age of digital photography, which I’m not displacing, but when you have film, it may be easier to comb through the important elements in an image.
Geordie: Yeah, completely. I’d have to say that I was very much obsessed with film, even up to recent years. I now shoot digital, but its really all about shooting meaningful images—the medium doesn’t matter, but for me at that time, shooting film helped me concentrate on what I was actually doing.
Mo: Within that, what do you find are the most important elements to communicate with a photograph? Something that can enable a relationship with the viewer.
Geordie: I mainly photograph people and that’s what I’m most interested in. I mean, I’m interested in going around the world meeting people and learning about them. If I’m photographing people, it’s important for me to have the photograph feel intimate to that person; to feel that you’ve gone past that veil of the public persona of the subject is important. I think so much photography these days are over the top with things that distract the viewer from what's actually there.
Geordie: For me, the most interesting photographs are those that are stripped down, intimate, and raw. That’s the type of photograph that I like to make and look at. Sometimes it takes a lot of technicalities to make those type of pictures, [laughing] but in the end I like all that stuff to slip away from the viewers attention and let the subject speak for themselves.
Mo: And how do you achieve that with your photographs?
Geordie: I would say that most of the time, doing portraiture—after you’ve figured all the technical stuff—it’s all about the relationship with your subject, especially if its someone that's in the public eye. Most of the time it’s about getting the subject on the same page as you. I spend a lot of time talking with people before I shoot them, about what type of photographs I’m looking to make, and I also talk to them about things that I can relate to them as a person in a personal way.
Geordie: Establishing a connection with the people I work with is one of the most important pieces of the puzzle. It something that helps people get comfortable. Letting people know what pictures you’re making and why you’re making them is important.
Mo: What’s the most fulfilling thing in your current role at FADER?
Geordie: I think the most fulfilling thing at FADER, frankly, is that it’s a project that I’m working on that doesn't rely on me to worry about one photograph being the product. The product in the end is way bigger than that. To be able to work on a big scale on a project is cool—it’s about curating and less about taking pictures. That's been super exciting. When I had just got the job, I had no idea of what I was really doing. What’s been exciting is that I put this big book together and it’s not about just one, it’s about the whole thing. Working with photographers and see the potential that they have is really exciting. Making pictures and curating them are two things that inform each other. Doing both has helped me a lot.
Mo: As a photo director there, what impact do you want to make towards the creative community?
Geordie: I mean, I’d say that I really feel blessed to work with a lot of emerging people. I’m excited to work with younger photographers and provide a space where they feel excited to make a picture for The FADER. We have really interesting subject matter. I’d say that most photographers are excited on working on the project, and I’m excited to provide that to the creative community. I guess my feelings about portraiture align with FADER.
Mo: Do you ever see yourself transitioning to a different role at FADER or even somewhere else?
Geordie: Um, maybe. I guess the quick answer to that is that I’m not sure. Being at FADER has been a really exciting project for me and I never thought of myself to do work in this type of way. I’m someone who really likes people and making images, so its a really big decision that I’m going to have to make in the five to ten years. It’s a really hard decision and I don’t really know the answer to it, but what I do know is that doing both [photo director and photographer] at the same time is probably going to drive me crazy—I’m working seven days a week on these things, all the time. Eventually one of them is going to have to give. [laughing]
Mo: How did you get the opportunity to work at FADER?
Geordie: The short answer is that I was already kind of a part of the FADER family. When I was going through this existential crisis at college someone handed me a copy of The FADER, and I was like holy shit, this is the answer to where I need to be. I was kind of riding the line between documentary photography and fine art. I became really obsessed with being a part of it. I remember when FADER’s creative director gave me a call while I was in school and two weeks later he gave me an assignment. I was just over the moon about it; my first assignment for FADER was in 2006.
Geordie: By 2012, the-then photo editor, John Francis Peters, was leaving and I was one of the people that knew about it. He really encouraged me to apply for the job and I was surprised, so I threw my hat in the ring. After a number of interviews and a lot of meetings with people, I was about to head to India for a month, and I sent them an email saying that I was going to India and that they could reach me before I head out. 30 minutes later, the EIC and my now friend Matt Schnipper called and said, “Hey, we’d like you to take the job.” I could barely control myself. I was excited but also scared. Luckily, when I was on an assignment with my friend, Jake Stangel, I had this month to meditate on this new position. The day I got back, I went to the office, hit the ground running, and figured out how to do it—that’s how I ended up here. I started in April of 2012.
Mo: What does curation and the development of a photograph mean to you?
Geordie: Well, let me try to take a stab at this. For me, the job of curating this magazine is about setting the tone on a bigger scale of what the photography is about. Like I said before, that informs what I think about. It’s also informed by what’s interesting and happening in the photo community. I tend to have ideas about what I want the magazine to look like, but I’m also really interested in taking risks. One of the biggest things I learned from the job itself, like, so much of making a quality thing has nothing to do with creativity; a lot of it deals with working with a great team, working with production, managing expectations, and setting up the right situations for photographers to work.
Geordie: I think a lot of people think a photo editor just sits around looking and taking pretty pictures, [chuckles] but the truth is that, that’s twenty percent of the job. The rest of it is spent trying to setup good situations for people to work. When it comes to curating the magazine, it’s informed by how I feel about photography. The curated in photography also takes a lot of other stuff. Does that make sense?
Mo: It does. How would you describe the aesthetic found in your work?
Geordie: Behind my personal work?
Geordie: I guess I’m someone who grabs a few things: I’m interested in photographs that are intimate and real to the subject matter. Beyond that, I’m informed by the people who work between the lines of documentary photography and fine art work, ya know. I love the classics of people like Alec Soth and also younger photographers, like my buddy Daniel Shea. A lot of my images are less bright and happy, because my approach towards photography [is] in the vein of having a serious and intimate look.
Mo: Are you creatively satisfied?
Geordie: Wow, um.. I think at this point I feel creatively satisfied, but I’m really excited about what’s to come. To be honest, I feel like in the past year or two, I’ve honed on the way I make pictures; I’ve really gotten good at making those photographs on command. [laughing] I am so consumed on the workload that I have these days. I’m also consumed by what I want to do in my photography—I want to keep pushing it and not rest on my laurels. If you told me five years ago about what I’m doing now, I would’ve fainted on the spot, but now that I’m here I’m grateful for all the work and just trying to keep up.
Mo: I’m curious as to how you capture authentic expressions from subject matter such as Tim Cook. What key elements do you aim for to make the experience for you and the subject enjoyable and personal?
Geordie: Portraiture as I mentioned previously is all about personal connection. It’s about making someone feel comfortable and working together to get to where you want to go. I think the most important thing I have learned is to treat everyone equally, whether it is Tim Cook or a guy you stop on the street to make pictures of. Being real and not playing into ego when you are shooting some public persona is important.
Mo: How do you get out of your comfort zone to grow as a creative?
Geordie: I guess by experimenting and by understanding the environment that I work in. I’m so heavily influenced by my friends who are photographers and the work that they’re making. I arrived at the way I make pictures now by making a ton of different shit and figuring out what was interesting to me. I think moving to the next step requires that again. Also, I’m really psyched these days by working with teams. FADER has opened me up to possibility of working with art directors and stylists. I really like the idea of working with teams—that can be a way to push the product forward.
Mo: Why do you think that?
Geordie: I guess being a one man photography department at FADER, I just spend a lot of time on my own making decisions. I don’t think that’s healthy for any creative person, that there’s no discussion or creative input on their work. In many ways, the way I set myself up work-wise, that’s cool for a while, but the ideas are better served if there’s contributing voices to an idea. In the context of FADER, I think thats why I involve a lot of photographers who love talking to creative directors. Creative ideas are better served in a creative dialogue. I hope to bring that back home to my personal work.
Mo: And what has been the most memorable experience in your career?
Geordie: Oh wow. That’s a tough one. I’d say that off-hand, the most valuable experiences for me aren’t the most obvious ones. I mean, I could rattle off a bunch of stuff about me photographing A$AP Rocky, or Lana Del Rey coming to my house and wearing my clothes, but the truth is that, that stuff is amazing and fun, but the most fulfilling experience of my life had nothing to do with photographing celebrities.
Geordie: Right after I moved to New York, I went to Nepal for three months and walked around, met people, and made photographs. I tried to kind of make personal work and go across North India with my friend, Jake. Those are the things that are right outside my comfort zone, and I get to connect with people outside my typical circumstance. Photography for me, at the core, was about me having an excuse to understand the world we live in—that’s why I got into it.
Mo: Self discovery helps you really understand what fuels you to do what you want to do.
Geordie: I’m not sure I ever said it like that, but you’re right. It's a lot about self discovery and understanding my place in the world that we live in. I know that sounds so cheesy to say, [laughing] but it’s true. I can’t deny that.
Mo: What excites you about what you’re planning to do in the future?
Geordie: Man, I don’t know. I think—like what I said before—I’m excited to reconnect with my personal work. I’m excited to not work so much on commissions. I don’t know what that means, but in the context of my answer towards personal experiences, I’ve been lacking a bit of that in my life because of the nature of my work.
Mo: Last question. What do you think the purpose of your work is?
Geordie: Wow. That’s a big question. [both laughing]
Mo: There's a reason why its the last one!
Geordie: I would say that I’m kind of asking myself that question all the time. The purpose of my work, to be selfish about it, has been about connecting with the world, people, and the exploits of adventures that I’ve had in my life that lead to the product of a photograph. I just love those experiences and that process almost more than the photograph itself. On some level, the work serves as a record about photographing up-and-coming artists. Time will tell the actual real purpose of my work, but for now it’s been a blast for me to make. I walk away from every shoot invigorated and that excites me to keep going.
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