With photography as blood, creativity pumps through PJ Spaniol III. The heavy influence of his surroundings and the environment of New York City have inspired his craft. Since childhood, photography has been more than creating beautiful images, it has been about creating his life’s art. He shoots lifestyle and storylines that excite and dance on the line of fear. With a collaborative personality and adaptable style, PJ has grown a network of friends and creative peers that have helped mold him into the incredible photographer he is today. With his upcoming book release and a style all his own PJ is illuminating the photography world. We are proud to feature this talented photographer on the Plaid Pony Blog this week.
Tell us about your art and how you got involved with photography.
I shoot high fashion compositions, and very dark street documentary work, sprinkled with environmental shots to compliment my portfolio. I got into photography at the age of nine when I spent time in my aunt's darkroom. This slowly evolved into art, capturing moments of my lifestyle; from skating and hanging with my friends....I took pictures of the good, the bad, and the ugly; all sides of growing up in Long Island, NY. I frequented NYC as much as possible and have lived in Brooklyn since I was 22. After school I Interned at Drive In studios in Manhattan, and then was hired to ruby the camera desk. The "film days" included packing orders for commercial photographers, with large medium format camera system orders. I took such pride in building the kits, which the assistants would then pack. This actually got me my first assistant job with Jeff Riedel, who till this day is one of my biggest influences and broke me when I was greener than green. We shot three different camera systems on every job. His first assistant at the time was Butch Hogan, who had worked for Bruce Webber as well. They both taught me pretty much everything I know about lighting, from the correct way to run a film table to lighting in short time spans. This was because most of Jeff's subjects were celebrities, athletes, and musicians; such a great skill to know.
After I parted ways with Jeff I worked for Cass Bird for 2 years and this opened my eyes to a completely different life and style of photography. She was like a big sister to all of us and pretty much created lifestyle fashion photography in a fine art delivery. She still remains a big influence and friend.
Currently I work for Collier Schorr as her 1st assistant since 2013. She has become a mentor and I have learned to push harder for fine art looks that translate when shooting high fashion. She also needs no introduction as she is a professor at Yale and one of the most sought after fashion photographers in the world.
Then there is Mathieu Young who I have worked for between all these wonderfully talented introverted people. The best part about Mathieu is that his talent shines as bright as his personality and it's translated into his images. He has taught me so much about the business end and we have become like brothers. Traveling with him on his lifestyle campaigns is a totally different world than what I'm trying to do in my career. However, being his point man and helping create these advertising images is something most won't get to see. He is a master at all sides of the photo business and I look up to him greatly. As for my work; it's very personal and it includes a little of everyone who I have been lucky enough to work for. They have all influenced many of my images.
What was a pivotal moment for your photography career?
There are a few....being Collier Schorr's 1st assistant... becoming published in V magazine for the first time (bucket list!)...photographing Michelle Obama at the White House....
And of course realizing if you don't feel like taking a photo, don't. Anything forced is dry and lifeless. Lastly, the friends I have made and places I have traveled to; all while being paid doing it.
What has been your favorite set to work on? Why?
Cass bird - T magazine - Moab Utah, was the best trio of my life. Cass is one of my favorite people, her flow is effortless, and the location was the most beautiful place I have been to, ever. Plus at the time my best friend and I worked for her and traveled together everywhere.
What is one of your proudest moments in your career?
My mother and father seeing my work in print.
What are somethings you enjoy when you are not shooting?
Ha, that's a long list. My lovely girlfriend Natale, my dog taco, "Blue Heeler" Turntablist, riding my restored road bike that was my father's, and GOLF. That is a big one! I play close to 40 rounds a year and it's my zen place where I go yoda, nothing else matters for those 4.5 hours and I go alone these days.
I also collect photo books and rare vinyl, especially "Prince".
I'm a sneaker head, a word I hate, but it's true, I own close to 100 pairs.
Oh, and I also enjoy cooking.
What is your favorite part about being on set?
The talent I'm surrounded by in so many different areas with one goal, to make a beautiful image. Not many people know what it takes to make one photo.
What does #createmoments mean to you?
You only LIFE once - not a typo.
What is one thing your fans may not know about you?
I shoot all film unless it's commercial work, "they knew that".
No seriously, I'm a secret gardener.
What advice can you provide for future photographers?
Assist someone you admire and don't waste your time with someone's work that doesn't inspire you. Mostly, just go and assist for a few years, it's a small club, but the 'on set' experience is second to none and better than any MFA. There are no shortcuts. Make work you love, don't make work you think people want to love.