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Elizabeth Weinberg

Photographer / director
Based in Los Angeles, CA


 

Elizabeth Weinberg, a freelance photographer and director, lives in Los Angeles with her son Oscar and husband Dan. Elizabeth’s work swims within a pool of intimacy, vibrancy, and tonality which has awarded her the ability to have clients such as Vice, NYLON, Nike, and others. Elizabeth and I talk about consistency, adversity, and the future.

 

Interview by Mahmoud Mfinanga
Published on July 6, 2015
Image for The NY Times by Elizabeth Weinberg

 

You told me that you've been getting into directing lately.

Yeah, well, at least I've been trying to. I don't know if I've been successful but I've been trying.

What made you want to get into that?

It's interesting. I was a little intimidated by the thought of it. It just seemed like a whole new world, and I was totally clueless about how to go about it. I didn't know if I was going to be holding the camera, what gear to use...any of that stuff. So, directing sort of fell into my lap with a band back in January that wanted a video. They wanted photos done first, and then asked me if I was also interested in directing their video. I never did one before but went for it. I came up with a treatment as I usually do for photoshoots, put it together, and sent it to them. They loved it and I got hooked up with a production company and we made the music video. It was my first experience and I had laryngitis the day before the shoot date. So I had no voice directing for the first time [laughing]. But it was so fun and it was great to work with actors. The video itself didn't have the band in it, just two actresses which is amazing—it was a young girl and a woman. It came out amazingly well. I was involved in every step of the process. I was there for the edit, colouring, and all. It's great to be a part of something that lasts, like, six weeks from conception to finish, especially since a photoshoot can be thought up in a day, shot, edited, and put up two days later.

Last week, I did a little personal project where I did the photos and a friend of mine was the director of photography, and I directed a motion component to it. I'm kind of doing this stuff for commercial purposes as well. A lot of clients want director/photographers and I want to make sure I have good work under my belt to show potential clients. And I also just love the thought of being able to come up with something in my brain and then watch it come to life in real-time. Like, that is the coolest feeling ever.

It's been a slow learning process for me. I'm going at it with a nice pace. It's nice to think back at it, because last December I didn't know how I'd start doing this [directing] and then an opportunity fell on my lap and I went for it.

 
Stills from Elizabeth's personal project

Stills from Elizabeth's personal project

 

Also, totally forgot about this, but I directed a few spots for an e-book company, Oyster. We did some little videos. So, I've been slowly building a portfolio of that stuff.

I think it's really important now I be versed in both photography and videography. It's great that you're doing that.

Yeah, but I wanted to do it right. I've seen some videos that photographers make where you can tell that they're not fully there yet. I want to be as comfortable doing it as I am with photography.

What are some differences you notice with photography and videography?

Everything goes by really slowly. With photography, you can look at the back of the camera and go, "Ok, we got it," and then you move on. But with video, you really need to go at things much more meticulously. You need to get stuff in different angles, maybe the focus pull wasn't 100 percent correct and you need to go back and redo it. It's almost like going from 2D to 3D, really. It's like you're sculpting something out of clay instead of drawing; it's just a longer process.

I like to shoot very quickly so, for me, I had to learn to slow down a little bit, which is also a good practice in any regard. When you shoot something, there's so much work that goes into it later. You have so many more options; you have the sound; you have the edit; you have the colour; you have so many different ways of presenting it. But I like those challenges. Like, the thing I shot last week—it's going to be interesting to dive into the edit and figure out what I'll do with it. So yeah, a lot more stuff goes into it.

How have you challenged yourself in your career?

How have I challenged myself in my career? Hmm. Last year, I decided to do a shoot with a bunch of kids which was something I never did before. 

There's always an intertwining of the art and commerce. Like, I know certain clients want to see certain things and I don't want to do shoots just for work, but at the same time the framework of what I do is making work that's for me. I don't want my life to be led by what I have to do to get jobs, but at the same time my personal and client work compliment each other. Generally, I'll make a promo book of the shoots that I do for fun and then clients end up really responding to them, so that's kind of what I do photographically and to take myself to the next level.

Other than videography, how have you been doing that lately?

That’s what the shoot I did last week pertained to. I just came up with an idea and produced the shoot. I don't want to say too much about it, but it's kind of like a dream-like story, so its not really cut-and-dry; it's left to the interpretation of the viewer. The challenge is really going to be weaving it together. I think how it'll be presented can make-or-break it. That was something that was cooking in my brain for two months and we finally got it how I envisioned it in my head. A lot of times, my shoots have a basic framework. But this time, I had specific shots that I really wanted to get, which I don't usually do, so I liked the challenge.

I was just hanging out the back of my car with my friend Michelle driving it and my friend Justin shooting video. We were going for it, driving down my street 5 miles per hour, hoping it worked out and it did. I'm really grateful to all the people who helped me do it.

 
 

It's worth noting the ability to have a community around that supports you.

LA is just so creative and has people who always help each other make whatever. I find that the creative community here is so open and people are always doing to do stuff no matter what. If it’s for your friends and you're having a good time—that's what it's all about. Whereas in New York, it didn't really feel like that.

Was that a primary reason in your decision to move to LA from New York?

Honestly, the primary reason for us moving from New York to LA was that we were trying to buy a house [laughing]. In New York, it was insane. I was coming into LA almost every month for work. I was out here more often than any other place in the country. It was almost my second home and I everyone would ask me when I came out here why I wouldn't just move here, and I would be like "No way!" But later I realised that I was being stubborn. Why don't I actually consider this? My then-boyfriend, now my husband, would come and visit me. We discussed it and the only con we could come up with was leaving our friends and family, but we have friends out in the west coast. So, we came out here and decided to move! That was really the main reason, and just work. A lot of my shoots are really aligned with west coast style. With New York, you don't know if it's going to be sunny every day, whereas it's a pretty good chance of being sunny in LA [laughing]. I love it out here, and its funny because so many of my friends are making the move out here. We kind of consider ourselves pioneers [both laughing]. Like, "Yeah, do it!" Anytime someone comes to visit I tell them to come to our house. You can't get this in New York!

Not to diss New York entirely. I spent most of my 20's there and it was great. Especially for work, it's a fantastic place to be young and a little broke and hungry. But when you're older you want to relax a little bit.

I get what you're saying. Before I visited New York I told myself, "This place is crazy as hell. I'm not moving here." After visiting I said, "This place is crazy as hell. I'm moving here!"

Yeah, its a really good place to be. My sister just graduated and she's going to NYU for the fall. I think it's a great place to start out. I lived in Boston and then moved out to New York. Boston was the training wheels [both laughing]. After I graduated college, I went to New York.

Its interesting because you worked at a photo lab in New York. And you were developing film for people like Cass Bird. I mean, having access to such a community, whether in LA, Austin, or NY, is so important for every creative.

Yeah, totally. I mean, it was an amazing learning experience to work at the lab. It's funny because it was 10 years ago this summer. All these photographers who were kind of coming up and established photographers were shooting film in 2005. Some would bring in wet Polaroid sheet film in tupperware that we had to fix. We were doing contact sheets and then final prints. It’s so insane to look back. We didn't just send files to magazines. We would make 8"x10" prints and courier them off to Times Square which was where Condé Nast was. All the big magazines would get prints and it was so labour intensive. It was days of work and thousands of dollars for all the film, and that money just doesn't exist anymore in the budgets.

It's kind of interesting to me, also, that the digital boom happened around the same time as the economic crash. All these magazines folded around 2008 when the economy crashed and they couldn't afford people to shoot film and I think that correlated with when everyone was getting digital.

But yeah, it was so cool and I met so many photographers then. It's really nice to look back and think that now I'm with an agency, Bernstein & Andriulli, that Platon is with. We were developing his film and doing all his retouching years ago. It's so crazy to me that I'm on the same roster as him.

 
But what I realised was that I craved it. I needed to work again. I could not just be a stay-at-home mum. I needed to work.

 

How far ahead in the future do you look towards?

That's a good question. [pause] I don't I actually look to the future that much. I think really short term: "By the end of this year I want to be doing this." I think I set really quick goals for myself because I'm really impatient. So I think, 'I want to be doing this by this time.' Now that I have a kid, I can't think about next month or next year! [laughing] It's mostly in terms of what kind of personal shoots I want to do. I don't think of stuff too far ahead because I think it'll just stress me out otherwise.

I commend people who can do that [laughing].

Also, I think it just sets people up for disappointment if it doesn't work out. I try to come up with attainable goals and nothing that's too lofty.

I'm going to hold you against it. What are some attainable goals you have right now?

I really want to do a major photo and directorial campaign by the end of the year. I want to finish the little short [video] I just made, but I want to edit it myself so I can learn Adobe Premiere. I just want to be doing bigger and bigger shoots and working more. I want to work more in New York, because I miss it there and it's better in small doses for me [laughing]. My kid is going to daycare now so I have more time to work on stuff in the office which I didn't have the chance to do for the past year [laughing]. I was mostly working at night which is not a long term sustainable thing. I definitely want to do a major directorial thing for a major brand. We'll see if that happens. Now I've put it out there in the universe.

Welp. Vogue's creative director is going to see this.

Hire me! What's up? [both laughing]

 
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35mm Goods

CAPTURED BY Elizabeth Weinberg

 

 

"I think that the colour treatment that you put on images impacts them as much so as the composition and subject."

 
 

How old is your kid Oscar?

He turned 20 months two days ago. A year-and-eight-months-old.

So how has Oscar positively impacted your creativity?

It's interesting. When I had him I just kind of took a couple of months off. Work was just on the back burner. But what I realised was that I craved it. I needed to work again. I could not just be a stay-at-home mum. I needed to work. I had cabin fever and wanted to start shooting again. Then all of a sudden there was radio silence where I realised that everyone in the industry knew that I had a kid. They were kind of not reaching out. So when he was around four-months-old, I sent a mass email saying "Hey! I just had a kid. Here's some work that just came out for Google. By the way, I'm back. Let's work together on something!" And that's when things started rolling again. Last summer, when he was about seven or eight months old, things started to pick up for me. It took a lot longer than I thought, but I didn't realise the impact it would have as a freelancer, but freelancers don't really have a set maternity leave, so you just disappear off the face of the planet for a little while. I mean, I shot up until I was 37 weeks. I couldn't fit behind the wheel of my car anymore so it just wasn't going to work [laughing].

It's interesting being—not to get too far off topic—a female, having a kid, and being in this industry. I hid my pregnancy for a very long time because I knew people would treat me differently, even though they didn't mean to at all. After I had him [Oscar], I craved the work again. I started to do more personal shoots and savour every minute of free time I had to work. I was enjoying getting to watch him grow up, but at the same time, it was like: Ok, he's in bed, I'm going to redo my website! Every amount of time I had to work was precious so I really felt like I had to manage my time in a really much more regimented way. I wasn't lazily going about my time. It was really good in that not only did I get better at time management but I also realised how much I needed to be working even it was for personal work—I needed to do something creative.

Now, he's going to school soon and also going to daycare. I can do all these long-term computer things I didn't have a chance to do. Like, I'm working on my archive, getting that setup for syndication for some of my celebrity and lifestyle stuff. Once he starts going to school I'll be able to go to New York for a week and do meetings and stuff like that. But it's been great to be able to hang out with him for as much as I have.

Situations like that displace the norm that you're used to. It shows who’s here to stay and who’s just flowing with the tide.

Oh, yeah, I was totally convinced that everyone was going to forget me. Other creatives were reassuring me that people take maternity leave and come back. But yeah, people do it.

You touched on an interesting point about how your situation was treated by others.

Sometimes I don’t mention that I have a kid, because I think people will think that I won't travel or something like that. That's the sort of thing where I'll test the waters and see if it's going to impact me negatively. I once found out that I lost a job because I was pregnant which is super illegal but what can you do about it, you know? You can only be so much of a protesting pioneer and also work. I mean, I try to be outspoken. I'm in a female photography group where we help with each other’s edits and talk to each other about stuff because the industry is so male dominated. It's such a hard, weird thing because there is a stigma against feminists and you don't want to ruffle too many feathers, but at the same time you want to stand up for yourself. Its striking a balance, really.

You're kicking ass, shooting Robin Thicke, and doing the work. It's inspiring!

I'm trying!

Do you think people associate your work with something in particular?

Do you associate it with something? I'm always curious about that.

For me, I align your work with a certain mood. In terms of tonality, you work has these natural, complimentary tones, which support the liveliness and intimacy found in your images.

That's pretty much right on. I definitely want my work to be timeless and intimate. The process that I shoot with is so different than what I think a lot of people are used to, especially when shooting a celebrity because I usually don't have an assistant. I'll just have me and them, or me and them with their PR person or something. When I shot Ruby Rose a couple months ago, I met her at Runyon Canyon Park and we just walked around for half an hour. That was it; that's my ideal situation. The colour editing is where I really have the most fun. I think that the colour treatment that you put on images impacts them as much so as the composition and subject. I guess that's what I'm going for [laughing].

And again, I want it to be seamless between my personal and commercial work. I don't want there to be a divide between the types of work I shoot.

 
I try not to think too much about it and let it be what it is.

 

For you, personally, do you find it harder to be different or consistent?

I don't find it hard to be consistent at all, honestly.

Why?

Well, I think it's the approach. I try to shoot everything the same way. Even when it's a big set with 50 people there, which it can be, I just try to get into the same mindset. And generally for bigger shoots where it can stylistically be different, I end up doing the colour because the client would hire me because of the tones of my work. And this isn't the case for some photographers, but I want to have a lot of control over the final product. That's where I can inject that same style into the advertising work, even if the style of photo is more commercial or something I wouldn't necessarily shoot. The final layer of the work would be me, though.

 
 

I'm interested in knowing how you creatively challenge yourself while, in your terms, be consistent.

I guess the consistency would be in the colour and the tones. The creative challenge, like the shoot I did last week, was different on the basis of content. It was kind of film-noir-moody-like. I've been working on a couple of the files and you can kind of tell that it's still me, I guess, by the way I'm treating the colour. I try not to think too much about it and let it be what it is.

It's interesting that you say that because you can't take a calculated approach towards something emotional.

Some people are very, very calculated in their process, but I'm not at all. The most calculated I'll be is getting a picture of a certain thing. That's why I fell in love with taking pictures in the first place. It was just me being in the moment having my camera with me, and I don't want to take that mathematical approach.

I find it very rare to see someone who takes a very calculated approach, which at most times is good, I believe.

It's ok depending on your style. If you're doing still life or high fashion, you need to pre-plan and get specific about it. Others make portraits that they plan for much in advance. I think I've said this before, but I try to make my work like a memory or evoke something in the viewer where they have this visceral reaction. 

What has been one of the most exciting shoots in your career?

Honestly, with the shoot we did last week that I keep mentioning. I was like, "You guys! These are my dreams. My dreams are actually coming true. This is crazy. We're making magic!" So, it was that shoot and another shoot I did a year ago with all the kids, where I didn't plan for as much as I should have but at the end of the day it could not have gone any better. Did I get everything I wanted to get? Yes. Did everyone have a good time? Yes. So, its mostly those personal shoots where I will have that high of creativity.

Before having your son, how much did your personal life affect your creative work?

That's a really good question. I was living in New York and had so many things to do. I feel like I wasn't as pushed creatively because I was doing a lot of photo jobs and didn't have the push to do personal shoots. In New York, it was more so randomly getting up and documenting adventures with friends. Now, I can't do that as much because I have the kid. Once he's older, though, sure. Before, I had to pre-plan everything less.

What do you think is the purpose of your work?

Hmm. That's a big question. Like, purpose for me, or purpose in life. Who's the purpose for? [laughing]

It's up to you!

I guess I do it because my favourite thing ever is to come up with something or document something cool that's happening in the world. The best thing that happens is when someone emails me and says "I saw your work and was super inspired by it. It made me feel this way." That's pretty much the goal. So if that can happen, then that's the best thing ever. The purpose for me is the personal and external reactions

 
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Creative Collective

 

CONNECT: WEBSITE, INSTAGRAM, TWITTER, AND VSCO GRID.

MUSIC: THE NEW BUILT TO SPILL ALBUM SOUNDS EXACTLY LIKE THEY USED TO SOUND. WAR ON DRUGS IS REALLY GOOD. I HAVE THIS MASSIVE PLAYLIST THAT I'VE BEEN WORKING ON FOR YEARS OF REALLY GOOD 90'S HIP-HOP AND R&B JAMS THAT I ALWAYS PLAY AT EVERY BARBECUE.

SETUP: I HAVE AN OFFICE IN MY HOUSE AND BUILT A CUSTOM DESK. I STILL HAVE A 5D MARK II BUT I WILL RENT A MARK III WHEN NEEDED. I'VE BEEN USING THE 70-200MM LENS A LOT LATELY. I HAVE A 50MM F/1.2. I HAD A FUJIFILM X100 THAT I ACCIDENTALLY DESTROYED BUT I STILL USE MY X PRO-1 A LOT.

APPS: I'VE BEEN USING PHHHOTO A LOT. MY FRIEND'S FRIEND IS THE GUY WHO MADE IT AND I USE IT CONSTANTLY. I USE VSCO CAM BECAUSE ITS UNPARALLELED. I USE VENMO FOR SENDING MONEY. THAT'S HOW I PAY MY NANNY. IT'S BETTER THAN PAYPAL BECAUSE OF HOW FAST YOU CAN SEND MONEY.

HOTSPOTS: I REALLY LIKE LITTLE BEAST IN EAGLE ROCK. IT'S A NEW PLACE WHICH IS VERY GOOD. I WAS TURNED ON INTO THIS AMAZING PLACE CALLED FISH KING IN GLENDALE, WHICH I CAN'T BELIEVE I'VE NEVER HEARD OF BEFORE. I GET COFFEE EVERY DAY AT CAFÉ DE LECHE BECAUSE THERE'S A LITTLE PLAY AREA AND THEY HAVE SOME OF THE BEST COLD BREW COFFEE. LAST NIGHT, WE WENT UP TO THE GLENOAKS FIRE TRAIL BEHIND THE 134.

MEALS: SINCE I'VE MOVED TO LA, I HAVE BECOME FAR MORE OF A CONNOISSEUR OF MEXICAN FOOD. IT'S SO CLICHÉ BUT SO TRUE. I'VE BEEN EATING STUFF LIKE POKE, LETTUCE-WRAPPED BURGERS. I ACTUALLY LIVE RIGHT AROUND THIS PLACE CALLED THE OINKSTER THAT IS SLOW FAST FOOD. THEY MAKE REALLY GOOD BURGERS AND ALL THEIR SAUCES IN HOUSE.

WEB: I USE SOMETHING CALLED "THIS" WHERE YOU GET AN EMAIL EVERYDAY OF FIVE LINKS THAT PEOPLE RECOMMEND.