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Eric Chakeen

Work / Photography

Photographer Eric Chakeen on his “pragmatic” commercial process versus his personal work

For Del Mar, California-born, New York-based photographer Eric Chakeen, the most exciting thing about his job, is that he can never know it all. Describing how the medium checks so many boxes for him, Eric explains: “I can be obsessive about things and there are so many genres of photography, styles to practice, cameras to play with etc. So I never really get bored with it as I am still learning more constantly.”

This want to discover more lends Eric’s portfolio a restlessness and his projects flit between large-scale travel projects full of landscape and portraiture and work made more on-the-fly, as he carries his camera at all times. In turn, this is reflected in his aesthetics. It’s “hard to say” what his signature look is, he tells us. “I think my work has changed a lot over time as my interests have. So it’s kind of evolving as I am.”

One distinction Eric can clearly pull out, however, is between the way he works on commercial and personal projects. Having worked for clients and publications including Vogue, Supreme, Spotify and i-D, on these briefs he’s developed an approach which is “collective” and “pragmatic”. “Can we see the shoe? Does the light need to be cut to highlight a piece of clothing, is the person/artist/talent going to feel comfortable in this scenario etc,” he remarks. “Commercially speaking, you just are fixing issues and problem solving as opposed to pure creativity. I think this bums a lot of photographers out but I see it almost as a separate genre and enjoy the pragmatic part of my brain it activates.”

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Eric tells us about a recent job for a “big sportswear brand” which adhered to this notion of problem-solving: “We were shooting athletes, so I built an Avedon-style outdoor portrait set-up. The intent was to capture dynamic, soft light but sharp detail portraits, and get some intimacy with people that aren’t used to being intimate with media. Then you find out you have two and a half minutes with each talent and the chaos rains down. So no matter the amount of intent or timing planned, or set-ups and back-up cameras, there’s always a departure from plan to execution.”

On a recent trip to Asia with his partner Cassie to meet her grandmother, however, Eric allowed himself to drop any intentions or plans, and just photograph. It was a part of the world he hadn’t visited before and so his camera became a tool to explore, and acclimatise. “Traveling and taking pictures can be exhausting but also a really interesting way to see a city or country as you try to dive in as quickly as possible,” he says. “Southeast Asia was incredible in terms of light and haze from the atmosphere so technically it was pretty easy to make a nice picture. The subjects though were incredibly open and friendly which allowed for a lot of intimate moments with strangers.”

This process sees a certain disparity imbued within Eric’s portfolio but it’s by no means to its detriment. Instead, it gives his work an energy, as glossy portraits of celebs are dispersed between muted landscape images and serene personal snaps. It makes his portfolio surprising and one which keeps you flicking to find out where Eric will take you next.

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