Art

Maynard Switzer: Take me to the Tea Fields

A lot of people are shooting pictures, but very few have the eye that can carry them into a successful pro career.

Interview by CBK Photos by Maynard Switzer
Photo © Maynard Switzer

Photo © Maynard Switzer

Citizen Brooklyn: Our readers are always curious how people’s careers began. How and why did you decide to be a professional photographer?

I was always interested in art from a young age. I remember my mother taking me to art galleries and enrolling me in art classes at a young age. When I was about fourteen years old I was given a camera & was very excited about taking pictures & working in the darkroom at home. I shot many pictures of friends, girlfriends & family until I went away to University. After a few semesters at University, I decided that a conventional degree didn’t excite me, so I enrolled at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, although it was located in L.A. at the time I went there. I did a lot of freelance assisting for various photographers while I was in school, and in my last semester there I heard about an opening at Avedon studio in NY. I flew to NY and had an interview. I was hired a few days later and a week after that I was on the set with him shooting A BlackGamma fur add. It all happened very fast.

Photo © Maynard Switzer

Photo © Maynard Switzer

CBK: Tell us a couple of anecdotes about working with Dick Avedon.

There were two very amazing shoots I was involved in at Avedon’s studio. One was shooting Lena Horn singing for two hours to her own records that were playing on the stereo while Avedon photographed her & the other was going to a hotel to photograph Charlie Chaplin, his first day back in the United States. While I was working for him we photographed almost every top model in the world along with many celebrities.

Photo © Maynard Switzer

Photo © Maynard Switzer

CBK: How has your business changed since the digital revolution?

The business has changed dramatically since the digital revolution. Speed is the biggest change. Shoots can be shot half way around the world and get to an art director or photo editor’s desk minutes after it is finished.

Photo © Maynard Switzer

Photo © Maynard Switzer

One of the biggest changes involves where a photographer is located. They can be anywhere in the world. High speed Internet makes all of that possible. The equipment that is available today is outstanding. The printing and media are all superb. The integration of video and stills has added an amazing dimension to the business.

Photo © Maynard Switzer

Photo © Maynard Switzer

CBK: Many artists lament that New York has gentrified and cleaned up itself to a point that it is not very inspirational anymore; would you agree with that statement, could you elaborate?

I agree that NYC has gentrified and in many cases not as inspirational as it used to be. In many ways it has been turned into a city of condos and shopping malls, but there will always be photographers that find it interesting to shoot. Another consequence of the very expensive condo buildings in certain areas is an absence of people on the streets in these areas because the people that own many of these residences only live in them for a few days per year. It makes the areas very cold & uninspiring to photograph in.

Photo © Maynard Switzer

Photo © Maynard Switzer

CBK: It seems like in today’s world everybody is a photographer… Would you suggest this career to young people today?

If I were talking to a young person that wanted to pursue this as a career, I would suggest that they make video a part of their program. It could only enhance their chances of making a go of it in today’s marketplace. A lot of people are shooting pictures, but very few have the eye that can carry them into a successful pro career.

Photo © Maynard Switzer

Photo © Maynard Switzer

CBK: How and when did you developed your passion for travel and documentary photography?

While I was in art school I photographed a Blue Grass festival in Arkansas. Photographing the people and their lifestyle was very exciting to me, it stayed in my conscience for a long time even after shooting fashion and beauty for many years. I remember going to Cuba for a commercial job and, after the job was completed, I wanted to stay there to photograph Havana and the people that lived there. I was disappointed I had to come back right away. This was the start of the end of the fashion and beauty segment of my photography.

Photo © Maynard Switzer

Photo © Maynard Switzer

CBK: You spent time in Ethiopia’s Omo valley. Recently H&M announced that they would stop sourcing organic cotton from that region as a protest against land appropriation by the Ethiopian government. What is your opinion on the matter?

The Ethiopian government is forcefully removing many of the ethnic tribes from the Omo Valley and trying to resettle them elsewhere. During the resettlement, it often turns violent and many of tribes people have been killed. Since the government leases a great deal of land to other countries for commercial farming, they need to irrigate large portions of the land and also need hydroelectric power to modernize the whole country. To develop this they have built three large hydro dams and consequently the Omo River will not flood like it used to. The tribes that live along the river depend on the annual flooding for their sorghum crops and their cattle.

Photo © Maynard Switzer

Photo © Maynard Switzer

Another offshoot of the resettlement is that the different tribes have seen their land shrink and there are periodic clashes between the tribes over land and cattle. I think that if it continues like this, in a few years Ethiopia will have lost an amazing part of their culture. It’s not a good situation right now. It’s a very difficult balance between an ancient culture and a very poor country that wants to advance into the modern world.

Photo © Maynard Switzer

Photo © Maynard Switzer

CBK: Do you have a dream photography project that you have not been able to accomplish yet?

I think that most photographers complain about not having enough time to spend in a certain area. That requires many trips to complete the project and can stretch over several years. The world is shrinking very fast and things can change drastically in a short period making it difficult to complete the subject. Also, world events play a huge part of the accessibility to countries that were no problem a few years ago. I photographed In Mali just as the problems there were starting to heat up and now that things have settled down, I am going back in September to finish doing the project, but several years have passed since I first photographed there.

Photo © Maynard Switzer

Photo © Maynard Switzer

I do have one little pet project I like to work on and that is tea fields around the world. Whenever I go someplace, I always ask if there are tea fields in the area. There is something I enjoy about photographing people picking Tea in different parts of the world with their different dress & their different types of baskets. The funny thing is, the only type of tea I like is sweet Moroccan mint tea.

To see more work by Maynard Switzer please go here.
To know more about the Omo valley River crisis in Ethiopia please go here.

Photo © Maynard Switzer

Photo © Maynard Switzer

See more of Maynard Switzer’s work at: http://maynardswitzer.com

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