Even as a young skaterat thrashing the streets of Whittier, California, Edward Duarte always had a keen interest in illustration and fashion magazines. Graphic design seemed a natural career. After graduating from California State University, Long Beach with a BFA in visual communications, he scored a job as a designer with the prestigious firm Sussman/Prejza, designers for Ray & Charles Eames. But the camera called.
Duarte’s subjects include Peter Fonda, Edward Norton, Kevin Costner, Cameron Diaz and many more. His images have been published in over 23 countries in major publications from Architectural Digest to the Wall Street Journal, and his commercial clients include Bare Escentuals, The Four Seasons Resorts and MTV Networks. Duarte currently resides in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles, but you can often find him cycling through the mean streets of the city to his studio downtown.
Beautiful Always Wins
How did you get started in photography? I was taking night classes in photography at UCLA while working at Sussman/Prejza. Before long I quit my job and started assisting Michael Grecco. That’s how I really learned the business: syndication, stock, advertising, annual reports, editorial, gallery shows, books… You kind of have to do it all, and Grecco did.
What are some of the challenges of the photography industry at the moment? The market is saturated. I guess it was the same thing when desktop publishing came in, and suddenly everyone was a graphic designer.
How can photographers make their work stand out? Basically, you’re a tastemaker. People are hiring you because you have good taste and you’re going to make them, their product or their business look good. It’s not about luxury (which anyone can buy), but good taste.
Aside from your camera and lighting, what item could you not work without? Bounce boards/flags! My bounce boards act as flags as well. I’m a master when it comes to natural light.
What’s your favorite quote? My latest is Maury Postal at Ogilvy: “What a professional photographer does is see beauty where no one else can see it.”
You always note, as part of your bio, that you grew up skateboarding. How has skate culture influenced your work or style? Skateboarding really is an art. A lot guys in the creative industry are ex-skaters. There are beautiful tricks like a backside air; even the decks themselves are beautiful. And there is that constant fail, fail, fail, fail, fail, fail… and then finally you pull off the trick. It’s such a big part of skateboarding, and also a big part of creating.
What’s one thing you wish you knew when you started your career? It’s about marketing and branding. When I did shoots for the Japanese markets, they wanted lots of beautiful images bathed in natural light. That’s different from how you’d shoot for Rolling Stone, which uses a lot of rich blacks and whites with warm color strobes. That’s their “look,” and the way you’d shoot for Wired, say, would be completely different.
What excites you about photography right now? Maury’s quote is important because people need beautiful images and human connection. It’s a big deal, especially with user experience. You go to Airbnb, and it opens up with a beautiful photograph of some awesome location. I think user experience and web content are the future.
Do you have any advice for people just entering the profession? It takes years to understand light. Paolo Roversi famously quoted the French photographer Nadar, “Everyone can learn the technique of lighting, but what is very difficult, and what you can’t teach, is a feeling for the light, a sentiment of the light.” There is the desert morning light, which rakes across the horizon. There is the light in Cabo San Lucas, which is everywhere. Open shade in New York is different from open shade in Los Angeles.
Which photographers do you most admire and why? Diego Uchitel and Enrique Badulescu, because there is such richness and humanity in their work. I really admire Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón and his DP Emmanuel Lubezki, not so much for the technical achievement of films like Gravity, but for their collaboration. Their work is about capturing a moment, and is so lyrical. The framing, the human experience—it takes incredible skill to communicate those human emotions.
You’ve shot many well-known public figures. Who has been your favorite subject to photograph, and why? Victoria Beckham was funny and cool. When the client asked me what the “concept” was, I just said I was going to make clean, beautiful images. They wanted to do something “edgy” with the last shot and Victoria said, “but everything we did so far is so beautiful.” Beautiful always wins.