Photographer Michael Crouser was born in 1962 in Minneapolis, Minnesota and graduated from Saint John's University (Collegeville, Minnesota) in 1985. He began his commercial career in 1986 and has several prints in the permanent collection of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Crouser's first two books, Los Toros and Dog Run were both honored in CA, PDN and the International Photography Awards; his third book, on ranchers in Colorado, should be coming out in Fall 2010 or Spring 2011. Represented by galleries in New York, Santa Fe, Houston and Barcelona. Crouser lives in Brooklyn and Minneapolis and is represented commercially by New York-based Kevin Schochat.
Silver and Light, Tri-X and Chemicals, and Ruined Clothes
If you have a degree in what field is it? I graduated from Saint John’s University with a degree in English.
What was your strangest assignment? I once drove five hours in an ice storm in St. Louis to photograph a guy who made computer work stations out of old pianos. We did the shot in a tiny office. It was impossible.
Which photographer would you like to meet? I am a big admirer of Matt Mahurin. I find his work amazing and inspirational.
What famous person (living or dead) would you most like to photograph? I would love to work with Lyle Lovett. But also, I’ve always thought it would be wonderful to be able to photograph people who were alive before photography existed...to make the only image ever of someone. No one knows exactly what Mozart looked like... but if not Mozart, then Lyle Lovett.
Aside from your camera and lighting, what item could you not work without? I’ve often said that my best piece of equipment is my Magliner cart. It’s been all over the world with me. It’s big and heavy and sometimes the airline people look at me like I’m crazy, but if I’m carrying lights and gear, it always goes.
Is there anything you would not digitally retouch? At this point, I would never digitally retouch anything that I do as fine art. I’m very much into the process of the darkroom and I believe the language you choose to express yourself with is important: For me, it’s silver and light, Tri-X and chemicals and ruined clothes—not computers.
From where do your best ideas originate? For me the best photographic ideas come from subjects that interest me in ways other than just photographing them. For instance, from the beginning I found bullfights to be amazingly emotional. They are heavy, and sad and exhilarating. They are without time and rich in history, culture and emotion. They are unlike anything I had ever seen, or could ever see in the U.S. From that attraction, I began shooting them, and fifteen years later finished the series that would eventually become the book Los Toros. I feel likewise about the ranchers that I have been shooting in Colorado. Their work is ancient and rough. It's difficult and disappearing. I love making pictures of that world.
How do you overcome a creative block? I think the best way to overcome a stretch of creative malaise is to simply start shooting. I once went almost a year without shooting anything personal during a period of grief. The only way out was to take the camera—which seemed to weigh a million pounds and, at that time, so uninteresting—and start looking again. To start seeing and creating, even though I was surely not in the mood to do so. It’s how I began working on the book Dog Run. I also have a big collection of photography monographs, and I will sometimes pull something off the shelf and soak in someone’s genius and their life’s work: Jacques Henri Lartigue, Richard Avedon, Robert Doisneau, Matt Mahurin, Edward Curtis, Kertész.
Do you have creative pursuits other than photography? I like to write, but have not attempted to publish anything. I have the greatest respect for authors, and can’t imagine how difficult it must be to sit down and weave a story of compelling words straight from the brain. I write songs that no one will ever hear. I’m also learning to cook a little.
What music are you listening to right now? My musical tastes zing around like a pinball. I recently listened to LL Cool J’s “Mama Said Knock You Out” about 100 times in a row. I like anything by Jack White. Lyle Lovett. Billy Bragg. I like Sinatra. Billie Holiday. The Smiths. Lenka. Led Zeppelin.
What’s your approach to balancing work and life? You know....so much of my time is spent working. And by that I don’t mean I’m a workaholic, I mean that I love to make photographs. I spend a lot of time in the darkroom. I spend a lot of time shooting personal projects, or planning books. Having said that, I do think it’s important for me to do other things. To have some distractions. I play hockey, I run. I enjoy watching films and baseball. I also like spending time eating and drinking with friends and family.
What’s your favorite quote? “One thing I would never photograph is a dog lying in the mud.” —Diane Arbus
Do you have any advice for people just entering the profession? Artistically, shoot pictures of things that interest you most. Then you will bring a certain passion to the subject. And if you are striving for a commercial career always present a portfolio that contains nothing to apologize for. Nobody wants to hear that your printer isn’t working so well right now, or you were just about to take that image out. A portfolio should straight-up kick ass, and be clean and cool, and wham. You should feel proud to drop it off. When I was in high school, a successful commercial photographer told me not to go into photography. He said it is too hard. He wasn’t lying...it’s not so easy. But I knew that going in, and while I would say this to any young photographer, I would never advise against getting into it if it’s your destiny. If you have to take pictures, you have to take pictures. Welcome to the club!
What’s one thing you wish you knew when you started your career? I was very fortunate to have a steady client right away, and continued to work with them for six or seven years. Things don’t always fall in your lap like that. But you know, part of life is in the learning, so even bumpy patches have their value. I have no complaints or regrets about a life in photography. It has made my life interesting.