“Photographing America” sounds like a big undertaking, but professional photographer Rick Gerrity makes it feel more intimate. He’s taken the art of telling a compelling story through photography to gold level, as you’ll learn in Lee’s latest episode interviewing Rick on Photo Mentor TV.
Discovering the personal stories of real people in real places, sometimes so small they’re nearly forgotten, is where Rick likes to shine the spotlight. In his massive body of work, he captures a stark look at America closeup. He digs up stories from the nearly invisible with an element of heart, soul, and friendship. His photos allow you a glimpse at the unique people at the heart of this country.
“A long way to go and a short time to get there” became the anthem of his exploration as driving took over as the preferred mode of transportation over flying. There’s a lot more to see and people to meet and get to know, and oh yeah, photograph that way.
But, more often than not, Rick’s photos start with a handshake, a beer, or some friendly chit-chat. I think it’s the natural friendliness and respect for humanity that Rick carries along with his cameras and lenses that puts his subjects at ease. He naturally loves to explore and see things, meeting and talking to people all along the way.
Many of the opportunities that fall his way happen in route to commercial or commissioned photography stints. And Rick perfected his adventures, mapping out nearby small towns or places of interest near his scheduled shoots. Timing the light was also part of his perfected travel skills and, of course, a factor for the art of photography.
Coffee stops and good lighting are Rick’s perfected specific goals.
“The stories and memories that I have are just priceless. It’s so much more than just photographs. Photographing America (the project) is all about great stories and great people and just meeting everyone and remaining friends with so many people,” explains Rick. His travels have taken him to countless cities, towns, countrysides, and even deep into the woods.
No small town is too small for Rick! And he finds people not only love sharing their lives and stories with him but also want to hear about other places and stories he has to share.
He found the smallest town of one in Monowi, Nebraska, and Elsie, the resident, is now a friend; in Hundred West Virginia, Rick was so welcome, the sheriff celebrated 500,000 miles of travel on his faithful dogged Xterra with him. His next invite to visit there is asap!
This is Elsie, the leader in a town of one:
Rick magnetizes people, and they, him! His genuine care and interest in people make what Rick captures in faces so honest. His portraits distill features that are so at ease, authentic, and intricate. Rick’s warmth and respect for people reflect back into the frame for viewers to share and feel.
Essentially Rick is documenting the workings of America. Stories of people, places, and things often introduce what he calls “real America,” bringing some attention to these noteworthy albeit often hidden locations. As Lee points out, his photography reveals the heartlands, showcasing the real work fueling America.
“I don’t do the whole Hollywood thing,” laughs Rick. No, for him and a camera, it’s about catching the proper lighting, showing emotion in a face, and he says, “we have fun and make pictures together” amidst a robust discussion between people.
Birthday parties and other invitations to celebrations appear. There may be coffee in the mix.
Stops are soon more like family visits. Rick says he loves every minute of it.
Rick’s style is a study in putting a client at ease, understanding relationships are business builders, and scoring better photographs too. His love for the people he shoots and for photography leaves Rick in the difficult position of too many shots to select from to make his dream project of a book come true so far.
Maybe he’s got an encyclopedia instead or state-by-state documentation of some sort.
“I ask real questions and get real opinions,” Rick discloses. Expressions, personality, and drive are traits Rick strives to bring out in the people he shoots.
Fletcher Street Riding Club in North Philadelphia is one example of photography capturing an amazing urban riding and stable experience. This charitable project’s people and vision are extraordinary and affirming in the midst of a chaotic world. Meet Ellis, affectionately known as El Dog:
Not every memorable story or experience ends in photographs, but Rick values each and every person and exchange he happens upon. This appreciation for people culminates in his number one rule, “respect everyone.” I share that rule.
He further discloses that he never sticks a camera in someone’s face but always leads with a conversation, sometimes coffee, and consent. In the rare cases of anyone who prefers not to have a photo taken of them, Rick values these interactions, regardless, and carries them with him.
Sometimes just listening to someone is a gift. A gift Rick is often willing to give!
“What a beautiful lens, and with the Sony A7-3, it’s just a perfect setup for the project, “Photographing America,” enthuses Rick.
Lobster fishing captures with Glenn in Maine revolves around family, history, and nature in full force. It’s a story worthy of covering and an informative, interesting, close study of an industry, as well. Here’s Popeye-like strong lobsterman Glenn from Beal Island:
Rick finds stories never before heard. These people, their stories, and their hometowns are better for having Rick’s traveling eye peer in on them. Aiming his camera into their world reveals an insider’s preview into lives that otherwise may go unnoticed.
Keeping in touch with everyone he meets is a recurring theme for Rick. In the case of Glenn, he took his wife to experience the magic of Glenn’s family-named island. And he’s planning to get there again, of course.
It’s kind of amazing!
Tune in for Part 2 of the Rick Gerrity interview on Tuesday, April 12th at 8 pm Eastern, and enjoy more of his photography and the stories behind them!
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