When Rick Gerrity was younger, he jumped into his 1977 Land Cruiser and headed to Maine to photograph bears. His only photo gear was an Instamatic camera his mother had given him. Surprisingly, he got some good pictures. “The lens on the Instamatic meant that I had to get up close and personal with the bears,” he says. “That’s when I learned the value of long lenses.”
The story illustrates Gerrity’s picture-taking style. He’s the quintessential in-life’s-face photographer, and his forte, in addition to a clean and flawless technical style, is his ability to relate to a wide range of people. “I try to find people and places that take me to another side of life. Hard working people—truckers, construction workers and first responders—are my favorite subjects,” he says.
Gerrity actually backed into his photographic career. After moving from New Jersey to West Virginia in late 1970s, he needed a job and found work as a photo assistant. “The guy I worked for did quite a variety of jobs, including weddings, events and construction photography. One of his clients was even a skydiving club,” he says. “I eventually bought half the business. When things started to slow down, I decided to come back home to New Jersey.”
Gerrity had a hard time finding clients and ended up taking a position in a family-run bronze foundry. “I had to work on the foundry floor pouring bronze at 2,250 degrees. However, it was a great place to make photographs,” he says. “I saved money and bought a Hasselblad medium-format camera and soon was producing brochures and annual reports for our company as well as others in the industry.”
Then, in 1983, he ran into an old high-school friend who was shooting concerts for Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty and other performers by night and working for an advertising photographer during the day. “They were looking for an assistant for 8x10 and 4x5 camera work, and I was willing to learn, so they gave me a shot,” says Gerrity. “I worked for many top agencies around the country and had work published worldwide.” In 1996, he opened Gerrity Photographic Inc. and, he says, he’s never looked back.
Recently, Gerrity spoke with writer and photographer Jeff Wignall about his his career and his straight-up style of photography.
PPD: How do you describe yourself as a photographer?
RG: My primary business is commercial advertising photography. I specialize in people, products, location and street photography throughout the United States and Canada. My commercial clients include Panasonic, BMW, Samsung, Sony, Oleg Cassini, Yusen Worldwide and Canon. Also, I am currently on the Panasonic Lumix Luminary Team, which allows me to gain a different perspective and direction. Being a part of the Lumix Luminary Team has allowed me to be me. I don't have an art director or client telling me what to do, so I can go out there and explore life as I see it. Much of my Lumix work is shown on my World of Lumix Micro 4/3rds Facebook page.
PPD: In your online bio you write, “I have a passion for transforming seemingly ordinary, everyday moments into extraordinary images.” Can you talk more about how you reveal a deeper side to everyday subjects?
RG: In order to uncover a new perspective on a photograph you must look beyond the image itself to come up with a story behind it. I often try to find and incorporate the human element in my work, even in a landscape image. This has, in fact, become second nature to me.
PPD: How does one develop this ability to probe deeper into a subject?
RG: Whenever I lead a workshop I try get my students to be confident and talk to people and uncover their stories. Everyone has a story. The story can lead to a great portrait or a great location. People enjoy telling you about their town, their work or their lives. Coming back with stories to go with the images is what it's all about. You just have to have the nerve to ask.”
PPD: One of the things that you mention frequently on your site is the importance of minimizing or even eliminating post production. Do you think photographers spend too much time working on their images in post?
RG: It really depends on the type of work. I believe getting a picture as close to perfect in camera is paramount. I set up my camera to give me what I desire so I can post images online while on the go. If you get a good JPEG and are also shooting RAW, then you can't lose. I would much rather be making photographs than sitting in front of a computer. Plenty of photographers enjoy post-production work, and that's their choice. We are all very different, and that's what makes photography so great.
PPD: A lot of your portrait subjects are bikers, truckers, tattoo artists and people who probably aren’t often the subjects of artistic portraits. How do they react to your requests to photograph them?
RG: My portrait subjects are usually of a rougher nature. The people I find most interesting are the people that make America tick. Yes, they are shy about it simply because they personally do not feel that they are special. My rapport with bikers goes back a long way. I have been riding all of my life, yet I don’t consider myself a biker. True bikers are a brotherhood, not just folks who own motorcycles. Through my photography I have had the privilege of being accepted into this brotherhood. Bikers are a rugged group who hide their huge hearts under their leathers. The dedication and involvement of the biker community in charitable activities and events is a constant source of excitement and inspiration to me personally and photographically.
PPD: One of the photos on your site has the phrase “Never judge by looks” under it. Another says, “The first rule is respect.” How do you apply these concepts to your portraiture?
RG: Respect is a priority in my professional life as well as my personal life. I never photograph anyone without first taking the time to convey to them that their personal story is of paramount importance to me. I have made lasting friendships all across the country through my photography.
PPD: Do you try to carry a minimum of gear when shooting portraits like that?
RG: I have been working exclusively with the Panasonic Lumix G Series cameras. Their size, light weight and overall quality allow me to have what I need — in a small bag — to complete any assignment.
PPD: Talk a little about your “Portraits of Love” project. These are portraits of military families, correct?
RG: This is an ongoing project. Every year around the holidays, the PMDA [Photoimaging Manufacturers and Distributors Association] recruits volunteer photographers to go to military bases around the country. The photographers set up studios on the base or in a sponsored hotel. The USO is also a sponsor. They coordinate and organize a schedule of families to photograph. The photos are put into an online site where the families can access their photos free of charge. These photos are made in appreciation of the sacrifices these families make for all of us to enjoy our freedom.
PPD: Do you have a favorite camera and lens for portrait shooting?
RG: Currently my favorite camera is the new Lumix GX8 and the Lumix 12-35mm f/2.8 lens.
PPD: You work with mirrorless cameras a lot — what is it about these camera bodies that you like, and what advantages do you think they have over the traditional SLR design?
RG: Mirrorless cameras have an advantage over DSLR cameras because of their size and weight and their ability to have live view all the time. This makes switching from still to video seamless. Also, Panasonic Lumix cameras offer in-camera 4K video recording direct to the SD card. Each frame in 4K is an eight-megapixel still. The cameras also have three 4K-photo modes that optimize the video to pull eight-megapixel stills. When you’re shooting at 30 frames-per-second, you’re going not going miss that special moment!
PPD: Can you talk about your project on women trucker? How did that came about?
RG: “Lady Truckers” is an ongoing personal project that I stumbled upon by accident. I had photographed a truck with a new camera at a truck stop and posted an image of the truck on the trucking company’s Facebook page. The company contacted me, thanking me for the photograph, and was interested in knowing more about me. As it turns out, that particular truck was owned and operated by a woman who happened to be a flat-bed trucker. The company put me in touch with her, and after a brief conversation, she and I decided to meet up and discuss a project involving the life of a lady trucker. Now we get together when we are both traveling.
PPD: You have a pretty broad range of photos up on Instagram. Is that one of the primary ways you share your photos?
RG: Instagram and Facebook are the primary sources through which I share photographs on social media. All of my Lumix cameras are WiFi enabled. Panasonic’s Image app not only allows me to transfer my video and stills to my phone or tablet, it allows my phone to act as a remote control and serve as a live monitor for my camera. I can control all the functions of my camera with my phone. Wherever I am, I can transfer photos and post them to social media or email them to clients. I do not use WiFi to upload the entire SD card, though. I use my laptop and an external hard drive for the bulk.
PPD: A lot of your travel photos have a very vintage American feel to them — old gas stations, old signs. Is this a subject you have always enjoyed shooting?
RG: When I started traveling around the USA and making extended road-trips, I was amazed at the history I found along the road. The stories and portraits that I gathered from the locals were priceless. I was hooked. That is why I drive wherever I can.
PPD: Also, much of your work is in black and white. Are you converting in post or shooting in a monochrome mode?
RG: With my Lumix mirrorless cameras, when shooting in the monochrome mode I can actually see the photograph in the viewfinder in black and white. I shoot a black-and-white in-camera JPEG and also shoot a RAW file that is always in color. I have the best of both worlds that way.
PPD: Tell me more about your workshops with Rob Knight. How long have you been doing them?
RG: Rob Knight and I have a company called Digital Photo Adventures. Rob started the company several years ago, and we later partnered to conduct workshops throughout the United States and in Costa Rica.
PPD: Route 66 is one of the workshop destinations, correct? Is that still a fascinating subject photographically?
RG: Route 66, especially the stretch in Arizona, is a fascinating subject because of its long and colorful history. For photographers, it offers an incredible variety of characters in towns that seem to be frozen in time. I've taken the time to visit these out-of-the-way places, introduce myself and make friends. When I return with my workshop groups we're welcomed with open arms. My group is always amazed at the hospitality we receive, even in an obscure town of 265 people.
PPD: What level of photographer are the workshops aimed at?
RG: Rob and I design Digital Photo Adventure workshops for photographers who are at an intermediate or advanced level. The workshops are designed for photographers who know their equipment well and are looking to expand their skills. Rob and I are easy-going and very patient. We work with all our photographers closely to be sure they produce memorable photographs. We also focus on a personal experience. I have made friends all over the U.S in my extensive road trips to find interesting areas for our destinations. I currently have 325,422 miles on my 2007 Nissan Xterra, which has been featured on Nissan's Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram sites.
Our workshops in the United States are three-day destination workshops and include Arizona’s Route 66, a Maine lighthouse tour and New York City workshops. However, we're exploring some new locations to be announced. We also host a nine-day workshop Costa Rica. People can also “Like” us at on Facebook.
PPD: Do you have any advice for someone who’s trying to make their photography stand out, to be a little different with their work?
RG: My advice for someone trying to make their photographs stand out is simple: Be yourself and be original.