[Exclusive Interview with Liz Baronofsky]
JR: What is your go-to camera and lens?
LB: For the longest time I shot with a Nikon N60 film camera. I am talking back in the ’90s it was the first “real” camera I owned, and I still used it not too long ago. When I switched over to the digital world, I bought a scrappy Canon t3i bundle package just to sort of get started. I used that camera so much that I have completely beat it to the ground. I still use it as a side/back-up body. I’m a firm believer in the shooter above all else. Although we are all aware of the difference in picture quality etc. with the better made cameras, the picture itself is where it all begins. I just recently bought a used, full-frame Canon 5D Mark III. I use a 50mm f/1.8 & 35mm f/1.4 often. I love the 70-200mm f/2.8 but I only use it for portraits and weddings.
JR: Do you use any photo editing software for non-portraits?
LB: I use (Adobe) Lightroom for all of my editing. It is extremely user friendly. However, I am not an over-editor. For non-portraits I am mainly enhancing colors or drawing out specific tones to illicit a mood or feeling.
JR: Not every photographer has an eye for both portraits and artisan shots, but you are exquisite at both. Have you had any formal training?
LB: Thank you for that. It’s always hard to hear a compliment about my art. There are so many amazing photographers out there who have had such extensive training. I am really just in tune with myself and have learned to use photographing as an artistic outlet. The only sort of training I had was 2 years in high school. I took photography as an elective and learned how to develop film in a dark room and make prints. From as far back as I can remember I always had a camera in my hand. Even as a kid, whether it was a throw-away or a point and shoot. Learning how to develop film was a really cool experience for me.
JR: You are a neonatal ICU nurse in Philly. I believe that there is a strong connection between being artistic and having an inherent desire to help people in need. How do you relate the two?
LB: I appreciate that observation. And maybe the connection is actually having an outlet and utilizing the art as such. I am and have always been a very empathetic person. And as a person who has always had the desire to help others, I also feel there is a weight that comes along with that. My father was diagnosed with cancer when I was 6 and he passed away when I was 7. As a young kid I always felt it was my responsibility to make sure everyone around me was okay. At that time, I would draw a lot. It was therapeutic for me. Then I got my hands on a camera and everything changed. I think there was a connection between having such a large, traumatic loss and the realization of knowing I could freeze moments and memories in time and always carry them with me.
JR: Whose work — photography or otherwise — has influenced you most?
LB: I have always admired my Dad and his work ethic. He came from nothing and dropped out of high school to join the army. He never finished his education and was a horrible heroin addict at one point in his life but he turned himself around. When he died, he was a very successful businessman. Despite everything he had gone through, he was always very kind, giving, and generous with his success. He always took care of the people around him without judgement. I aspire to be that way and have always had his sort of hustler attitude.
JR: Your shot selections are equally beautiful and devastating. Take me through your process. What makes a great shot? How do you decide w what to shoot?
LB: For as extroverted as I can pretend to be, at heart I am a true introvert. I have always found peace in being alone. It is where I tend to regain my energy. There are days when I take my camera and just walk while listening to music. The objects or landscapes I shoot really come from whatever it is I am going through at the time. I have been through a lot of devastating circumstances in my life and photography has really helped me get through those times. It is a place where all my guards can sort of come down and whatever I have been holding on to can be set free. I tend to gravitate towards the gritty. Some people like super clean, flawless subjects but that’s not my life or my world. So I tend to find connections in the messier things.
JR: How would you classify your photography style?
LB: So, this is always sort of a hard question. I look around me and I see how some people really have a niche. There are wedding photographers, portrait shooters, landscape photographers. I sort of dabble in everything and call it lifestyle photography. I never set out on this journey to photograph people. It just kind of stumbled upon me. People have gravitated towards the gritty look of Philly and then want portraits taken by this graffiti or that graffiti site. That eventually turned into, “hey can you shoot my wedding or baby or parents or engagement shoot.” While I can say it’s not my favorite style of shooting, I am always trying the next step and want to sort of learn how to be good at it all.
JR: Your artistic shots are very diverse — high contrast, low saturation, monochrome — and you excel in all forms. Do you shoot each shot with different exposures and then select one, or do you select a ‘look’ first and run with it?
LB: It’s always about the look or the mood and then I take at least a half dozen shots of whatever the object may be. With that being said, I rarely go out with the intention of shooting something specific. I tend to listen to music and get inspired by something as I see it. When I edit, I choose the picture that captures the mood best. I also am a big fan of dark, monochrome pictures. I gravitate towards that look a lot.
JR: If your photography could elicit one emotion from your audience, what would you want that emotion to be?
LB: Empowerment. Life may not always be beautiful, but we are going to get through.
JR: It is intriguing that so many of your scenic shots are in black and white, yet your shots of graffiti, dumpsters, and old pay phones are in high contrast color. Is that intentional? If so, what made you decide on robust color for such ‘dirty’ objects?
LB: The truth is in the grit. You can see the wear and tear, the scars the tough spots and know that this thing has really been through it. I can relate to that. I see graffiti around the city and can understand that someone else is out there trying to say something, trying to have their voice heard in some small or big way. I want their voice to really scream so I tend to edit them loudly with their brightest shades and in high contrast. To me, those photos wouldn’t get their message across in monochrome. I truly love a pay phone pic. I photograph them a lot. I know there will come a day when they will all be gone and that chapter in time won’t be known by younger generations. What a sad day that will be.
JR: Indeed it will be.