As a National Geographic Creative represented photographer and founding member of the photo agency VII, John Stanmeyer has captured iconic images from all over the world. His career spans decades of work and numerous awards (including World Press Photo’s 2013 Photo of the Year). In addition to his assignment work for TIME and National Geographic magazine (NGM), John’s ascension in today’s digitally-driven culture makes for an interesting read. We should mention that John is an avid coffee drinker and runs his own shop in the Berkshires – the Shaker Dam Coffeehouse.
Outside of his photographic talents, John’s empowering use of social media and personal approach to interacting with followers led 360i to partner with him on one of its latest influencer marketing campaigns for Canon – year two of #FromLightToInk.
We recently caught up with John to talk about how he has embraced the frenetic nature of the Internet while staying true to his roots.
360i: Today everyone can be their own publisher thanks to the instantaneous nature of social media and smartphones. What’s your thought process before hitting the “post” button, and how much consideration do you give to how your audience will react?
JS: Meditative. There must be a reason and purpose. Not simply talking to talk. Screaming to scream. As I use numerous forms of communication — photography, film, words, field records — each one has a poetic and possibly layered purpose in sharing an offering of insight or thought.
John Stanmeyer/National Geographic Creative
360i: When you’re not on assignment and want to connect with your followers, what is your platform of choice and why?
JS: For the curation of work – whether on assignment or at home – I follow the same approach and embrace all platforms. The curation of details I’m engaged in during any moment is often based upon a state of mind – with a touch of geography.
360i: You have an eye for photography – no question about it. For those that are not as savvy with the camera, how would you advise they find inspiration and capture it with creativity that encourages followers to interact?
JS: We must open ourselves up to feel the world around us, in turn being captured or more so, embraced by everything before each of us. There is a majesty of awe and wonder that plays out before us at all times. To photograph it, we must feel it.
360i: There are an endless number of photo-editing apps available today, and some would argue that retouching is 50 percent of the process (sometimes more). What’s your take on image doctoring? Do you think it has diluted the quality of content on social media?
JS: There have always been an endless number of editing tools, even in the darkroom. I would defend that no limitations on creating, feeling and/or expressing should ever exist. This shared truth needs to be pillar for the weight and measure of history. If one works in the realm of journalism, only truth should be known. This doesn’t mean basic darkroom tools shouldn’t be employed – it’s when the altering of truth distorts history that the power of truth is forfeited.
360i: What was your defining image or moment that transformed you into an Instagram influencer?
JS: In utter honesty, I have no idea. If I made you feel something, or caused you to ponder upon a topic or issue in a way that expanded you, then I fulfilled my purpose. I learned long ago that I cannot change the world. But if I can make one think, I’ve done my job. .
360i: Every photographer, blogger and video producer has a different approach to evaluating project work. What kind of assignments do you normally take on and what advice would you give to prospective partners on how to strike a chord?
JS: I have been very fortunate and thankful that for well over a decade NGM has believed in and supported my work. Before NGM, I was on contract with TIME magazine, equally collaborating with incredibly talented individuals that trusted in me. While I do other photography besides social commentary, most assignments are related to issues – the environment, health, you, and me. What I do notice is most projects are related to taking a complex narrative and distilling it for others (including myself) to understand. This can be a project that is very simple — migration or weather or trees — then taking that topic, and delving deeply to understand what it means to us today and in the future. While I really don’t know what cord is struck for a prospective client before we collaborate together, I would hope the partnership occurs for the betterment of the client and the reader, viewer or audience.
360i: What do you love most about your coffee shop and how does it feed your creativity?
JS: Excellent question. Coffee is a catalyst for discussion, unity, transformation — it is said that nearly every revolution has a connection to a coffeehouse. By partnering with a human rights-based roaster who empowers coffee growers around the world, Shaker Dam wraps staggeringly brilliant cups of liquid illumination around the issues and topics we’re more deeply engaged in. There is a whole agenda taking place— to make us all think, including myself, where we are today and where are we going.