Q&A: Matt Eich

© Matt Eich

Matt Eich is a photojournalist/freelance photographer who is currently living in Norfolk, VA. Matt has worked with clients such as: Newsweek, World Report, The New York Times, US News, and many others. He is a founding member of Luceo Images.

Matt Eich's website: www.matteichphoto.com

Priscilla Whitenight: Being such a young photographer, were you ever discouraged or intimidated when first pursuing your career in photography?

Matt Eich: I still find myself intimidated when I'm exposed to work that is a much different language from my own. It expands my perception of photography's potential and helps me to realize how small my voice is in the grand scheme of things. Discouragement is something artists of any sort have to deal with constantly, either frustration with your own work (which is constant) or rejection (another constant, from grants, to contests to people just not understanding your work). This past week I was in Amsterdam participating in World Press Photo's 16th Joop Swart Masterclass. It was an incredibly intimidating environment and I'd be lying if I said I didn't get discouraged and hung out to dry a couple of times, but at this point I'm used to it. It's all part of the process and those feelings become a catalyst for growth.

Priscilla Whitenight: What do you hope to achieve by showing people your work?

Matt Eich: Sometimes I try to tell a story or confront an issue in the hopes of showing something to an audience or at least gathering evidence for a collective memory. Other times I don't have any end goal in mind when I start something -- I'm compelled by a natural curiosity and I just chase that and see where it leads. I would love to help affect social change with my work but know that if I base my self-worth on seeing that happen in a tangible way, I will soon be lost.

© Matt Eich

Priscilla Whitenight: How do you get access to most of the situations you're in?

Matt Eich: By being as open and honest as possible with people. Photography is all about relationships so it is a two-way street. I try to give as much of myself as I ask from the individual I am photographing. Most of that exchange is in dialogue, trying to get to know someone, but other times it is just being there and being quiet -- watching, listening; trying to be a witness.

© Matt Eich

Priscilla Whitenight: What advice would you give to a photographer who might be photographing in a possibly dangerous situation?

Matt Eich: I can't really offer much good advice on this, as I don't think much of what I've photographed could be considered a "dangerous situation." Just use your head and know that a photograph isn't worth your life. It is important to be aware of what is going on around you, even if the situation isn't dangerous on the surface. Don't push it, listen to your gut. If you feel something isn't quite right, leave.

Priscilla Whitenight: How do you set aside your "emotional side" when photographing these situations?

Matt Eich: I don't set aside my emotional side when working. I try to engage it fully so I can interpret the situation in a way that won't just present the facts, but will also present what it felt like to be there. There are times however, when you have to shut off your personal opinions. In those cases I find the camera becomes a shield (though this isn't always a good thing) and I can still work through a situation though sometimes I will get back to my car and have to let it out there with a couple hard punches to the steering wheel or a cigarette.

© Matt Eich

Priscilla Whitenight: What life experiences have most influenced your work?

Matt Eich: I don't know that I can separate life experiences from my work to say which is more important than another, though there are some milestones that just change who you are as a person and therefore influence your work. Falling in love will turn your work upside down and becoming a father for me was another huge shift. I see things I wouldn't otherwise and am able to connect with people on that level when I'm out working. The saying "the more you know, the more you see" is something I try to keep in mind during my day-today experiences. Everything that I experience is building towards my knowledge of the world so I can react to others with understanding and empathy.

Priscilla Whitenight: Would you say you photograph for yourself or other people? Or both Is there ultimately a difference?

Matt Eich: At this point I'd have to say I photograph for myself as well as for other people and that there is a difference between the two in some cases. The ideal situation would be that the distinction is minimal -- or that people pay you to do work that you want to do. Right now I spend most of my time shooting for myself, between personal and family work and long term projects. At the same time, I'm trying to support a family on photography so that means taking work whenever it comes (because there's not much). For editorial clients (magazines and newspapers) I generally try to cover my bases, shooting what they expect, and then push it to a different place -- usually something that better represents the way I interpret a situation or a person. Same goes for shooting weddings or whatever else necessary to scrape by -- the idea is that you give the client what they want and then something truly unique that goes beyond their expectations as well.

© Matt Eich

Priscilla Whitenight: What advice would you give to a young, aspiring documentary photographer?

Matt Eich: Oh, there's no end to this list. This is especially true because I'm still actively learning as much as possible and the longer I try to understand photography the more I am realizing how little I know. School is just a starting point, the embryonic stage of your photographic development. If you want to be a photographer in general, you have to understand some basic things that I am just starting to wrap my head around. Photography is communication and within this medium there are hundreds of photographic languages and dialects and voices. You have to develop a unique voice and a consistent language in order to communicate. Speaking English photographically won't get you anywhere -- what do you have to say and show that is unique in this cacophony of visual noise that we experience daily? Money is a dirty word i photojournalism but you are a human being who needs to eat and we live in a capitalistic society so ask yourself honestly, how will you support yourself? Newspapers are folding, magazines are cutting back, agencies are hustling for work from these folding markets and take a chunk out of your paycheck, NGOs don't have budgets and commercial/advertising work is difficult to get. Realistically, what kind of work is it that you care about and what are you willing to do to support yourself? Where does family and a personal life fall into all of this? Knowing what you want out of life will help you make decisions when opportunities come your way and will often dictate the answer to "do I go, or do I stay?"

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