Jesse Rieser is a photographer based in Phoenix, Arizona specializing in documentary and commercial photography. Jesse's past clients include AT&T, ESPN, Disney, and the NFL to name a few.
How did you first get into photography? What has your journey been like from first picking up a camera to working with large clients such as ESPN, Disney, and Coca-Cola?
My background is in drawing and painting. I believe it was my junior year of High school when my life drawing class was cancelled, which led to my first black and white photography class. The immediacy of image-making, compared to traditional mediums, coupled with the magic of working in a darkroom; I was hooked. I knew making photographic images was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, so when looking at universities, I focussed on schools with a good photography program and passed on my football scholarships. I studied at Arizona State University (a traditional fine art photographic curriculum) and it wasn’t until I studied abroad and assisted European fashion photographers did I get an insight into the professional and non-academic side of a photographic career. I found the level of collaboration, problem solving, and the high pressure of commerial advertsing to be very exciting.
After college, I worked as a retoucher at a photo lab for 6 months and then assisted for a year before breaking off on my own with regional advertising commisions. Around this time, I signed with an agent and did my first national NFL campaign by the third year of my career.
What do you think is the most underlooked aspect in creating a powerful image?
That’s a great and hard question. There are so many ingredients that go into making a great image: timing, the formalism of line and color, composition, the use of light, emotion, context, concept, etc. I think the most important element is the concept (the idea). Technology has allowed everyone to have a great image-making tool in their pocket that alleviates any of the technical know-how. There was a time that just being a good technician afforded you a long lasting and fruitful career. Now, a photographer’s style and concepts are their most important currency.
To answer your question in a round-about way, I think in the current climate of snackable and high-volume image consumption, the most important aspect is to create thoughtful images that ask questions and make people think. The goal is to grab the viewer with the hope to momentarily stop scrolling or spend more than 3 seconds with a piece in a gallery/museum setting.
If you could take portraits of any 3 people, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
1. Barak Obama: Coolest man alive.
2. My grandfather on my Dad’s side: He was an amateur photographer, and he loved it. He passed away when I was 6 and sadly didn’t get to see me follow in his footsteps.
3. Notorious B.I.G. (Christopher Wallace): the greatest rapper to have ever lived. There was a facinitating duality to his public persona, one part was joyous and full of smiles. The other resided in a darker space that felt like a precursor to his 1996 murder.
What is your favorite gear to work with?
My cameras largely consist of Canon and Mamiya film cameras with profoto lighting equipment.
What advice/tips would you give your younger self about having a successful career in photography?
Stay curious. Try not to doubt yourself. Don’t fight change. Change is inevitable, so you must evolve and mutate to win. Also, try your hardest to not get discouraged
How has photography changed the way you view and engage with the world?
When I first started working in black and white, I immediately started to see and look at the world with line and light in mind. Now, I feel like I've really evolved into the photographer and artist I've always wanted to be. I used to be worried that it would breed complacency, but its actually been the opposite. I'm constantly excited and inspired by new ideas and the potential of future projects.
Where do you hope to see your career take you over the next 5 years? Any upcoming projects you can tell us about?
I hope to keep evolving and pressing forward to have equal success in both the contempoarary photo art world and the high-end print advertising field. I can’t say what I will be doing or predict how the photo industry will change by then (everything is changing so fast), but I can say that I’m feeling pretty good as this year comes to a close. In 2017, I had my biggest photo-cover story, just wrapped a huge commercial project for one of my dream clients, my first solo museum show opened this weekend (Christmas In America: Happy Birthday Jesus is up through mid-January at the Smithsonian affiliated Irving Arts Center), and have been invited to teach a contempoarary portraiture class at the prestigious Santa Fe Workshops in the summer of 2018.