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Pro Perspectives: Gregory Heisler


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BY PhotoVideoEDU staff November 01, 2009 · Published by PhotoVideoEDU

Gregory Heisler talks to PhotoVideoEDU about shaping light, the influence of painting, and what makes a good assistant.



  • Portrait photographer



  • University of Wisconsin
  • University of Illinois
  • Rochester Institute of Technology, 1974-1975


PhotoVideoEDU: Do you ever have time to do work for yourself?

Gregory Heisler: It’s a funny thing. I really do get to do what I want to do and so to me my personal work and my professional work are very much one and the same.

PhotoVideoEDU: Once upon a time you were an assistant, and I assume you hire assistants. What do you look for? How do you tell the good ones from the bad ones?

Gregory Heisler: The person’s attitude. I want somebody who is a candid kind of a person. Who’s as excited to be there as I am, because I’m excited to be there. When I’m looking at an assistant’s portfolio, I’m not looking as much at their imagery as at how the prints are made, how it’s presented, how well it’s organized—because those are the things that are going to affect how they perform work for me. When you’re hiring an assistant, it’s like hiring somebody to pack your parachute before you go skydiving. The question is, you might love this guy, but do you want him packing your parachute?

PhotoVideoEDU: Why did you choose to be a photographer?

Gregory Heisler: I just loved it. I loved everything about it. I actually found something that I felt really suited me completely. I have a pretty short attention span and you can bring all of your creativity, all of your thoughts, all of your inspiration to bear on one specific thing for a specific amount of time and then you create this thing and then it’s done.

PhotoVideoEDU: Did you have any outside influences on your career, on your imagery? Mentors of any sort?

Gregory Heisler: Arnold Newman, Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, Jay Maisel. As time has gone on, I still respect those people as much as I did then, but there have been other influences. Mary Ellen Mark has become a close friend. Lately I try to look at photography less and less. And I would say that probably what interests me more as an influence would be painting, but not the work of a specific painter. Approaching photography in a painterly way where you’re working with color in a very subjective kind of way and looking to be very expressive in that kind of a way. Not documentary. Kind of the opposite of documentary.

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Featured photographer: Gregory Heisler

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