Nick Ruechel talks to PhotoVideoEDU about the artists who have influenced him, the lessons he learned as an assistant, and why he shoots large format.
- Portrait, editorial, and advertising photographer
- Former assistant for Annie Leibovitz, Marc Seliger, Albert Watson, and other
PhotoVideoEDU: How would you describe your photography—the subjects that you shoot and your style?
Nick Ruechel: Tough question. I think I still haven’t quite figured out what my style is. I’m still sort of working on it. Perhaps it could be described now as very graphic environmental portraits.
PhotoVideoEDU: Who inspires you and why?
Nick Ruechel: Philip Lorca-diCorcia. Philip is one of the most influential photographers of the last fifteen years. I was lucky enough to assist him a couple of times, years ago. There’s something in the way he portrays people—a collective sense of solitude and alienation which, I think, affected me deeply. There’s also Dan Winters, who, in my opinion, is another contemporary American master who carefully constructs photographs that are so well thought out. I love the dark and eerie vibe that his images generate. It’s kind of unsettling sometimes, but it often makes me think about the human condition, I guess.
And then, of course, there’s Annie Leibovitz. Annie’s been a tremendous influence on me in many ways, mostly in the little details though—like the way she edits her film: You watch her go over a contact sheet, she selects a certain image, and you then look at that image and you go like, "why would she pick that one?" and you just don’t get it. You think that there are at least five other images that would be twice as good, and then a couple of weeks later you see it in the magazine and all of a sudden you do understand it. She’s just brilliant when it comes to that, and that’s just one small aspect of her genius. I will always be in awe of that deep commitment she has to her art, her interest in "finding" the story, the way people are displayed in her photographs—that sort of very dignified, beautiful, meaningful way. All these moments have stuck with me and greatly helped me.
Frank Ockenfels III. No question about it. Another great teacher and mentor. Frank Ockenfels is a photographer’s photographer, period. His peers envy him, many people misinterpret and underappreciate him because they can’t grasp his great versatility and creative power. Frank can do it all and he does it all exceptionally well. He can make women look sexy and glamourous and then, in the next second, he’ll do a really graphic, weird distortion with a 1940s view camera of David Bowie’s face. Frank keeps these amazing journals that he constantly works on in planes, cars, hotel rooms, you name it. He cuts, glues in, and paints over his photographs and contact sheets, inserts his own text and other things he finds interesting; it’s almost like a cool fine arts magazine. Frank’s taught me more about being a photographer than I’m willing to admit.
PhotoVideoEDU: Do you shoot film, digital, or both?
Nick Ruechel: I shoot film pretty much exclusively for all my assignments, although I scan and retouch most of my pictures digitally. Digital technology has advanced to a such degree that I can’t ignore it much longer, nor do I really want to. I used to be a lot more skeptical but I’ve come to realize, it’s just the next powerful tool. The creative process in the mind will never change. Digital photography is already making it faster and cheaper and more productive to take pictures, as any photojournalist will tell you. So far I just have a digital point-and-shoot, but I can’t wait for the real deal, man. I can’t wait!
PhotoVideoEDU: What do you think are the most important lessons you’ve learned from assisting some of the biggest names in the industry?
Nick Ruechel: Developing a professional routine while working under pressure and having very little time with your subject. To be able to establish a rapport with your subject and make them feel at ease in a very brief period of time. To be able to take a memorable photograph that is technically well executed within that time window.
PhotoVideoEDU: Why do you shoot large format?
Nick Ruechel: View cameras not only give you great image quality but they also have a different "look" to them that set them apart quite distinctly from medium format and 35mm images. There are a few additional creative tools you can use in terms of focus and perspective control if you want to. The Toyo 45AII field camera is the perfect solution for me because it’s a small, light, and sturdy camera that I can take anywhere in one case.
PhotoVideoEDU: What do you expect assistants to know?
Nick Ruechel: It’s important to me that an assistant is really interested in the job and takes pride in what he is doing. She/he should really be concerned with supporting you to an extent that you can fully concentrate on your subject and ultimately your image.