Analog to Digital Part 2: Interview with Craig Strong, Inventor of the Lensbaby

In the beginning, there was light, and we captured it with film. Next came digital cameras, and then came the Lensbaby. Created by professional photographer Craig Strong, the Lensbaby has had an impact on photographers, and their ideas and images. Craig is a photographer turned inventor… his love for photography started at an early age, and after college he went pro, working as a photojournalist. He also had a steady business shooting weddings and portraits. I recently had a chance to interview Craig for our Digitalapplejuice readers. This is the second part of the interview, read Part 1 of this Interview here….

Britt: Speaking of going down the road and what you’re doing now, what kind of a personal project are you working on currently?

Craig: Well, I’m working on a project that I started in 1995. There’s a couple of wonderful, salt of the earth people that I know, Bert and Colleen Elliot who live down in Trujillo, Peru. They have been there for sixty years serving the people of Peru. I spent about eight or nine days with them in ’95. Right out of college Bert and Coleen got married, got on a boat and went down to Peru, and they’ve been there ever since, doing humanitarian aid, doing Christian work. They’ve started a couple schools, they’ve helped about a hundred or more communities to develop thriving, healthy places for people to live, and communities for people to plug into. Peru has been a war-torn nation for many many years and they’ve been through a lot of that, giving a lot of strength to those people. They are in their late eighties now and I look forward to continuing that project. I hope to going back down and spending some time with them. I’ve got a lot of chromes that I’ve shot of them that I look forward to going back through when I feel like I’ve got what I need and combining it with the digital stuff that I’m shooting now to document their lives. They’re really beautiful people.

Britt: That’s great. On your website there is a phrase that I really like, you talk about “feeding your soul” – is that how you feed your soul?

Craig: Yeah, it is, and it doesn’t happen enough. Being the president of Lensbaby I spend a good portion of my time working on solving problems, and that’s great and to some extent can feed my soul. But certainly it’s close to my heart to be out and documenting the lives of people who I really believe in who they are and what they’re doing. I look forward to more of that.

Britt: I’m just curious, when you’re wandering around the world, what triggers your mind and gives you an idea for a photo? Is there a special place in your brain where you go to get ideas for creative photos or do you have a creative process, or is it all gut instinct?

Craig: I would say that the creative process I have is really clearing my mind. I find that I am most effective, whether it’s at a wedding or doing street photography or on an assignment, when I’m able to be fully introverted, fully in a zen-like state where I am able to observe the world around me and really take it through the filter of who I am and what matters to me. It’s really important to know, critical to answer the question what do I care about, what matters to me? What changes is the the answer to the question how do I see the things that matter to me. If its a connection between a father and son I tend to gravitate to those moments.

There’s so many moments in life to choose from, especially at events and weddings. You walk into a reception and there’s a hundred potential moments that you could be drawn to in that scene and that situation, and so choosing and deciding ‘OK, what part of this am I going to own, what part of this am I going to document, what am I qualified to document?” If I go on a list and try to meet somebody else’s expectations of me I’m going to go in and some of the things are going to resonate with me, but the vast majority aren’t. My process is fairly quiet, where I want to be introverted, I want to be quiet, I want to be still and see what it is that hits me so that then I can really move into that space and document what matters to me.

Photographically, one of the most poignant times for me was in college. I was driving across the country having just left my father at my grandparents house in Colorado. It was an extremely cold winter and I was driving along a canyon and I thought ‘I think there is a reservoir up here, I’ll bet there’s going to be ice fishing, it’s going to be right around sunset and I want to capture the emotion between a father and son that I remember from being with my dad fishing.’ we didn’t go ice fishing but I wanted to recapture the feeling of being in the outdoors and that special time I had with my father as a child. About two hours later I’m driving along the reservoir and, sure enough, there’s people spread out all over the ice with fishing poles. I stopped my 1968 Volkswagen camper, pulled out a tripod, a Canon T-90 and a Tamron 180mm f/2.5 lens – I had to make a quick decision as the light was disappearing so I just grabbed that combo.

The T-90 was loaded with Kodachrome 25, and standing out on the ice toward the edge of those braving the sub-zero temperatures waiting for fish to bite, I zeroed in on a father and son. The mountains and the sunset were behind them, and I was able to document this very tender moment of the boy leaning back against his father as they stood beside their fishing pole in the beautiful evening light. What that really showed me, probably for the first time, was that I am filtering reality. I’m seeing the world around me through my own lens, and taking that realization and using it to my advantage has ensured that, as I go through life, I’m ready when those moments that are most important to me show themselves. Surprisingly with Kodachrome 25 and a 180mm lens at sunset I was able to get the beautifully detailed image with a one-second-long exposure of this tender moment between father and son. The process is a very quiet one for me.

Britt: I love that answer. Thank you so much for your time, I really appreciate you sharing your thoughts with me and our DigitalAppleJuice readers. Do you have anything you’d like to add?

Craig: I would just like to reiterate that I look for new ideas in my frustration. When I’m faced with problems, that’s where I find the best ideas come to me. As unpleasant as it is to experience, for me I’ve found that frustration is essential. As the father of three young children I see them lose their wallets and they’ll just get really upset, or they’ll drop their camera and it’s not working anymore… I just want to take them and say ‘Yeah, but this means you won’t lose your wallet when it’s really got a lot of money in it, in ten, fifteen, twenty or thirty years. And this means you’re learning from this experience.’ I think there’s so many times in life when we just focus on that frustration. I know I have. Really learning for me is to say ‘Oh, I’m frustrated here, what can I learn from this?’ And how can I solve a problem being on the inventing side has really come out of that frustration. Cherishing, acknowledging and nurturing frustration has been key to discovering who I am and what it is that I want to do, to be and how I can best contribute to the world I live in.

Britt: Sounds like you have some very lucky kids. So at the end of the day, do you work on a Mac or a PC?

Craig: I work on a Mac. I don’t care to be that frustrated.

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  1. […] recently interviewed on Digital Apple Juice, and you can learn more about Craig and his lensbabies here.  Make sure to follow Mr. Strong on twitter at […]

  2. Analog to Digital Part 2: Interview with Craig Strong, Inventor of the Lensbaby:

    In the beginnin.. http://tinyurl.com/nl2cck