People take more photos today than ever before. It makes sense. Most people carry an amazing camera right in their pocket at all times.
But think about all those flashy ads in magazines. Think about the poignant pieces hung up in art galleries. What makes those better than the selfie the woman next to me just took? Where is the line drawn between professional and amateur photography?
Chris Coe is an advertising photography student at the Rochester Institute of Technology. An emerging young photographer with a rapid, nationally growing portfolio, Coe is a living example of the progression from beginning to bragging rights.
At 20 years of age, Coe has gone from taking simple travel photos to shooting for one of the most widely read newspapers in the country, a premium menswear brand, and major musical acts.
“I think what separates amateurs from professionals is that drive, that motivation to keep going,” Coe said.
Coe began shooting as a young teenager after his older sister got a digital camera.
“I just thought it was the coolest thing. I was going on a trip abroad later that year so I saved up my money, stalked craigslist, and I bought a secondhand camera,” Coe said.
Taking simple photos while away nurtured the spark inside him. Coe continued to shoot throughout high school and even used his new camera to help promote local garage bands.
Junior year, with a press-pass in hand, Coe shot his first big concert at the House of Blues in Boston. While reviewing photos on his camera, Coe noticed someone peeking over his shoulder.
“They introduced themselves. Her name was Cheryl, and they’re from a Boston music blog, and she was supposed to cover the show that night but her camera had died. She asked if she could use my photos. I was floored. I said absolutely, and I went home, sent her the pictures, and the next morning, the guy who owned the blog emailed me and asked if I wanted to work for them,” Coe said.
The next year, Coe applied to one school, got an acceptance letter, and picked RIT, early decision, to pursue his passion and develop his technique.
In his own words, “everybody from your mom to your aunt” is taking pictures nowadays which prompts the question: do you have to go to school for photography?
“That is like the question of this generation,” Coe said. “I think going to school for photography is very important if it’s what you want to do in your life. It really hammers down your skill set, it makes sure you know how to get everything done and during that process, some people find out that photography isn’t for them. Beyond that, I think school is very important for the connections and the bonds that you make, the creative network that you start to build and the people you’re gonna be with for the rest of your life.”
Some of Coe’s favorite work has come from projects at RIT.
“One of my favorite things that I’ve made so far is the series of portraits that I ended up with for the end of the semester. It’s called Pick Your Brain and I started off the semester with essentially no studio knowledge. I went in – the first thing I had to shoot was a plate of garbage… an actual plate of garbage! And it was so bad. I just did such an awful job I was shaking in my boots in the studio,” Coe said.
“I know. People joked when we had to shoot garbage. We said ‘Can we just do self portraits?’ By the end of the semester I was a lot more confident in the studio, felt a lot stronger with my skills knowing what lights affected skin and textures in what way and by the end of the semester, I was going in early and staying up late setting up these big studio set ups. It takes a lot of work to put together images in the studio.”
“There’s pictures of this absolutely wonderful RIT student named Elliot Jackson… I’ve taken his picture a few times and his skin is just absolutely electric. The way it lights up is something else… There is something really stellar about looking at just the raw unprocessed images and thinking that doesn’t look half bad.”
Now a junior in the advertising photography program, Coe spends his time at RIT fine-tuning his lighting, staging and editing skills in addition to snapping the perfect image while freelancing on the side for private events and various brands.
Publications like The Boston Globe already shine in his portfolio, but Coe has recently been working more on lifestyle campaigns. Gustin, a California-based menswear company, has flown him to the west coast multiple times to shoot their product.
And for good reason… Coe is hungry. The advice Coe gives to new photographers is the same line given to him in his “formative years;” and he abides by it still.
“I remember someone said, ‘Just keep
shooting and things will happen.’ That sounds like the most ridiculous, arbitrary, nebulous sort of mantra. But I think it’s true if you force yourself to work everyday and push through barriers on the days that you can’t even imagine shooting and still picking up a camera and making work. I think it’s important,” Coe said.
Working through the second half of college, Coe has already set benchmark goals for his future endeavors.
“I want to keep digging up my connections in Boston until I feel confident enough in my work… I’d like to be a commercial photographer who specializes eventually in celebrity portraiture with a personal goal to shoot for GQ or Esquire or a similar publication by the age of 28. And then I’d like to have my own commercial studio in my 30’s. And that’s my plan,” Coe said.
The Next Gentleman Q&A with Chris Coe
If there was one person you could photograph right now who would it be?
CC: It might be Casey Neistat. He’s a huge inspiration of mine, a serious hard worker, and he gets it. He understands the hustle.
CC: Black iced coffee.
CC: iPhone 6s.
Ever shoot on it?
CC: All the time.
Favorite social media?
Ties or bowties?
CC: Ties, always.
Wings or monks?
CC: I like slim. I’m just recently venturing into a bit of a skinnier feel but not like American Apparel sprayed on jeans. I think a nice slim jean looks good. I’d f*** with skinny though.
Your fashion trademark?
CC: The bag that I carry or my ankles. My grandmother doesn’t understand it. I went to pick her up for Christmas and the first thing she said was, “My God, Chris, you’re not even wearing any socks!”
CC: I just finished up the first few episodes of Narcos and I thought that was excellent, a Netflix Original. I love Mad Men because there’s something indulgent and romantic about that era and the way that Hollywood portrays it.
Favorite dipping sauce?
CC: Chick-fil-a sauce from Chick-fil-a.
You throw a party. What’s the appetizer?
CC: Cheese plate, 100%. Aged gouda, a nice earthy brie, a sharp cheddar and then maybe something with a name I can’t even pronounce.
Check out more work by Chris Coe:
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