DPH asked photographer Alex Belisle to answer questions about what triggered his passion and persistence to become the talented photographer he is today.
1. Where did you go to art school?
I never received any schooling at all. I did fail 4th grade art because I made a Christmas ornament Green & Black . My teacher hated the colors. No lie. I was crushed. It soured me on art teachers. That stayed with me forever. Still want nothing to do with them.
2. What made you interested in art?
Tough question as I don’t look at what I do as art. I just always saw things I wanted to remember. Places I had great memories of, people I loved. When I shoot, I remember everything. Sights, smells, temperature, what I was listening to for music. So, for me it’s a full-blown memory.
3. Who inspires you?
Silly as it sounds, Peter Parker. Loved Spider-Man as a kid. Totally related to him. I always saw the bullied kid who had an escape. I couldn’t climb walls, but I could take pictures.
4. Are you self-taught or school taught?
Self-taught. The advent of digital cameras and editing software helped me develop my style. I started taking “postcard shots,” just generic pics of everything I saw with a Nikon Point & Shoot. I’d reserve my film camera for special stuff. What I discovered when I sat down and looked at my shots, was that usually I would see something in it that I thought was cool but it would be only in ¼ of the image. The next time I’d focus in on it and make it the shot. I like to shoot parts of things. I considered taking a course, but couldn’t justify a reason for it.
5. What is your passion?
Outside of my family, photography is it. When I can shoot pictures of my kids, it’s the best thing ever. They get annoyed, but their Instagram pages are “lit.”
6. What scares or excites you about presenting your artwork?
That people will like it! After the first show I did, I was successful enough that I took 12 months of horrible shots because I focused on what I thought would sell instead of going out and just looking at things the way I had. I completely lost my focus, and it stopped being fun. So, I’m taking a break from them and redeveloping my style.
7. What is your medium?
Time. That’s all I do. Everything else is on the eye of the beholder. I just try to capture a moment. Sunrise, Sunset, Carnivals, baseball, a wave crashing. I just want people to see something I did as it happened.
9. Do you have a story or background?
Not really, CJ Major in college, now in advertising sales for the Hartford Courant. I tell people I work for a newspaper and they assume I’m a photographer there. I make way more than they do.
10. What do you like/dislike about the art world?
Dislike: People are too damn judgmental. Do what you like and quit comparing with others. I was shooting a lighthouse at sunrise, and some asshat with monster lens told me I was facing the wrong way. My shots were far cooler than anything he shot. He was wrapped up in himself. You can’t do that. You really have to let the moments happen, and look for their effects around you. Usually there’s more than one shot in front of you, but it’s behind you.
Like: I really don’t play around in the art world too much. I will at some point but I have no understanding of anything outside photography. I have a hard time accepting justifications for art that I don’t understand. It sounds like BS to me.
11. Why art?
Because there can never be enough. More people should try it. Being able to express yourself without talking is wonderful. In today’s digital age, you can go out with your phone and take some nice stuff, grab an editing app and have it come out in a variety of interesting formats. It relaxes me, challenges me, allows me to go to different places around my home that I may not have thought of. It allows me an excuse to get out of things I don’t want to go to. I meet some great people, some not so great, but mostly great, that I never would’ve met. It’s just a lot of fun if I let it be.
12. How much of an understanding do you have about printing?
None. I just shoot.
13. What is your dream project?
I’d like to shoot in every state. Not visit it as a tourist, but actually go to each for the sole purpose of finding something cool to shoot. Except Connecticut. I firmly believe there is nothing cool there. If that doesn’t work out I’d like to shoot pics of Gal Godot. She’s dreamy. In the end, I really get to shoot a lot of stuff, so I have no complaints.
14. What is your goal?
Primarily to have fun and relax. 99% of the time I’m alone at a quiet place. I can shoot, or just look around. I don’t put as much pressure on myself as I used to. I was shooting the Milky Way last weekend and just stopped and looked up at the stars for about 10 minutes. Hearing the waves crashing and just existing in the moment. It was a fantastic experience. I’ll drive 160 miles to shoot a Christmas tree made-out-of Lobster pots in a 25 MPH sustained wind on a cold December Sunday night, because it’s fun. My wife thinks I’m, a little nuts sometimes, and she’s right on the money, but as long as I get something, 1 shot, I’m happy.
15. Who are your idols and who do you look up to in the art world?
My family. My wife teaches me constantly about love, my kids teach me how to overcome adversity in life and how to laugh at the stupidest things. My parents & sister have always supported me in everything I’ve done. In the art world it’s Alex Ross and Bill Sinkiewicz. Alex Ross’ use of color is something I think of a lot while shooting. His photorealistic style wowed me when I first saw it. I look at his work a ton when I’m bored. Sinkiewicz did a Classics Illustrated “Moby Dick” and there was one small panel of a church steeple at sunset that really lit the fire in me to try and shoot something that was as simple and colorful. I saw it and could hear it, smell the salt air, feel the heat. The same thing I experience when I look at my own stuff. If I had never seen it, I probably wouldn’t be into photography at all.
16. Why is it your favorite? And what does it mean to you?
My favorite piece. That’s tough. I have to go with the sunrise shot surrounded by the leaves. I was on vacation, wanted to go shoot the sunrise and woke up late. I have an app that I use to tell me when it’s rising, and what direction it will be in so I can plan it out. As I got closer to the beach I realized I blew it, so I figured I’d turn around in the parking lot of my favorite breakfast place on Cape Cod (Grumpy’s) and as I did, next to a dumpster, was this pic. I literally was smelling hot garbage as I was shooting it. Why it’s my favorite, and what it means roll together. It taught me a lot. Don’t plan so much. There’s are so many cool things I may miss if I’m not flexible. It taught me that what I do isn’t particularly special. This view was going to be here, and I’m sure has been and will be many more times, whether I was there or not. That’s what’s great about what I do, because it’s very simple. Everything you see in my work was going to happen regardless of me being present. I just show up and push a button.
The rest is on God.