LIVE: Richard Israel


Richard Israel operates in a world that is technologically amazing – cameras that can shoot in virtual darkness, incredible clarity, hundreds of frames a second. He also operates in a world that’s visually overstimulated. He says we’re bombarded with photos of dogs and cats, lattes, new shoes and meals. We’re living in the world of the selfie, where the number of Instagram followers trumps artistic ability.

He says photographers used to be influenced by the work that was produced, now there’s such an abundance of photos in the world, and there is such a reliance on technology.

Richard started his working life at 15 for Vidal Sassoon – at the time, it was the best salon in the world. Models, rock stars, actors were regular clients. He was exposed not only to the highest level of art and style, but also an incredible work ethic – a work ethic that he’s carried with him ever since.

After 18 years in the salon, he started taking photos of the hair he’d styled, and discovered a love of photography. That eventually led him to set out to be a photographer. He had one camera and two lenses, and worked with only those tools for a long time.

He considers his life during that time as one of the starving artist – he had to be very careful about his spending habits, and most of his money went toward his photography and the materials he needed for that.

After a while he started getting more work and more commissions – one of which was for an American beauty company. That’s what brought him to America, and he ended up staying.

He found success in America too, opening up a studio with his wife. “And then I fell into the wedding thing,” he says, which was new for him and generated even more success.

“And then it happened,” he says, “the digital revolution.” He says was it was a complete game-changer. Instead of dropping film off at the lab, he became the lab. Everything could be turned around so much more quickly.

He remembers struggling trying to grow with the changes, and watching others be incredible successful at it – everything was changing so quickly it became hard to keep up. For a while, he lost his vision. Then, he had an epiphany: he was cleaning his garage and came across a box full of dark room prints. “This is the real Richard,” he thought. He felt reconnected with what made him tick.

It wasn’t so much about the film itself, he said, but the process of using those older cameras. It was the beauty in the slowness of it, and the meticulous nature of the process, that he’d missed.

Now he works with antiquated cameras, “cameras that are charmingly unreliable.” He says they’ve returned him to himself and changed the way he sees the world.

He has some recommendations if you want to experience this kind of change for yourself:

  • You don’t have to reinvent, just re-embrace.
  • Engage your surroundings.
  • Learn to shave with a straight razor.
  • Use a fountain pen.

And if all else fails, he says, “get a tattoo.”



TEDx Photo Intro - Richard


About the Speaker…

Born and raised in London, England and at home in Charlotte, NC, I have always been a romantic at heart. I am drawn to sentimental moments, gorgeous atmospheres, and beautiful light. My work is frequently described as fashionable, timeless and emotive, but to me my photographs are simply reflections of the marriage of life and art that is always present around me. I have a passion for film, antique cameras, and handmade prints, and I’m compelled by an inextinguishable pursuit for meaningful photography and the artful life. I’ve been a working photographer for 25 years. When I started I had to make do with very limited equipment and resources forcing me to make great work with with very little, fast forward several years and I had an epiphany moment that I was producing more compelling work with my former limitations. Hence the journey began to reduce gear clutter and operate within self imposed limitations. This has certainly helped propel my photography career and I believe this same ethos can be applied to any creative endevour.