Sebastian Copeland is a photographer and environmental activist. Copeland grew up in France and Britain, and graduated from UCLA in 1987 with a major in film. Throughout the 1990’s, Copeland directed commercials – everything from soft drinks to sportswear – as well as music videos. He is also known for his celebrity portraiture; he’s taken pictures of Sandra Bullock, Kate Bosworth, and Orlando Bloom (who is also his cousin), among others. In recent years, Copeland has focused on environmental activism. He serves on the Board of Directors of Global Green USA and recently published Antarctica: The Global Warning
Question: What is your creative process?
Copeland: The first process is process of discovery. You shoot you know . . . To photograph is both an intuitive and a technical exercise. Ideally you line up all of the technicals so that you have to think the least of it in the moment at which you depress the shutter. And then you are thrown into, you know, a world of discovery and surprises – surprises in the way that the talent is reacting to your direction; surprises in the way that you find yourself reacting to their reactions. And sometimes it can develop and grow to be a dance. And in the best of cases that’s exactly what happens. There is a process of exchanges which, you know, no two stories will be the same. And when you deal with talent, you go in knowing that technically you’ll be hitting your targets, but that doesn’t make for good pictures. Sometimes a great picture has very little to do with technique and very to do with a moment. And sometimes a moment can be enhanced through the use of technique. All of those are . . . There are no formulas, at least not in my protocol of working. And so from dealing with . . . In portraiture there’s – other than selecting a location, and deciding what kind of lighting, and generally the equipment tends to be about the same because your . . . Although I have a lot of different cameras that I tend to have . . . some of my favorites; and then . . . And then as far as the, you know, the landscape aspect, landscape by definition is a meditative experience with nature and the environment. It has to begin with a communion with the environment in a way that, incidentally, is not all that different from shooting portraiture. You have to find a way of having this communion with that individual. Sometimes it can be difficult. With celebrities sometimes it can be very difficult how to break that wall, because for one celebrities get shot a lot. They are reticent to being seen in ways that make them feel unattractive, or that . . . And of course all that is very subjective. A picture that you may find to be incredible, they may hate. You know with that comes to mind a portrait that Truman Capote . . . that ___________ did with Truman Capote which has become a seminal portrait. And Truman Capote hated that portrait, and that was one of __________ favorites. And the world has since given its stamp of approval and found that that’s a great portrait of Truman Capote. But the celebrities – especially now because there are so many magazine, and they have so many movies, and there are so many outlets for them to be photographed worldwide; we’re no longer dealing with a singular market but a worldwide market – they are particularly . . . They can be very fragile and very self-conscious, and so they might be very reticent to give you what you want out of them. So that can be . . . That necessitates a certain type of communion and engagement in really trying to find the humanity in them – again different types of emotions. With nature it’s . . . it’s really . . . it’s really about engaging in the natural environment and having this . . . having this communion and this meditation with the natural world and being patient. I personally find that landscape photography is one of the most challenging, because all the while you’re not beholden to other people. And you can pretty much set your own time and set your targets, and your standards are your own. You’re still beholden to the weather conditions, and the lights. And you don’t have all the time in the world. If you did then it might be easier. You might find a great location and come back time and time again until the light is right. But typically it’s not how life operates. You try to make the most out of what you have. And sometimes it’s for happy, and other times it’s not so happy results.
Recorded on: 12/3/07