Gayle Patridge of the legendary 666 Photography studio in Austin, Texas recently sat down with us for an interview on art, small business ownership, and Dolly Parton. Here’s what she had to say:
I received my Bachelors in Fine Arts from the University of Texas Austin and fell in love with photography then. When I graduated, however, I put the camera down and got a “grown up job”. When I picked the camera back up, years later, I was doing a lot of swing dancing and all of my friends embraced the rockabilly trend. Since I was first photographing friends, I naturally landed in the pinup genre. My friends already had the wardrobe and look, and it was a natural fit. My true loves are actually older than the 50’s, and eventually I started pulling away a bit from pinup only shoots and including my love of theater design, costume design, and painting. This is where the 666 high concepts started to emerge.
When did you begin shooting pin-up? Tell us about your first shoot.
I have been shooting pinup for about 7 years. I can’t remember my first shoot, but I would bet it was a friend of mine. There have been so many shoots over the years, they are starting to be a blur!
Did 666 have modest beginnings? Please describe the infancy of the studio. How has it grown?
I started shooting in an extra bedroom. It had low ceilings and very little space, but I made it work at the time. Since then, we have moved to a 2000 Sq. ft studio near downtown Austin, and have been at that location for about 5 years. In the beginning, I relied on the models to provide their own hair and makeup, now I work with the most amazing makeup artist, Lisa Naeyaert. Our studio has 25 foot ceilings, so now there is no limit to how large a set can be. This makes me very happy!
How was your current high-concept pin-up style born?
I have always been crafty. In my past artistic endeavors, I have worked in stained glass, welding, and painting, among other mediums, and the high concepts came from my love of making art. I love old theater set construction and have simply taken all of my loves and put them together in my work. I always say that the photography part of what I do is my least favorite. I love all of the other parts that go into the work like costume design/creation, set design/creation, styling, etc more than taking the actual photograph.
Where do the high concept ideas come from, are they solely you? Please describe the process.
For the most part they come from me. Sometimes we have clients that have specific ideas that they want and we work with those. We generally accept an idea from a client, but the execution and overall concept is usually mine. I am not very good at following orders, and work best when I am left alone to create what I see in my head. When I am creating a high concept shoot that is a personal concept of mine, generally it starts with a basic idea. Then I eat, sleep, and dream the idea until I figure out all of the elements and logistics out in my head. After that, it is just a matter of acquiring the materials needed to build or paint the set and I set about making it. Usually the costumes are made last, like icing on the cake, the I leave it to Lisa to add the makeup that best suits the concept.
Who is your team & how do they all contribute to 666?
Everyone always thinks there is a giant team that works with 666. The “team” is myself and my makeup artist Lisa Naeyaert. Lisa does the hair and makeup and I handle most everything else. I make the sets, design and sew the costumes, style the shoot, and photograph. We occasionally pull in some extra help when we need more hands but that is very rare. Lisa and I work together and she pitches in when I need help with sets.
What has been your most memorable shoot?
Probably the shoots that incorporated animals. We shot a Victorian themed shoot with newborn pygmy goats and I could hardly focus on the shoot. They were so mesmerizing. I have wanted pygmy goats ever since. We shot a circus themed shoot with mini horses. It was so surreal to have 4 mini horses walking down our street in east Austin.
What is your favorite specific piece of equipment?
My drill? Just kidding. I shoot with old school hot lights. I have all the new fangled equipment, but I really love my hot lights and use them almost exclusively. They give my work a particular color cast that I love. Other photographers laugh at me when they visit the studio, but I use what works for me.
Tell us all about the new book you have coming out: Who’s publishing it, how did it come about, what can fans expect, when/where to get it:
We are super excited about the book. It is being released by Korero Books out of London. Ian from Korero contacted me last year out of the blue. We had been approached before, but never really felt compelled to follow through until Korero. After speaking with them, I realized how similar our visions were, and I caught their enthusiasm! It is going to be a coffee table sized book with embossed sleeve and box. You will be able to get it through Korero directly at: http://www.korerobooks.co.uk/ and other online merchants. I believe our release date is late 2009.
Who would you most like to shoot (living or dead) that you haven’t yet & why?
Dolly Parton, hands down! I love Dolly, and am fascinated with her. I would love to shoot her in an elaborate high concept. It would be a dream come true!
What do you think about the recent surge in popularity of pin-up and burlesque?
I think it’s great. When you have a surge in any artistic style, people have to become more creative to distinguish themselves from the pack. This sort of competition makes for better art whether it be in photography or a burlesque performance.
What would your advice be for an aspiring pin-up photographer?
Shoot as often as you possibly can. Even if you are shooting something you know isn’t going to really work. Chances are you will learn something you can use successfully later. Don’t listen to your critics. Ever. Study the genre, all the classic pinups.
What would your advice be for an aspiring pin-up model?
My belief is a pinup model can elevate herself from the rank and file with one single photoshoot. This will generally require her to pay for the first shoot, but do it. Find the best pinup photographer near you and get a solid shoot behind you. After you have a great set of photos, pinup photographers will bombard you with offers to shoot trade. Don’t bother shooting a bunch of mediocre stuff. There are a ton of wonderful pinup photographers out there that can make a pinup model recognizable in one shoot.
What would your advice be for an aspiring small business owner?
Forget sleep. It will be a distant memory. It is not for the faint of heart and it is not worth it if you do not do it with all of your heart. Be prepared to work 7 days a week, and spend more of your time handling business than doing art. Eventually, you can get to a place where the business part becomes easier and the art part takes over, but is does not happen overnight.
What’s in the near future for 666?
Well, the book is the next big thing for us. We are generally booked about 4 months in advance, so we have lots of shoots planned over the next few months. I always have plans for bigger, more intricate shoots and hopefully will have time this year to realize most of the ideas rattling around in my head.
Anything else you’d like to add?
If anyone knows Dolly Parton…send her my way!