It is refreshing to find artists who strive to produce unique and compelling imagery. Frank Aymami is an award-winning commercial photographer here in New Orleans who also captures beautiful scenes of deserted landscapes that most of us might overlook. He has an eye for composition and an eagerness to travel to places away from the crowds. Frank talked to us over lunch at Pamela Reed’s house in Gentilly.
NCM: Are you from New Orleans?
Frank: Yes, born and raised.
NCM: When did you first realize you were compelled to shoot photographs?
Frank: I was working as a graphic designer and was planning on moving to Oklahoma to live with my girlfriend at the time. So I bought a camera to take pictures of New Orleans that I could hang in our apartment in Oklahoma.
NCM: Did you have any formal education in Photography?
Frank: I’m self-taught. If I needed to learn something, I would Google it. There was a lot of trial and error. I shot film at first and then when it got tedious waiting to see what images looked like I bought a digital camera. Then I could kind of redirect myself on the fly.
NCM: How long have you been a full time professional photographer?
Frank: Over thirteen years.
NCM: Do you upgrade equipment and software/hardware often? What are your favorite tools, including hardware, software and camera?
Frank: I use Nikon cameras. I have cameras that I do my commercial work with and then I have a modified camera that I do infrared work with. I haven’t upgraded cameras in the last few years. About four years ago I did a complete overhaul.
NCM: If you could trade your current camera bodies and lenses for the newest thing out there, would you, what brand and why?
Frank: I would like to make some add ons to my current equipment. There’s some infrared filters I’d like to get. There would be some lighting equipment I’d like to get. Those things would help me do stuff remotely out in the desert.
NCM: Do you travel a lot for work?
Frank: I go on trips once every few months.
NCM: Can you name some of your clients?
Frank: The National WWII Museum is a big client. I do a lot of work for Children’s Hospital in New Orleans. I have also worked for Touro Infirmary, WDSU, and Tulane University. I done work for a few art galleries. I also have out of town Corporate clients. I have done work for the Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum and Direct TV.
NCM: What is your specialty?
Frank: I do special events like conventions, fundraisers and dinner benefits. I also do commercial work which ends up being used for advertising and promotional campaigns.
NCM: If you could shoot whatever you want and not have to worry about your bank account what would be your dream?
Frank: I’m working on a passion project with the cemeteries here. I’ve been doing that for several years. I’d continue doing that. I would also like to travel more. I like traveling around and have a love for the desert and ghost towns.
NCM: Do you go through creative phases?
Frank: I go through phases of how I shoot. So right now I’m in this really big wide angle, low to the ground, extreme angle phase that I have been in for a few years. Before that I did a lot of close up stuff. But I hate to say it’s how I feel, but it’s all depends on how my mood is.
I recently went back to some six year old pictures that I’d tossed off to the side. I didn’t like him at the time. But six years later, I decided to convert them to black and white because of where I am in my life right now, and ended up stumbling upon something. Now I have like a whole set of images that I didn’t have before.
It all depends on what my mood is at the time and what the weather is like. If it’s cloudy and gray outside, I’m not doing black and white because it’s going to look like mud. But you can get fantastic color that way. If it’s super bright outside I use black and white.
NCM: What would you carry for your camera?
Frank: I would carry my D 600 (that’s my infrared camera). I would use that and a wide angle lens and some filters.
NCM: Do you have preference as to what type of day you like to shoot.
Frank: Not particularly. If I’m shooting infrared, I need light. I need a lot of light. So that usually happens in the middle of the day. I do a lot of sunset evening photography. I always say I’m going to get up early for sunrise, but I never do. I’ve done it, but the evenings are my favorite.
NCM: Did you convert your camera to infrared?
Frank: It’s a full spectrum conversion. It takes the filter off the inside so the sensor is completely exposed. You need to use a lens filter to filter out certain light to get different looks.
NCM: Where do you think photography will be in 10-25 years?
Frank: That’s a terrifying question! The profession is already flooded and expectations for a lot of work are pretty low compared to what it was a few years ago. I’ve talked to a bunch of photographers about this. None of us feel really secure. Hopefully I’m still working!
NCM: How do you stay relevant?
Frank: I know what I bring to the table with clients who hire me, so I underpromise and overdeliver and that keeps them happy. I’m always honest – if they ask for something, I tell them whether it’s not going to work or yes it will.
Creatively, you know, it’s just being open and honest. I think people can sense bullshit. I have a lot of clients and colleagues that I’m friends with on Facebook and we follow each other on Twitter or Instagram. So they kind of get that inside view of me from things that I share because I put myself completely out in the open. I don’t hide anything. I’m not ashamed of anything. I wear my vulnerability pretty well so people see that they attached to that because it makes them feel like they know me really well. And that’s evolved over the last 15 years since I really started shooting.
NCM: Do you have advice for the newbies out there thinking about becoming pros?
Frank: I got in right before everybody started buying cameras. Now it’s flooded. One of the things that helped me out was knowing what I was good at doing. Find a niche that you can specialize in, shoot a lot, experiment a lot, and try everything.
NCM: Who inspired you along the way, possibly influenced your style?
Frank: I was mostly influenced by newspaper photographers. I was curious about how they would get these shots that I would never think about. Ted Jackson and Chris Granger are two. But those were more professional influences rather than creative influences.
NCM: If you could photograph any subject what would it be and why?
Frank: I would love to photograph the Northern Lights in Alaska. In March I got to shoot some really amazing scenic stuff. I took a two week tour of the Pacific, with the National WWII museum. I got to go to Pear Harbor, Iwo Jima, and Mount Suribachi.
I remember what it was like the first time I saw the milky way in the desert a few years ago and it’s kind of a spiritual experience that opened up a creative door for me.
NCM: Do you have a favorite image, and why?
Frank: I have a few. One of them is my Ferris wheel photo from Six Flags. There are also a few cemetery images that are very special for me. Cemeteries are usually deserted, and when I first started I would get self-conscious around people because I’m self taught. If I was in a cemetery by myself, I could work with architectural pieces and statues. I spent a lot of time doing that because and didn’t feel embarrassed that I didn’t know what the hell I was doing!
So I started in cemeteries like 15 years ago. Fast forward to a few years ago, the Archdiocese of New Orleans hired me to take some images of their cemeteries for a promotional campaign.
Prior to them hiring me, I had been looking at infrared cameras and had decided to buy one. And the day that I was going to shoot for the Archdiocese, my camera arrived. I charged the battery up and thought it’d be great to take it and test drive it. I hadn’t used infrared before so I wanted to play around. That kind of opened up the door for the infrared with the cemeteries.
NCM: Do you prefer photographing empty spaces or crowds of people?
Frank: I photograph people 95 percent for work, so when I can get away and do things on my own, I prefer no people. I love working with people and I’m very personable and outgoing, but I also crave alone time. There’s a difference between photographing people for a specific purpose versus me being in a place and connecting with the space.
NCM: Do you carry a camera with you all the time just in case you happen upon that moment?
Frank: I used to. Sometimes it is hard to find the time because I have kids and they come first. When I’m really busy I don’t get to do stuff sometimes for months.
I try to make time and I used to carry cameras with me everywhere but not anymore. I only bring it when I’m specifically setting out to do it because there’s less pressure. If I’m out somewhere and see something on-the-fly, I have my iPhone, which isn’t the same, but it’s a suitable replacement.