In the early seventies, Don McLean‘s second album was released under its instantly famous title “American Pie.” College dropout Ed Freeman was the man behind the production desk, and he feels no shame in admitting how producing this one classic made him “a boatload of money” big enough to be able to spend most of his time since then writing “weird, experimental music.” Why this is relevant for Resource Travel? Because when he got tired of that, he got into “weird, experimental pictures.”
It was of course not quite as simple as all that – I’ve had some real challenges, like everybody else. But that’s the one-paragraph version.
On Ed Freeman’s photography website, he explains things a little more. After starting out in the music business and experiencing a mid-life career change, he started creating commercial and fine art photographs. Those have been featured in hundreds of publications, books and museum shows throughout the years. Going through Freeman’s work, we found his “Realty” series particularly appealing, in which he discovers deserted places in California, Nevada and New Mexico.
I hope you get the pun, because they’re anything BUT real. I’m not a documentarian, I’ve never tried to pass myself off as one and I don’t feel constrained by the implicit rules of documentary photography. Maybe it’s the result of too much chemical experimentation in my hippie days, but I’ve never been limited by the way things actually look; I’m much more interested by the way they MIGHT look. I see these wonderful, overlooked buildings scattered throughout the western US and I think, “if I photograph them and then just polish them up a bit, people could appreciate them more readily.”
So that’s why you call your “Realty” series a lie?
Well, they are “lies” in that they’re somewhere between fiction and reportage. If I made pictures like that for a news organization and tried to pass them off as real, I’d get fired instantly. They’re lies in the same way four hours of makeup on a fashion model is a lie – people don’t look like that in real life. But even though they’re beautiful in real life, we don’t want to see fashion models the way they really look – we pay them to look like fantasies. And I’m treating these buildings the same way: I’m making them look like my fantasies.
What’s it like, technically, to go from “before” to “after”?
I do whatever I think will make a better picture. If it means cutting off half the building and repainting the rest a different color, I do it. I take completely normal pictures with a normal camera, but after I get back home to my computer, all bets are off. Typically, I clean up the street in front, remove whatever is on the side and in back of the building and put in a different sky that more perfectly matches the mood of the picture. I transform the buildings into idealized architectural models of themselves. Sometimes I make buildings that were shot at two in the afternoon look like they were shot at midnight. And I do everything in Photoshop.
Freeman is one of many photographers who compared choosing his favorite “Realty” series to a father having to choose which child is his favorite. Accepting “I love ‘em all” as an answer, we continued our talk by asking him about some of his other photography, wondering whether or not he had a favorite kind of photography outside of “Realty.”
I love all my series (and there are quite a few)! I love traveling and I’ve traveled a lot, and some of my travel pictures are much less manipulated than my “Realty” series. Some places don’t need much in the way of retouching; they’re perfect just the way they are.
Speaking of travel photography: do you have a favorite destination or experience?
Iceland and New Zealand are hands down the most beautiful places on earth, but I love southern Morocco and North Vietnam and Tibet and southern Spain and the Peruvian Andes and Maui and Yosemite – the list goes on. There is no shortage of stunning scenery and wonderful people on this planet.
Freeman has a lot on his plate for the near future. He’ll be doing a series of portraits of homeless people, experimenting with abstractions, shooting underwater and playing around with some radical concepts he “can’t quite articulate yet.” There are quite a few ways to follow how that plays out: