Ben Sklar is an editorial and documentary photographer based in Austin, Texas. Sklar’s easy-going nature and hard work ethic create the best images possible for clients that range from Marie Claire and Ebony Magazine to Bloomberg Markets and The New York Times. ILTP talked to Ben on a sunny afternoon at the East Village coffee shop in Austin.
What was your best career decision?
Committing to a freelance career from the start. I didn’t fit into the regimented structure of newspapers. I found there wasn’t much collaboration or emphasis on making or running the best pictures. I didn’t want to be good enough for daily work. I don’t want to mail it in. I’m not made to be around people that don’t value making the best image possible.
Favorite thing about shooting in Texas?
Giant blue skies make for good vibes.
Giant blue skies make for good vibes
Each assignment as it comes, the next phone call could be the dream assignment.
Anything weird in your camera bag?
Canon Sureshot from 1986 loaded with Provia 400, or disposable cameras.
Latest gear obsession?
“I’m not a gear dude, I’m a pictures dude.”
What keeps you motivated?
Coffee, shooting a lot and taking risks.
What was your first big break?
When the NYT called me at age 20, but then the Pulitzer thing in 2005 was bigger. It catapulted me to a higher level that I wasn’t necessarily prepared for.
Any Ah-ha moment that defined your personal vision?
No. I try to make the best picture possible – sometimes with lights, sometimes film, sometimes digital, sometimes work in the darkroom. I don’t let categories of photography define my personal vision.
Who are you inspired by?
Anyone doing what they love to do. I love that energy and want to be around it. People who are thrilled with their impact on the world, no matter what it is.
Favorite Photo Books
Beyond the Fall: The Former Soviet Bloc in Transition 1989-1999
Larry Burrows: Vietnam
Mary Ellen Mark: Ward 81
The Americans, Robert Frank
Dorchester Days, Eugene Richards
Anything by Tom Robbins
Tell us about an important part of your ‘education’ that wasn’t about photography…
Traveling opened the world beyond the self.
How do you define success?
Making the best picture possible everyday. Finding contentment in each trial, each up and down cycle.
What distinguishes you from other photographers?
It’s pictures first for me and I like to shoot relevant topics. I turn melted ice cream into chocolate milkshakes. I’m fun to work with on collaborations or open ended creative endeavors. I bring creative solutions to visual problems.
I turn melted ice cream into chocolate milkshakes
Exciting Projects in 2012?
Yeah, but rather than talk a lot of fluff about what I’m going to do, I’d rather show you pictures when I’ve actually done something.
Any weird collections?
Memories, photos, rocks, plane tickets, receipts, I’m the descendant of pack rats.
Do you have hobbies that keep you sane?
First of all, photography doesn’t make me insane. Photography rivals orgasm. Rock climbing, running, brewing beer, woodworking, and travel.
Franklin’s in Austin
Favorite Breakfast Taco
Pink Taco, Maria’s in Austin
Hotel Havana in San Antonio
Shot in Marfa?