Marcus Ezell is a fashion and beauty photographer who pays homage to the greats, while tirelessly working to carve out his own niche within a competitive industry. He serves as the focus of our weekly “Behind The Lens” feature.
On a scale of 1 to 10, how close are you to reaching your maximum potential as an artist (with 10 being the highest)?
I am nowhere near my max. I would say that I am at a 3 at this juncture in my career.
Describe the moment that you knew photography was your life’s calling?
I knew photography was my life’s calling at the very beginning of my journey. My wife was out running errands, and she pulled up to a bus stop behind a stopped bus. After the bus pulled away, she noticed a bag on the bench. It was a camera bag. Inside of that was was a Nikon D90 — a camera that I had been told about in college well before I was seriously interested in photography. She brought it home and told me about how she found the camera. I immediately started to try it out. I instantly fell in love with the imagery. I thought that the images that I’d produced that day were award-winning, but they were complete garbage, to be honest. Unfortunately, I was unable to keep the camera. We returned the camera to the elderly couple, and they gave my wife a small reward. As soon as we dropped the camera off, I went out and bought my first camera, and the rest is history.
What were the steps that were taken to get you from that of initial dream to becoming an accomplished professional?
To be completely honest, there were no real planned-out steps in the beginning simply because I had no clue what I was doing or what I really wanted to focus on. Slowly, I began to do things like read books about the art of photography, watch a lot of YouTube tutorials and shoot as much as I could. I initially used my wife as a muse and then moved on to testing agency models. The next step was to leverage my test work to make me a viable option for clients. Next, I used my commissioned work in conjunction with my test work to get me seen and hired by clients with larger budgets.
Who have been some of your greatest teachers?
This question is more of a what than a who for me. My greatest teacher has been time. I have learned that being a freelance professional photographer that produces quality work takes an immense amount of time. So I had to use that time to study and practice daily. With that time, I have learned a lot about photography, retouching, the industry and the route that I want to take.
Who has served as some as your greatest creative inspirations outside of other photogratphers?
I would say Solange and Rihanna. They both seem to traverse the music to model plain seamlessly with extreme poise and creativity.
How important is it to study the greats?
I would say that this is one of the most important things that you can do on your journey as a growing photographer. Studying a photographer’s work who you find to be inspirational can help lead and guide you into your niche, which is needed in this society of Instagram. However, there is a fine line that one must walk while doing this. You have to find a balance between creating your own lane [or] look and not completely ripping off the photographers that you are studying.
Rank these in order of importance, while describing your rankings: Technical proficiency, clarity of vision, personal project investment.
Technical proficiency, clarity of vision, and then personal project investment, but this depends on how you look at it because technical proficiency and clarity of vision can be interchangeable. I placed technical proficiency first because a photographer is going to need to be able to execute the plan that is thought out in the clarity of vision stage. With this thought process, after I know the technicalities, clarity of vision must come next because without being able to execute your vision properly, either the final result will be trash, or you will waste an astronomical amount of time trying to execute it. With clients, you don’t always have the luxury of time. They want you to be able to execute the vision point-blank. Personal project investment is last but is not by any means beneath the other two. Without personal projects, a photographer won’t reach his [or] her full potential. This is where you learn new lighting and new concepts in general. Often a photographer will be hired based on personal work and not solely commissioned projects.
In what ways do you ensure connection with your subject?
The way that I ensure connection with my subject is to talk to them. If I have the time — most of the time I do — I try to have a genuine conversation with them about things other than the shoot or modeling. This typically breaks the ice and makes for a much more calm and comfortable shoot.
What is one passion project that you are looking to pursue in the future?
I have an ongoing fine art body project that captures statuesque poses of models and place emphasis on the deeper tones in the models’ skin. I hope to turn this into a collection of art or a book one day.
Have you felt personally impacted by the fact that you are a minority among working photographers?
I would say that most photographers of a darker hue, such as myself, have been impacted in some way, shape or form. Almost none of us have inspirations that come from creatives that look like us, which is very interesting and also a problem to me because I know of quite a few photographers in our community that produce a high caliber of work. Unfortunately, we never hear of them or see their work, but the question for me becomes where exactly do we place the blame of that impact? I think the blame is ultimately misplaced at times. If we fix that, then maybe we won’t be as impacted.
What advice would you have for aspiring photographers, specifically people of color?
Study constantly, practice constantly, learn the industry, put yourself in a place to grow at least weekly, put together a quality book, and create your own lane.
You can find out more about this talented photographer at www.marcusephotography.com