Michael Grecco: an Award-Winning Photographer

Michael Grecco is an award-winning photographer, a film director, and an author. He has served both as a photojournalist and celebrity photographer. Additionally, he has covered events such as Golden Globes, Emmy Awards, and the Academy Awards. He published a book in 2007 titled Naked Ambition: An R Rated Look at an X Rated Industry. He also directed a documentary film based on the book that premiered in April 2009. 

See his interview with TV Series Hub below.

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Actors Owen Wilson and Ben Stiller pose for a portrait to promote their film ‘Starsky & Hutch’ in Los Angeles, California on February 24, 2004. [credit: Michael Grecco]

What influenced your interest in photography? Can you share with us some photos as well as photographers that inspired you?

When I was 12, I started working in the darkroom at summer camp. That’s when I started to get a feel for what it takes to evaluate and eventually take good images. I would go into my public library and “long-term borrow” the time life series on photography and study what was considered great. My inspiration came from Avedon and Pen, Hiro, Bruce Davidson, Robert Frank, Helmet Newton, Duane Michal, and Robert Heinecken. BTW – I eventually repaid my “debt” to the library. I donated a new set of books and given them financial support.

Robert Frank said that there is one thing that the photograph must contain and that is the humanity of the moment. What do you consider to be most important about a photograph’s purpose?

For me, it’s all about storytelling. My work usually lives on gallery or museum walls or in publications. I consider myself the bridge between our culture and my perspective as an artist. My vision influences how I take the image. But I’m recording what’s going on at the time. The story might be about music, movies, or TV culture and then the two perspectives come together and merge into one idea. Something that now represents both me and our world around us.

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American comedian and actor Will Ferrell poses for a portrait in Los Angeles on March 09, 2007., 2007. [credit: Michael Grecco]

Do you think photographs reveal the reality of people or do people get clicked to capture who they are in a particular moment?

They represent both. I often create a fantasy of sorts to tell a story. But the person inside the image is always forced to give something of themselves. My favorite moments sometimes are the pensive ones – the moments when the subject exposes something of themselves while also leaving enough for the viewer to fill in. My Steve Martin images in the garden are some of my favorite examples of this.

What inspired you to transition from photojournalism to celebrity portrait photography? What do these areas share in common?

Well, an easy way of looking at it is I went from Newspaper Photography to Magazine and Fine Art Photography. At a newspaper, I told a very literal story about the subject or the event. But as a magazine photographer, I get to create a fantasy, to tell a story through lighting, sets, fashion, makeup, and props. I get to control the scenario, and usually, my dark sense of drama or my sense of humor comes through. I’m able to make images as opposed to capturing what happens in front of my lens. There’s also the ability to tell stories that are exaggerated or not even real, to communicate an idea.

In an age where everybody has a high-quality camera in their phones, how do you think your role as a photographer has evolved?

I think we are inundated with images and “image makers” these days. I think people have less of respect for good photography, thoughtful photography than they did in the past. That said, the culture still seems to have a thirst for imagery. I’ve just decided to offer people things that cannot be duplicated. Currently, I’m working on a book called, Punk, Post Punk, New Wave: Onstage, Backstage, In Your Face, with Abrams Publishing for an October Holiday release 2020. My goal is to show work in a time period that can’t be produced again, old enough that there is going to be an interest. The punk scene of the late seventies and the eighties cannot be replicated. So I have something no one else has. That is the only way to deal with the glut of image-makers we have today.

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American recording artist, record producer, film director, and fashion designer Kayne West poses for a portrait shot in Los Angeles, California on April 26, 2007. [credit: Michael Grecco]

What are the most fundamental principles of photography?

Light. Light. It’s all light getting transmitted to the sensor. And if you truly look at it this way, you will be the Zen Master of imagery.

Are there things that you can photograph better than others? Have you developed a style that you use in every shoot or is photography more of an instinctual profession?

It’s both. I have an instinct that kicks in and I listen to it. But I also have the intellectual ideas that create the concepts, to begin with. All of this happens to work really well for me with people. I am a portrait shooter inherently and my work does not have the same soul for me without a human being present.

You have published two books that discuss lighting techniques. George Eastman once said that if you know light, you know the key to photography. What role does light play in storytelling through a photograph?

It’s everything. And it’s the one thing image makers today use the least. Cameras and Photoshop are able to ignore bad or mediocre light. They can correct it, fix it, and alter it. But it’s not the same as creating something original with the light. You can build all the sets in the world and create amazing scenarios. But the light is how the information gets to the sensor, so it gives you the emotional control over the image. One cannot forget that the lighting creates the feeling. It’s not the other way around.

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Will Smith [credit: Michael Grecco]

You have been a photographer for a long time and once branched out to direct a movie. Do you think you will ever make more movies?

I love directing. I made a documentary feature film called: “Naked Ambition: an R-rated look at an X-rated industry.” (You can find it on Roku and Amazon, etc.) I’ve also done a fair amount of web videos associated with my commercial photography shoots. Presently, I am in development pitching a docu-series on photography. Stand by for more info on that one.

What is the next big goal for you professionally? What inspires you to continue being a photographer?

My goal is to create a business that supports me and my family and gives me residual income. Along with that, I’m at the point in my career where I’m going to promote my work in galleries and museums. Days of Punk, as the overall project is called, already has a museum, festival, and gallery interest. I’m developing a fashion brand around it as well. I think life is a creative venture, in general, This means I approach every aspect of it, including my business ventures as a creative problem to solve.

The solution itself is the answer in art, work, and life. I am just as happy waking up and going into my office to see where my projects have progressed as I am on set. I love both and I am blessed to have a career that feeds me, a wife, and kids that love me and many friends. It’s a wild ride. I leaped long ago and never looked back.

See more of Michael Grecco’s work on his website: https://michaelgrecco.com/