California photographer Tim Jahns OMP Member #4467 has a background in writing as well as visual arts dating back more than 25 years. Once he took up photography, he was hooked. Specializing in fashion, glamour and fine art, he combined the three styles for book and magazine projects built around his work with Elyssa, his model and muse. His work has been featured in a number of print and online magazines, including Playboy and Esquire, and has also been exhibited at galleries including Orange County Center for Contemporary Art, Palos Verdes Art Center, and BC Space.
OMP: How did you get started in photography?
TIM: I began shooting film, which included processing and printing my own black-and-white images. My emphasis was abstract subjects, looking for interesting images in the world around me, and only took up portraiture and fashion later. I was also doing mixed media art for a long time as well, exhibiting my work at different galleries in California and New York.
OMP: When did you make the switch to shooting with models?
TIM: In the mid-90s, I started doing more glamour images with models in the L.A. area, but I always tried to incorporate at least a bit of artistic vision or styling in the glamour work. Then, over the last few years, using my model Elyssa for inspiration, I started trying to combine the genres that appeal most to me — fashion, fine art and glamour — into a series that would result in a book and magazine project.
TIM: That was long ago, and I guess I was one of the early folks here, as you can tell by my member ID number. I think another photographer originally told me about it. I was happy to have a place where I could find model talent and also share my work online. You don’t have to have your own personal portfolio site when you can put up an online portfolio on OMP.
TIM: That collaboration has been crucial for me, in terms of creative inspiration and just enthusiasm about shooting. I was originally introduced to her through the family of a model I had placed with Elite Model Management many years ago. I was the first photographer to shoot her, and at the time she was young as well as lacking confidence in her physical appearance. Yet she had a raw, unselfconscious beauty and a certain presence to go with her height and incredibly long legs. Even the agency people I steered her to in the early days were amazed by her legs. She also grew from 5’11″ to over 6’1″ within a couple of years.
OMP: How has the creative collaboration evolved over the years?
TIM: Even after shooting with Elyssa several times, trying to build up her portfolio and find agency representation for her, I continued to enjoy having her in front of my camera. At first, we were shooting kind of casually or informally, often without a makeup artist and just using outdoor locations around my area. Later, I started to get more ambitious in the shoots as I began to realize she had become a kind of muse for me. I wanted to do something more substantial and work with different styles, so I conceived of a book project built around my shoots with her. I started using makeup artists and getting more interesting wardrobe as well as finding more unique and dramatic locations to heighten the effect of how Elyssa commands whatever space she’s in.
OMP: How long did it take to complete the book project?
TIM: We took a couple of years to shoot in different locations. Finally I felt I had built up a body of images that I thought would make for a strong book. It was fun scouting locations and planning the shoots, finding wardrobe with her in mind, and handling all aspects of the production. Part of what made it exciting for me was that I didn’t think about the commercial side of the business, I just enjoyed the process and tried to use this as a creative vehicle. I never got tired of shooting her, and always thought I could do more.
OMP: What are the advantages of working with the same model on multiples shoots?
TIM: It becomes more of a project rather than just a limited shoot situation. You can develop a rapport and build on past shoots to constantly challenge yourself and the model to come up with new image ideas. But a lot depends on the qualities of the model. If the model doesn’t inspire you or seem to have limitless possibilities, then multiple shoots could just be repetitive.
OMP: What other projects are you working on?
TIM: I’ve been developing a clothing line based around my images being printed on the fabric. Several of the images are from my work with Elyssa, but it also includes some of my fine art images and wording rendered in a graphic way. Now I’ve got a line of more than a dozen garments and need to find markets for wholesale and retail distribution of the line. I’ve also taught many classes and workshops over the years, so I have it in mind to do a more formal document of the glamour workshop in particular, possibly a DVD on the subject.
OMP: Are you actively looking for more models to shoot these days?
TIM: I recently decided I would start doing some test shooting again, both to expand my portfolio in the fashion area and also to offer my services for portfolio development with models who need help in getting quality photographs. I haven’t done that for awhile and missed it. It’s nice to get back to shooting with new models and trying to bring out their natural expressiveness and so on.
OMP: Do you have any advice for your fellow colleagues?
TIM: I can’t emphasize enough the importance of a photographer finding their vision rather than just copying what others do or repeating the tired formulas. I know that’s a sentiment you hear from others who take this work seriously, but not too many people really push themselves to create something more unique to them, more of a signature style. You can find yourself shooting attractive models and think that’s great, as if that’s the only goal, when really the process of creativity is what makes it all meaningful.