Focus on Photographers: Following the Storyline with Phillip Istomin

Tell us a little about yourself and how you got started with photography.
I'm Phillip Istomin and I'm originally from Moscow, Russia. I moved to the U.S. with my parents when I was 13. I'm the only child. I've been a creative my entire life. Music was my first form of expression, and I still write when I can afford the time. I graduated from Weber State University with a degree in Visual Communications and a minor in Photography.

I spent two years working in an advertising agency, and that time taught me a lot and has definitely influenced my approach to creating images. I decided to dedicate myself full-time to photography after being laid off from the advertising job in 2010.

Why fashion, editorial, and commercial?
I love fashion and I love presenting fashion in an editorial format the most because it gives me a chance to tell a story, not just show you pretty pictures of pretty people. Commercial pays the bills.

manicproject, Phillip Istomin, Phillip Istomin photography, Utah photographers "THE DESERT" | MANICPROJECT

You mentioned that you make a conscious effort to stand out from other Utah photographers. How do you make your photos more "storied and cinematic?" Where does the inspiration come from?
I'm a huge film buff, so it's no surprise that that is probably my main source of inspiration to draw from. I'm constantly referencing films when explaining my concepts and ideas to my creative team. I love building a different world. I truly see myself as the director when working on a project. I have to think of the story, the plot line, the actors, the sets, the wardrobe, the locations, etc. I am completely uninterested in just pretty pictures of pretty people, but most people eat that stuff up. I need more than that. I'd rather you feel uncomfortable or unsure when looking at my work than a nice pleasant feeling and then it's gone and you're ready for the next thing. I want my images to be haunting. It's like seeing a film that you're not even sure you liked the first time, but it stays with you. You keep thinking about it, and eventually you want to see it again to try to figure it out more.

When I shoot, I explain to my models what I'm trying to achieve and the mood I'm looking for. I'll tell them to act, not model. All models have their go-to moves and poses that they have rehearsed. They know what works for them. They've done it time and time before. I don't want that. I want to see something from them I haven't seen before. It's almost vulnerable. We're exploring together, and when you have a connection, a chemistry with someone, that's when the real magic happens. When the model can take direction, but then actually give you something more, something you weren't expecting, that's the best.

manicproject, Phillip Istomin, Phillip Istomin photography, Utah photographers "DINNER IN THE WOODS" | MANICPROJECT

Where has your work been featured?
My work has been featured in several publications: Salt Lake Magazine, Dark Beauty, Ellements, Obscurus, Like A Lion, UGLY mag, VOX Fashion, etc. I also had an exhibit entitled "PROVOCATEUR" at E3 Modern last fall.

manicproject, Phillip Istomin, Phillip Istomin photography, Utah photographers "MEMNON" | MANICPROJECT - Featured in the "PROVOCATEUR" Exhibit

What is the biggest challenge with photography?
My personal challenge is to always keep things interesting—give the viewer something unexpected, try not to repeat myself, and constantly evolve and get better. It's very challenging to demand the viewer's attention for more than a couple of seconds these days because of the constant stream of information; it is overwhelming.

I do think that most everything has been done before, but you can put your own unique spin on things. I look to the best of the best for inspiration and I try to come remotely close to that level—that's another challenge. But I think the main thing that separates you is your creativity and vision—your ideas. I don't really care about the technical stuff; it's important, but it's almost irrelevant when talking about what makes something truly great.

manicproject, Phillip Istomin, Phillip Istomin photography, Utah photographers "THR33" | MANICPROJECT

Most challenging project?
I think the last editorial I shot, "Till Death Do Us Part," was probably the most challenging one yet. I had a very elaborate storyline in my head and I only had about six hours to shoot everything. The shoot took place at McCune mansion, which is an amazing, overwhelming space with endless shot possibilities. I was juggling four models, hair, makeup, wardrobe, everything, and jumping from one scene to another, relocating, setting up lighting, etc. I work with amazing people and I couldn't have done it without their collective contribution.

manicproject, Phillip Istomin, Phillip Istomin photography, Utah photographers "TILL DEATH DO US PART" | MANICPROJECT

Greatest challenge when shooting fashion and editorial?
The biggest challenge is to have a new story to tell each go around. Overseeing everything. Juggling schedules. Making sure all the pieces are in place. The majority of the work comes in preparation, the actual shoot usually just happens and goes smoothly (aside from an occasional wrench in the works) as long as we do our job in pre-production. With time you learn that you need to show different elements throughout the story. Make sure you show everyone diligence from the hair to the makeup and wardrobe. Everyone worked really hard to make it happen, so I feel like I owe it to my team to really showcase their talents as well as my own.

manicproject, Phillip Istomin, Phillip Istomin photography, Utah photographers "WARM LEATHERETTE" | MANICPROJECT

What is the most important thing to remember when shooting fashion/editorial?
I think it's important to keep the big picture in mind, what is the story we are trying to present? It's also important to collect a variety of different shots. Don't just get stuck shooting all full body shots or focusing too much on one element or the other; you want to try to end up with a well-balanced presentation of all of the elements of the story. The more diverse the better.

manicproject, Phillip Istomin, Phillip Istomin photography, Utah photographers "REGINA" | MANICPROJECT

Do you shoot anything else besides fashion, editorial, and commercial?
I always say there's nothing I won't shoot. As long as the client or whoever I am working with wants me to shoot it, if they’re attracted to my vision, I will shoot it. Anything can be presented in a unique and interesting way. Anything could be a challenge. How can I shoot a family portrait in a way that you haven't seen before? I’d love to shoot some food—I haven't done that yet. I'm amazed that I haven't shot more bands. I love music and in my head it would be the perfect marriage. I think most people don't demand the absolute best from themselves, and I do. I think if you do anything you have to make sure every piece of the puzzle shines. The devil is in the details.

manicproject, Phillip Istomin, Phillip Istomin photography, Utah photographers "THE WOLF" | MANICPROJECT

Which project(s) are you most proud of? Do you have a favorite?
It's very difficult to pick favorites. I'm proud of all the work I've done. Sure, I have my favorite shots, but anytime I set out to accomplish something and then do it, it's a very rewarding feeling. Anytime I get an email saying something like "I feel like you're the only person around doing the type of work that you do" that kind of validates all of the times I've felt discouraged or defeated. I am very proud of having put together my PROVOCATEUR exhibit and the turnout it received. The feedback was amazing, and the pieces sold, but just doing it, going through the process, and actually putting up pieces on the wall was rewarding in itself.

manicproject, Phillip Istomin, Phillip Istomin photography, Utah photographers "THE RIP" | MANICPROJECT - Featured in the PROVOCATEUR Exhibit

When can we expect to see from you in the future?
I'm always shooting. I always have ideas in the bank. I don't plan on stopping anytime soon. There should be a couple of editorials coming out in local publications in the next couple of months.

manicproject, Phillip Istomin, Phillip Istomin photography, Utah photographers "YOUNG AMERICANS" | MANICPROJECT

Any words of advice for aspiring photographers?
Probably the things you've heard before, but there's a reason why. Practice is the most important thing. Shoot as much as possible and figure out your voice in the process. Ask yourself what kind of photographer you want to be and what is truly important to you. Is it to have the most followers on Instagram or is it to create art that you are truly proud of? There's a big difference there. I do think it's important to have a unique voice and to have something to say, visually. But if you want to be a commercial photographer with a look that people will pay money for then hey, be that! It's all about what you want.

manicproject, Phillip Istomin, Phillip Istomin photography, Utah photographers "THE TEACHER" | MANICPROJECT

Anything else we should know?
I hope people take a few minutes out of their busy lives to look around my website, I think it would not be time wasted. Thank you very much for featuring me.

KEEP UP WITH PHILLIP: Website | Facebook | Tumblr | Instagram

Commercial photographyEditorial photographyFashion photographyMay 2014Phillip istomin

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