Woodstock’s Franco Vogt has been a commercial photographer for 28 years. Born in Italy to a US Navy father stationed in Naples, he moved about as a kid, drifting in college until he realized that he could make a living working in photography, something he learned from his Dad.
“We used to make prints together in the kitchen. It was magic,” Vogt said. “When I got to New York I found work as an apprentice to some great photographers, and did that for four or five years until I struck out on my own… I ate a lot of cheap food to get by there, but in the end I was very fortunate in that the people I worked with were very forthcoming about what it takes to make photography one’s business, from how to estimate a job to the ways in which one markets oneself.”
Vogt described a world of high-end commercial shoots where every detail counts, and a millimeter movement in one’s camera can break a shot – and a career, and where the money was greater than anticipated – until suddenly it wasn’t. And now, the entire world of photography has shifted to something that many feel is pedestrian – at least for the moment.
How did Vogt gain his sense of style, that look that is his alone? “Your style just sort of emerges over the course of taking many, many pictures,” he said. “You try many things and start to learn what’s not really you; then you home in on certain qualities.”
Vogt spent years traveling for the Corbis stock agency, and shooting product lines and sports for clients. What he loves most, though, is doing portraits. “What I really enjoy doing is looking at faces,” he explained. “I like working with people to get the right mood, to let them know that it’s natural to feel a bit awkward in front of a camera. I’m searching for a slight vulnerability that helps define a person.”
Vogt’s 60/60 project of four years ago produced 60 individual portrait shoots in 60 days. His new “Deliberately Dark” pieces work with minimal lighting sources and a much darker, stylized look – which, he said is easier for men, who don’t mind looking moody, and craggy even, than women.
For inspiration, Vogt looks to the classics in the photo portraiture world, as well as the look of certain movies. But he also keeps an eye on art history; on painted portraits; and the quirks of each person shoots.
“I do a lot of talking while I’m on a shoot,” he says. “I set the shot up, and then the clicks occur and the picture happens while people are no longer self-conscious. I particularly love those moments just before a smile, or right after. A lot of what I do involves listening – and I guess provoking, in subtle ways.”
Vogt has been doing more of his own projects since moving upstate eight years ago. The recent years of all-digital shooting have freed him up to try more experiments, since the costs are different – although, Vogt added, the overall expenses involved in equipment purchases have gone up, while the amounts paid for photo shoots have declined.
“It used to be you dropped off your film and that was that,” he said. “Now, you produce the shoot and then essentially do your own darkroom and finishing, your processing and editing. I’ve always called myself a commercial artist, but then I had a one-man show in Los Angeles last September, of more abstract mirrored images, and I’m realizing that there’s something very enjoyable about making pictures without a paycheck tied to them.”
Moreover, he says, there’s value in being able to see one’s works printed and on a wall, instead of on a laptop, tablet or phone. “Photography kept getting better and better over the years, until new equipment in the 1970s made it look worse,” he said. “And that’s happening again as everyone shifts to Instagram and other modes that are cool, but not really all that great-looking. I worry, sometimes, that everyone will end up with their kids grown up and no real portraits of them beyond some cool pictures on computers they can no longer access, or school photos.”
Has moving to Woodstock changed what he does? “It really has. I’ve become much more relaxed about things,” Vogt said. “You do American Express, then you do Joe and Mary Smith down the road. The feedback from the Smiths is so much more enthusiastic, so much more personal, that it makes the photography improve.”
For more information on Franco Vogt, call (845) 679-5913 or visit www.francovogt.com.