All images by Mike Lerner. Used with permission.
Photographer Mike Lerner is a former music photographer who’s made a career transition to lifestyle work. But you see, Mike doesn’t really like labelling himself as a “Lifestyle shooter” though he admits that it’s a fair assessment of his work. The New York resident is moving to LA soon to embrace the creative culture’s shift towards the west coast of the US. Mike was also on the site’s old podcast: ISO 400.
While Mike surely has the whole marketing thing down and has for a while, what he truly believes is that it’s all about your work first and foremost.
Phoblographer: Talk to us about how you got into photography.
Mike: I just spent a whole week explaining this at Field Trip this past week so I’ll be very brief. I saw nightlife photographer’s work, which had some music work here and there. I was inspired after that.
Phoblographer: In a previous life, you were a music photographer (much different from shooting concerts) but now you’re a lifestyle shooter. What made you want to get into lifestyle photography and get out of music?
Mike: I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a “lifestyle” photographer. I just shoot things that are appealing to me, and I guess some of that has a “lifestyle look” to it, and I suppose it’s a fair label. Though I’m moving to LA shortly and I’m going to shift my focus to portrait/editorial work while still focusing on the personal projects I’m doing.
Phoblographer: Where do you typically draw inspiration from with lifestyle work? How do you go about forming creative visions, talking about it with models, etc. I see you have on your Tumblr a link to a specific blog that you draw inspiration from?
Mike: A lot of it comes from my inspiration blog and magazines. I just see something I like and I say “I can do something similar.” Though I’ll never rip anything or anyone off, we all subconsciously take from people. It’s not that cinematic of an experienced either, if I have an idea, I’ll reach out to whoever I need to, and if they like it we move forward, and if they don’t–on to the next idea.
Phoblographer: How do you ensure that your work doesn’t look monotonous ? If you go through your tumblr, all your work looks unique and different from one another. And as you may know, this is a bit problem that lots of photographers fall into.
Mike: Well that’s the Tumblr. That’s just a daily updated version of what’s going on in my life. If you go to my website, you’ll see a more curated version of the photographer I really am I think. I think I’d rather my work be more cohesive and identifiable, and in certain areas I think it is. At Field Trip, I taught a course on creative roadblocks. As photographers we should never be void of creativity; there’s always something to shoot. For websites and portfolios though, it’s important you get to the point of who you are. Your blog can have a variety of styles, genres, ect, but your portfolio should be focused.
Phoblographer: Let’s talk about the curation of your portfolio. What determines whether or not an image is making it onto a social feed or a website of yours? What goes through your head as you edit your work down?
Mike: Refer to last question haha. I mean, so I want to focus more on editorial/portrait work right? So that’s how I narrow it down.
Phoblographer: You’re working on a series called Orgasms all about couples having sex and you photographing them all on one roll of film. Talk to us about this project. What made you want to do it?
Mike: ORGASM isn’t focused on couples. I want to make that very clear. ORGASM is based on, well, orgasms. A solo subject, a couple, or a group can participate. The project started with a wanting I suppose. Maybe a lack of sex? I dunno, I keep on seeing porn all over Tumblr, these blogs with couples showcasing their sex lives, and I saw it as a bit intrusive. I just saw selfies of people fucking and it kind of turned me off. So I said to myself “Let me see if I can focus on tiny details without being explicit.”
An orgasm is literally the most pleasurable thing a human can experience, it’s inarguable, but there are some things that are overlooked and taken for granted. Watch the way a woman’s foot starts to curl up as she gets close to climax, or how a guy’s shoulder muscles tense up and pulse when he’s on top. These are the tiny details I’m talking about.
The one roll of film keeps it simple and almost puts a clock on it. Not to say I put a time limit on it, but if I shoot it digitally it just seems like a loss of authenticity. The goal of the series is a gallery show and book. All the subjects are anonymous, so if anyone out there wants to participate, please reach out. This series will take me a while haha.
Phoblographer: Lots of your work these days looks very film-like. Is it digital at all with renderings? What gear are you using these days?
Mike: Nope, it’s all film. I’m shooting on an Olympus OM-1. I’m gonna get a 5d 1 or 2 before the move. Anyone selling one?
Phoblographer: Let’s talk about the aesthetics of your marketing. Your Tumblr and website have a very huge emphasis on images (with your site having white space). How do you think these designs best showcase your work and show off the type of photographer that you are?
Mike: I love hi res, large images. That should speak for itself right? If I’m looking at someone’s website, show me your best photos! I don’t need 15 galleries with 30 images each. Get to the point, and make that point scream you know what the fuck you’re doing.
Phoblographer: How much of your job these days is shooting vs marketing, meeting clients, etc.
Mike: Lately I’ve been meeting clients strictly through email, so most of the time it’s just shooting. I plan to make myself very busy this year, and I think LA is made for sitting and meeting the client at an outdoor cafe right?
Phoblographer: Where do you want to be in a year as a photographer, and how do you plan on getting there?
Mike: I just want to be busy honestly. I want my new business to be launched. If I get there, and everything is what I hoped, then I’ll let you know how I got there. If not, gimme another year.