Salem Krieger grew up in the New York area and now lives in Manhattan. His work focuses on portrait, corporate portraiture, documentary, and architectural photography. When not working for clients, Salem is involved with personal art projects, such as Face Without A Name, $2500/sq. foot, Art Is Helping, and his most recent series “CommoN”.
When did you start taking photographs?
I attended the Chicago Academy and the Chicago Art Institute for art studies. I was building a career as an illustrator and photographing for personal projects. My photography was street documentary. My roommates were photographers Jack Perno, Tony D’Orio and Mark Hauser. I learned a lot about photography from them but was still doing illustration as my business. By the 1990s, I started to photograph professionally. I took several workshops and continued to assist photographers. Photography allowed me to explore the world in a face-to-face way that being an illustrator didn’t do.
Has your photography career taken you anywhere interesting?
Early in my career, I called the editor at American Airlines NEXOS magazine and said, “I’m going to Nicaragua to photograph a story for VOSH, a volunteer optometry organization” and ended up getting a travel story commission in Nicaragua.
That, in turn, lead to an assignment from the US National Guard Association to photograph in the Arctic Circle. The editor of the USNG Association had seen my story about Nicaragua and contacted me by phone. He asked, “How do you like photographing in cold weather?”… and I said that’s fine. He then gave me the assignment to fly to Greenland to photograph National Guard personnel working at the North Pole, which was an amazing adventure. Shooting film at that time was a bit challenging. I used an 18% gray card to get correct exposures using transparency film. Lighting at the top of the earth can be very contrasty. I was hoping to find alien spacecraft buried in the ice. (THE THING, a classic 1954 sci-fi movie, is a major favorite of mine).
Argentina was another wonderful project. American Airlines flew me to Buenos Aires to photograph a portrait of Ada Concaro, founder and head chef of TOMO I. I’ve been on assignment to England for Whole Foods; they used my photographs throughout the shopping and check out areas. I’ve also been to mainland China and Hong Kong, where I did a cover photograph for a business club publication.
Have you ever won any awards for your work?
In 2018 I received a Bronze award from the Tokyo Foto Award for my series on homeless people in New York, titled Face Without a Name. I was paying homeless people for their time, giving them cash as well as a comfort bag with toiletries, underwear, etc. A lot of people photograph homeless people but don’t think to pay them. I wanted to respect their labor. In 2018 I won an ASMP 2nd place for my architectural photograph of the 432 Park Avenue building by architect Rafael Viñoly. “Continuing Interest” was a collaboration project with XEROX corporation, which won an award at the Digital Printer Shoot-Out 2009.
We featured your Art is Helping project back in 2016. Is that still running?
Yes, but it did slow down due to a lack of marketing and web design. This fall, a redesign is in the works, making it easier to navigate and expand on social media platforms. The premise is still the same: a way for artwork from photographers, painters, sculptors, and other artists to be turned into tangible end results as opposed to something that simply ends up on a wall.
You’ve said your photography, especially your portraits, are a way of interacting with the world. Can you tell us more about this process and connection?
Whenever you deal with personalities, you have to do some research on who the person is. When you meet the talent, you sense where you have connections and look for something insightful that helps you form a visual idea.
It’s not always easy. Some people are cool; others, especially in a corporate setting, don’t necessarily want to be photographed. Once, a CEO looked at his watch and said, “You’ve got three minutes. Go.” And he wasn’t joking. That’s why it’s always best to be fully prepared in advance, including scouting out the location.
How do you use architectural photography to tease out the personality of a place or urban landscape?
Sometimes on vacation, you have a visceral reaction to something, a “wow” moment. For me, it’s the same with architecture. One of the challenges is making a ‘boring’ building look interesting and appealing. When the elements of the architecture work symbiotically in the context of the environment it makes for a great end result.
One wonderful project I did was photographing the Rafael Viñoly building at 432 Park Avenue. We got permission to access the 70th floor of a building a few blocks east of 432 Park Ave. I started shooting at 3:30 in the morning until around 8 am. The end shot was a composite of images taken as night turned today. It was fascinating to see the clouds in the sky transforming, the city lights changing, and the character of the building start to appear through all those individual elements.
When did you start working with video and how has that changed the course of your career and opportunities?
I’ve been working with video for several years and clients are certainly more interested in it now, as so much of the world is on the web. You have to think differently when dealing with video. Time is a big element. It’s good to have a photographic background as I understand lighting and location, but that’s only one section of it. I’ve also just started playing with VR.
The other side of all these technological offerings is the temptation to be pulled into a lot of new toys and techniques. But I want to stay focused on what’s important to me.
Which photographers have influenced you?
Many of my influences were not photographers, but artists in various disciplines. I worked with Krzysztof Wodiczko as an assistant at Documenta and also in New York – he was a major influence, especially when it comes to thinking about what culture is and the role of art. As an artist, how do you want to use your imagery? On the commercial side, I studied with Dan Winters at the Santa Fe Workshop. He helped me understand portraiture better and think about lighting in new ways. I was also surprised when I learned he also illustrated for publications. Bob Sacha, who comes from a journalistic background and worked for National Geographic, has been an influence in understanding narrative storytelling. Andres Serrano also gave me much to think about after assisting him and spending time discussing contemporary art and popular culture.
What inspires you?
Too many things! I have a very fluid mind and the problem is limiting what you want to spend your time on. A lot of my inspiration comes from the fine arts fields, politics, and low budget sci-fi, especially from the classic ’50s.
Recently I’ve been collaborating with the sculptor Richard Newton on a project called CommoN. We fabricate words from steel, prepare them for burning and set them ablaze. Site specific location are chosen to provide context for the words. Additional layers of meaning are then revealed by the power of the fire. The work of Jenny Holzer is definitely an influence.
What makes a great image?
There is such a plethora of image-making these days, that it’s great when you come across something that speaks to you – it’s not just about the shot being technically well done. I like to read about the artists before making snap judgments.
Having a good background in art history makes it a richer experience in understanding when an image is really wonderful. Often I would see art and had no idea where the artist was coming from. Reading up on the artist’s work helps me open doors to what the work is about and appreciate new approaches in art-making.
Do you have any tips or advice for aspiring photographers?
There’s a lot of images out there, so think about what you want to say. Don’t always rely on or repeat what’s already out there – instead, find something that “feels” unique to you. There’s no easy answer… I have been influenced by images but then try to move forward from that inspiration.
What camera gear and technology/software do you use?
Right now I’ve been using the Canon 5DsR, Mark 3 and Profoto lights. Quantum lights are really helpful when I can only carry a modest amount of gear to a project. Post is done mostly in Photoshop and Lightroom and few other add ons.
Do you consider copyright a problem and have you ever had an issue with people using your images without proper permission?
Yes! That’s why I love Pixsy. I have won several infringement cases and continue to be diligent about registering my work. Copyright infringement is more out of control now than I’ve ever seen. No matter who you use, I think creatives of all types need to understand they should be working with copyright companies who can protect their work and assist in settling cases.
Where can people buy your work?
The best way is to contact me about any of my work is via email at email@example.com.