Assistant Interview: Jeff Elkins
I spent most of my day yesterday in a truck full of gear, barreling down the highway headed south on I-95 towards Charleston, SC. Sitting beside me, was our superstar digital tech and my good friend Jeff Elkins. About seven or eight hours into the drive I realized that not everyone knows Jeff as well as I do, and this road trip would be a great time to introduce him. Keep reading to check out our interview and some of Jeff’s photos.
I asked Jeff to tell me a little bit about himself and how he came to be a full time assistant/digital tech/shooter in NYC. My questions are in italics, the rest are his words (all photos by Jeff Elkins):
My first job was at a theme park in central Ohio. I worked doing food-service prep, butchering chickens for 16 hours a day, six days a week. It was funny because everyone would complain that they weren’t paying us for overtime, but to me it was a revelation: “whoa, you mean they’ll pay me for as many hours as I’m willing to work?” that was my first introduction to the working world; it kinda set the pace for everything else.
Strangely enough, almost straight out of college (with a degree in photography), I became the head of production at a chocolate factory. I was making pretty decent money at that job, but at some point I was trying to figure out how to use my photography degree beyond art projects conducted on the weekends. I decided I would save my money at the chocolate factory and move to NYC to become a photo assistant. I had read in American Photography that’s where all the professionals got their start.
So how did things work out in New York?
When I first moved, it was really tough getting a gig. After about a month of looking around, prospects looked pretty grim. I was almost ready to move back to Ohio when I got a call from a photographer named Gregor Halenda. He ended up hiring me freelance a few times, and within two weeks he hired me on full time as a studio manager. I worked for Gregor for two years and it was the best two years of my life. I was a photo major in college, but I don’t think any college courses could have taught me what I learned working full time for a photographer.
Who else have you worked for?
After Gregor, I started assisting Dan Saelinger and Chris Crisman. I also work regularly with Christopher Griffith, and I’ve had the occasion to work with many other talented shooters like Leonard Gertz, and Ben Baker to name a few.
With all this freelance assisting, you must have been on some pretty interesting shoots, what’s the craziest so far?
The craziest shoot I can remember was with Dan Saelinger. We rented out this special demolition studio in brooklyn that has its own permits for plastic explosives usage, and we certainly used them–to blow up Xbox consoles and controllers with a plastic explosives expert… it was for an editorial article about the video game industry blowing up – pun intended.
And now for something completely different – I know you’re a big breakfast guy. What’s your ideal morning meal?
Without a doubt, Kellogs Frosted Mini-Wheats. Although I am particular to anything that’s manufactured with processed wheat and artificial corn sweeteners, I have a special fondness for them–it’s a passion and an addiction.
Speaking of our vices, what’s your favorite beer so far this season?
I know you’re a beer guy, but I think you take it one step further than most people. Can you share a little bit about the book you were involved with?
Well about a year ago, I had an opportunity to work with a friend of mine publishing a book on home brewing. They wanted to do a segment of the book interviewing master-brewers at different craft breweries.
Essentially, I had the opportunity to go on a month long, cross country road trip with a van full of photo equipment, stopping at some of the best craft breweries in America. There’s no way in hell I was going to turn that down.
I visited Rouge Brewery, Sierra Nevada, Stone, New Belgium, Jolly Pumpkin, Sixpoint Brewery, and a small yet heavily awarded brewpub named Kuhnenn Brewing Company in Michigan. The book was released earlier this summer and has been very successful so far. It’s been such an amazing project that I plan on keeping it going as long as I can
Last but not least, what other projects have you been working on?
Most of my work involves environmental portraiture, but my exposure to some amazingly talented still-life photographers has pushed me to start a still-life project.
I’ve decided to exploit another personal addiction, Ebay, in the form of a photographic project. I feel like people have a pretty wide range of addictions – some people like to gamble, some like to drink, but one of my prime modes of entertainment is buying random crap off of ebay. I decided to justify that habit by dedicating a photo project to it, it will eb called “Buy it now.”
Jeff Elkins is a freelance photographer, superstar digital tech, and awesome assistant based out of New York City. You can see more of his work on his website, or follow him on Twitter to keep up with the guy.