Assistant Interview: Jared Castaldi

If I had to be stuck in a truck full of photo equipment with someone, the list of applicable people is very short. It just so happens that I’ve spent the last eleven hours on I-95, with an awesome friend, photographer, and assistant – the one, the only Jared Castaldi.

He’s a frequent face on the blog and a core member of the Crisman team. Jared takes some pretty sweet photos, and he’s got a helluva story that we wanted to share. Keep reading for the full interview…

I asked Jared to tell me a little bit about himself and how he came to be a full time shooter/assistant/awesome dude. My questions are in italics, the rest are his words (all photos by Jared Castaldi):

Straight out of high school I went to college and intended to be a biologist because I like science and science is cool but about halfway through my first year I realized I sucked at chemistry so I turned my focus to something I was good at – playing music (drums).

It really was a good decision because it ultimately changed the course of my life. I joined a band called The Vote. It was a couple buddies I lived with at this punk house in the suburbs of Philly. We did a few European tours and that was a really awesome time. My favorite spot was Hamburg – we got very hammered in hamburg. Things happened that, well I probably shouldn’t share on the internet. We may or may not have unknowing ended up at a brothel. But we didn’t stay, I swear. My mother does not know this.

After the European tours I came back and didn’t really know what to do. My dad needed help with his plumbing business so I figured I would help him out for a while as I planned my next move. Five years in, I realized I didn’t want to do that as a career.

So I started looking around. I’ve always been into photography – when I was a teenager I was really into skateboarding so I’d always take photos of my friends. I’d shoot skate culture and things like that but it had no real focus and I had no idea on how to become a photographer professionally.

It was at that time that I just happened to come across an ad for an internship with a photographer named Bill Cramer. This was before Wonderful Machine – when I came onboard, it was me, Chris Crisman, and Bill. I joined the same day as the digital artist Emily Von Fange, we both started as interns there. I didn’t know a single thing about professional photography that day. Not a single thing. I didn’t even know what a soft box was. Literally.

I think I was kept around because I was a hard worker – something that I learned from the plumbing business. At first I was really only good at carrying heavy things and fixing things around the office but I caught on quickly so I think that’s why they kept me around.

I also first met Chris at my internship with Bill Cramer. At that point, he was just getting into shooting music – with me coming from being a band, we clicked. We hung out a lot and I helped him photograph some metal bands. When Chris left wonderful Machine I kept in touch and kept assisting for him on the side.

I was there for about two years and during that time I learned pretty much everything to get me going – how to market, how to invoice and all that really important crap. From what I hear, they don’t really teach that in school too much. It was a good education for me.

When I left there I had a handful of clients I was shooting for – most notable was my first job with with Mainline Today Magazine. The shoot was an owner of a women’s boutique in the Wayne PA area. I was scared shitless. It was just me going out for the first time by myself to make a photo for a client – the night before I don’t think I slept at all. I was super nervous.

So I get there and the place is less than ideal, it was cramped, stuff everywhere, I had no real ideas what I wanted to do with this lady and it ended up just being a nice normal portrait of her sitting on a couch. For me though, it meant a lot more -It was the process of just doing it once to get that over with. Apparently I did a good enough job that they kept hiring me constantly for the next three or for years After that I actually went on full time for them .

That lasted until just recently, about a year ago. I pulled that back to part time so I could do more freelance work which has been awesome so far.

My favorite shoot recently was with Brown University. They sent me out to photograph Penn State’s new football coach, Bill O’Brien.  Driving out to the shoot at 4:00am, the weather was awful. By the time I got there though, it was perfectly foggy and exactly what I wanted. I got super lucky with the weather that morning and it couldn’t have worked out better in the stadium. I’ve got a few more photos and the full story on my own blog, check it out.

I couldn’t help but notice you’ve got a portrait of Sam Calagione, and after spending many days on the road assisting with you, I know you enjoy a few beers after wrapping a day on set as well. Care to share that story?

When that shoot came in, I was super stoked because I’m a huge fan of Dogfish and I think they’re one of the best breweries in the states. Shooting Sam for the cover of Delaware Today Magazine made it even more exciting. Aside from the actual photos, we got to try this beer that they made from peaches. I like peaches. To actually meet Sam who was this world renowned brewer was awesome. At that point I was just starting to home brew, so to talk 1 on 1 about making beer was really interesting. To hear his story of how he got there was awesome. Sam was super cool.

That’s one of my favorite parts of being a photographer – you meet different people all the time and get to learn from them. It’s interesting to me to see how they got where they are in their lives; it’s a different path for everyone and it’s so valuable to learn from others.

Many thanks to Jared for the interview. My guess is you’ll be seeing quite a bit of him on the blog in the future… Make sure to check out his website and follow him @jaredcastaldi