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Approaching Storm: interview with Harry Giglio / #URBANinsights

With this article we inaugurate #URBANinsights, a series of exclusive interviews and insights dedicated to the winners of URBAN Photo Awards. Let’s start with Harry Giglio, overall winner of the 2020 edition of the contest.


Hello Harry, thank you for taking the time to give us. How would you introduce yourself to those who still don’t know you as a photographer?
I’m a Pittsburgh, Pa. based commercial photographer and videographer/director, specializing in editorial, corporate, lifestyle and portrait photography. I had exhibited in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Europe and Japan.

I want to congratulate you for “Approaching Storm”, the winning picture of URBAN 2020 Photo Awards, selected by Alex Webb. Can you tell us the “behind the scenes” of the shot?
In the image “Approaching Storm” I wanted to depict different opposing forces existing at the same time and place…and in harmony. This wasn’t something I was planning on however! While shooting a video at this local shoe repair store, during a sunny summer morning, I asked the owner if I could take his portrait in front of his store. Immediately I saw that storm clouds were forming off in the distance. That inspired me and fascinated me as to what I was actually witnessing. Then the image appeared in my mind. These two opposing symbols of tranquility and power amazed me, and I knew I had to act fast before it began to rain. People often ask how the cobbler could be so unaware of the storm? I say that he never knew there even was a storm behind him… until he heard the thunder!

How long have you been photographing? Why did you choose a career as a professional photographer? How did you get interested in it?
I earned a BFA from Carnegie-Mellon University. Besides various Fine Art courses I studied Garphic and Industrial Design. During that time, I was introduced to photography and was taken with it far more than my other courses. That was truly unusual because my father was an avid amateur photographer and I wanted no part of it growing up, I had no interest in it and I thought it was annoying. I grew to learn the ignorance of those early actions. After graduating, I worked in a photo lab processing film and making color prints, this gave me the opportunity to build my own portfolio. I used that portfolio to get a new job as a photo assistant where I later became a shooter as the business grew. At 26, I opened my own studio and because I had a small following of clients was able to begin my career. During those early years I was mostly involved in Industrial Photography both in still life as well as location. I lit everything, no matter how large the set was, nothing was ever available light and still seldom is. As my business grew, I became a specialist in food, beverage and tableware photography and my skills handling light continued to grow. The bulk of my business came from ad agencies, design firms and corporations…to name a few. Westinghouse, Rockwell, Gulf, United States Steel, Stouffers, Heinz and numerous others. After the first 10 years in my startup studio, I moved into a new space, a 10,000 square foot beauty in Pittsburgh, PA. My lighting kit was larger than ever as well as my grip kits, cameras and lens package. More and more I began to lose interest in products and moved into people and animals which I do almost exclusively today. Now my client base moved from industry and food companies to banks, healthcare and other people focused companies.

I made the transition from film to digital easily enough, although I was heartbroken that so many good lab people lost their jobs, a tragedy. As my skills grew, I wanted to shoot video and utilize my lighting and directing skills in a new market. That took off like wildfire as clients were delighted to have the same shooter shoot 2 formats that were the same style…and only have to pay for 1 crew. Video is now a mainstay in my work today. But the commercial end of photography often left me wanting to do more artistic endeavors even though my clients turn me loose with shoots and allow me to put my own imagination into the images I make for them. So on the side, so to speak, I give myself projects. I have done studies and small collections on Native Americans, dogs, surrealism and portraiture to name a few. A few years ago, I moved from my studio into my home as my business was predominately location based. Today I travel around the USA with video and photo assignments telling corporate visual stories both with stills and video.

Which do you consider your best photograph?
My favorite shots are here: www.harrygiglio.com.

What equipment do you use? Do you spend a lot of time editing your images?
Canon 5D MARK III – 24-70 L – ISO 100

What advice would you give to an aspiring photographer who wants to turn his passion into a job?
My advice to younger shooters is to master your gear so that you aren’t even thinking about it when you shoot. Every light, every piece of gear, every exposure and mechanical correction need to be second nature so that it is seamlessly happening on its own. It is not about the process only about the evolution of the image. Making images is like a high feeling for me, an inner excitement, like a movie that keeps you on the edge of your chair. I become so mentally…and spiritually involved in what I am shooting I lose my sense of awareness of the rest of life around me. With street photography I see the image coming, I know what I will see when that person gets to that point..get in place ..be ready. Anticipation and seeing a little into the future improves your odds on getting a good street shot..happy accidents are to rare. If you miss it, ask your subject to walk that way again, most of the time they will. Use your personality…it is the greatest tool a shooter has…not the gear! For all other types of imagery, see the image in your mind, create in your mind…then simply put the lights where you see the source coming from, like seeing what is inside the piece of stone before the sculptor carves it out. I don’t have one particular photographer that I like above others, but I love to see the work of many, so much really good work out there. When I was in my mid-twenties something happened in my life that completely changed how I see the world around me, something that took the fog from in front of me and opened my eyes to light and composition..one thing that 4 years of art school couldn’t do. Since then, the look of my light, my style if you will, changed and I have been working daily on improving it. I don’t know what my style is, it is just how I see in my mind’s eye. It is how I imagine an image before I bring it into an actual photograph..but almost always I want to tell a story, explore and share an emotion. One thing for sure, photography has given me the opportunity to meet people from all walks of life, to see all levels of working people, to go to places I would have never gone to, to see amazing things that people make, to see human suffering up close, to share in families I would never had met, to see technology that is mind blowing, to meet people that have saved thousands of lives and to see mankind in every unusual aspect imaginable.

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