Bret: Bret Pemelton. I'm a native Californian that now calls Nashville, Tennessee home.
Geri: Are you really a recovering musician?
Bret: Yes. I say it as a joke, but I was seriously a music “junky”. It was my whole identity. I pursued music from the time I was 12 till I was 35. I had a few record deals which resulted in four internationally released albums. When it all fell apart at the end of 1995, I spent the following three years detoxing. Photography was my transition drug out of it. I realized there was more to life and I had more to offer than just trying to be a rock star.
Bret: I got my first iPhone in November of 2011. A few weeks later my best friend's son introduced me to Camera+ and I was off and running. I kind of digressed at first because I couldn't keep my grubby paws off that stupid “Clarity” button. All my early pictures are edited so ridiculously over the top. I've been slowly deleting them from my feed.
Geri: Do you use the native camera app or do you prefer a specialty app like Hipstampatic, Camera+, ProCamera?
Bret: Well, like I said, at first it was Camera+, then I started using Hipstamatic for several months. I would experiment with various combinations but always gravitated back to the John S/Claunch 72 Monochrome combo. Then around May of 2012 it all changed for me. I just want you to know that I'm usually quite reluctant and vague about sharing this next part, but since you offered me that suitcase full of cash to do this interview I'm feeling rather obligated. So, I was perusing through Instagram (probably fishing for more followers) when I saw this incredible landscape that was barely edited, if at all, and someone commented “I see you're using 645 PRO” and I said to myself: “Hello my new addiction!” It was love at first sight. I stopped seeing other camera apps and jumped right into a heavily committed relationship. This is where I turned the corner. It felt like switching from playing piano on a Casio to playing on a Steinway.
Geri. Most of your IG gallery is in black and white - is this your preference?
Bret: I had dabbled in photography while touring on the road in the 80's when I wasn't busy sculpting my hair with Aqua Net and wearing eye liner (I did mention it was the 80's right?) but never seriously. Then in the early 90's I took a solo trip to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. I came across this black and white exhibit by a photographer whose name I now wish I'd written down. It was very raw, taken in what appeared to be an old abandoned cabin, featuring a plain, even slightly homely female model. There were even a few nudes, which I'm not typically drawn to...well, artistically speaking that is (did I mention I have six kids?) It connected with my soul at a level I never knew existed. I knew I'd soon be investigating this new found yearning. So about 5-6 years later, when I was trying to get that music monkey off my back, I blew the mascara dust off my old Minolta and ran out and bought 100-speed black and white film. (you kids remember film? We used it while listening to our 8-track tapes!)
Bret: Ideally, I like to approach it like I'm writing a song. I get a concept, like say a period piece image in my mind and I chew on it for a few days, sometimes weeks, before I tackle it. A few come immediately. I don't always do so well with spur of the moment ideas. I used to be into shooting inanimate objects and buildings, but I began to feel like I was retreating to the safety zone. A barn doesn't need any direction, and it won't blink if you ask it to expose a little skin. (I'm sorry, I did mention I live in the south right?) Don't get me wrong, I'm not bagging on those who do, it was just for me, I knew my big thrill came from connecting with people. I also love taking live shots of bands. I love capturing movement and energy. That's a whole other beast when it comes to lighting.
Bret: Well, first of all thank you Geri for subscribing. My affirmation bell is ringing like crazy! Oh Geez! I'll try to make this answer short. Let's see: “...It was the best of times, it was the worst..” Seriously, it was because of this little website called Facebook. I went Ape Poop (pardon my French) joking around with all my friends I hadn't seen in like 30 years...yes, those same people I listened to 8-tracks with and said things like: “Gnarly dude, she's totally foxxy!” My witty banter caught the attention of my dear friend Lorrie Harden who's husband Tommy is Reba's drummer, (I like to call her Wifey #2) anyways, she sat me down one day said: “You need to be writing a blog...NOW!” So for the past two years I've been putting out a weekly diatribe of my feeble mental meanderings (I don't know what I just said either). I honestly have no idea how many people actually read it. I've stuck with it so I can improve as a writer. I'm taking a hiatus to start working on my book. The title? “The Recovering Musician” of course!
Geri: Please share a little bit about your editing process and some of your favorite apps.
Bret: I recently purchased that little Apple TV box of awesomeness, so now I can view pictures from my iPhone on my 50” television screen. This is handy when I've just taken 300 shots. I usually narrow those down to about 30 and begin editing. My process is pretty simple. I shoot everything in color to leave my options open. If I'm going for black & white (which is usually 99.9% of the time) I upload it onto my Noir Photo app. I love the way you can highlight and shadow things with that. It's super user friendly. Next I upload it onto PS Express. I'll add any needed brightness and I'll ride that contrast button like I'm launching a rocket to the moon! (actually I only hover around +2 to +5). Next I'll use the “Reduce Noise” feature to remove blemishes and smooth things out, though now that I view them on my Apple TV I'm realizing I need to dial back a bit on that function, because you can loose some important definition, though it may not be visible on your phone screen, it can be real obvious on a big screen, which could be problematic if you ever plan to enlarge them to display. Last I use the “Sharpen” feature to bring in a bit more clarity. I'll use Snapseed's “Selective Adjust” if there’ s an area that I feel needs to be brought out more or reduced. If there's something I want removed from the shot I'll use Juxtaposer by uploading the image twice, erasing the object, then enlarging the original and try to line up the hole where it's no longer noticeable. I also like Photo FX to try different B&W looks and filters. I think I learned of all these apps from Amy Leibrand (@_ThisSpace_).
Bret: I have a real affinity for the past, particularly the 30's and 40's as well as the 50s, hence why I'm drawn to black and whites. I love old issues of Life magazine, particularly Dorothea Lange's work. I'm also a huge Alfred Hitchcock fan. I'm trying to incorporate those eras without being too literal or costumey. I recently learned of Vivian Maier from This American Life. Just Google her right now and prepare to have your world rocked. Tom Stone is my concert/band photo guru. He is a huge inspiration, who I discovered via my bestie Twitter/Facebook/Instagram sister, Angie @GuardianAng who happens to be his manager. Tom does work for Rolling Stone and Alternative Press magazines. On Instagram, Amy Leibrand was also key in my growth. Though I'm not of the avant garden variety, I get inspired and excited when I see her work and others like her. There's also my deux soeurs from France who continue to be my muses Stephanie @stefania131313) and Celine @noremi78). I'm certain there's some psychological reason I'm drawn mostly toward female artists. Maybe it's because I was a “Mommy's Boy”, or maybe because Naomi Judd once put my head in her lap (true story). I don't know, mine’s not to question why.
Bret: Yes I'm a breeder, we have six kids. People use to stop us and ask if we were either Mormon or Catholic. Our favorite response was “Nope, just horny!” I photograph them so often that whenever I pull my phone out of my pocket they run and hide. (I usually find them under their beds in the fetal position, sucking their thumbs) The Grapes of Wrath photo of my two boys in the field was another turning point for me. It represented my heritage. My father was part of that westward movement in the 30's-40's. His family ended up in Central California where Dorothea Langes iconic “Migrant Mother” was taken. It was my “jumping off” point.
Bret: I was just contacted by Nashville RAW and I'll be exhibiting sometime around the end of April. I've always been hesitant to refer to myself as a “photographer”, and now I'm starting to receive requests to photograph other people. It's really pretty crazy.
Bret: As crazy as it sounds, Instagram has changed my life as well as been an integral part of my diving back into photography, and because you're being exposed to hundreds of images a day the growth curve is multiplied exponentially. Think about it, before you had to go to a gallery, look in books or look up online to see other people’s work. Now we just turn on our cell phones. You learn from the good and the bad. The best part, though, is the community that I've built on there as well as Facebook and Twitter. It has strengthened my existing friendships and now I have friends that are like family that I've never even met. It's empowering knowing that any given time someone in Oslo, Paris, Sydney, Rio de Janeiro (I love my Translate app!), or heck, even Cleveland might be looking at one of my images and thinking about me. It's why I started the #FollowFridayFamily tag. I love encouraging and hopefully empowering others. It's rather addicting!
Thanks Bret for sharing your work, your secrets and making me smile, You can connect with Bret in all of the following places:
Blog / Facebook / Flickr / Twitter / Instagram / EyeEm
All images in this feature are copyrighted property of Bret Pemelton published on iART CHRONiCLES with the consent of the artist.