Search

Harrison Funk on Michael Jackson, Being a Celebrity Photographer & How He Captured Iconic Moments

Harrison Funk – Amy Winehouse

Creating magic is creating something with a unique style… something different, something that that that not too many people have ever seen photographed before. It’s creating something memorable and creating something that the audience can take away with them and remember the artist. Its magic is that thing that links the audience to the artist and the artist to their music.

Harrison Funk

Capturing the perfect moment to help tell the story can be a lot of responsibility to give one person, especially when photographing the most famous names in the industry for times and events that will happen only once in a lifetime. Harrison Funk does just that on this episode of OWC’s Leaders & GameChangers Harrison shares with Setorii Pond how he has mastered the art of capturing iconic photographs, shared one-of-a-kind moments from backstage, how Michael Jackson learned how to Moonwalk, what it was like photographing David Bowie during the filming of Labyrinth as well as other icons and what he looks for when he mentors aspiring photographers.

He was the personal photographer for Michael Jackson for 30 years and the Jackson family, has worked with and been trusted by Diana RossFreddie Mercury and QueenPrinceJohnny DeppLed ZeppelinDavid BowieBob DylanJames BrownRed Hot Chilli PeppersJohn TravoltaQuincy JonesPresidents of the United StatesGeorge Michael and Ice Cube and many more. Harrison has directed more than 30 music videos and documentaries, short films, and television productions. He has been shooting entertainment, fashion, and advertising for nearly two decades and you would have seen his work in publications such as LIFE, Time, Newsweek, Rolling Stone, Spin, TV Guide, and USA Today.  

If you would like to follow Harrison you find him at harrisonfunk.com and if you are looking to purchase any of his signed and limited edition fine art prints you can email him at studiofunk@me.com.


In This Episode

  • 0:33 – Setorii introduces Harrison Funk, Michael Jackson and the Jackson family’s personal photographer for 30 years. He has been trusted to work with Diana Ross, Freddie Mercury and Queen, Prince, Johnny Depp, Led Zeppelin, and many more.
  • 3:07 – Harrison shares behind-the-scenes secrets from when he photographed U.S. Presidents, like Nixon, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, and Obama.
  • 8:30 – Harrison reminisces on his unique experiences photographing the Jacksons, and what makes them “The Jacksons.”
  • 11:51 – Harrison talks about how he captured the perfect image of the celebrities he has photographed.
  • 16:36 – Harrison shares a funny story from when he photographed Don and George Burns together.
  • 21:15 – Harrison explains the story behind Michael Jackson’s phrase “make magic.”
  • 24:43 – Harrison shares his memories of Michael Jackson and how Michael evolved throughout the years.
  • 28:51 – Harrison talks about his experiences with the celebrities he has photographed and the great moments with them.
  • 34:57 – Setorii asks Harrison his three favorite photos he’s taken.
  • 41:52 – Setorii asks Harrison what advice he can give aspiring photographers and what he is looking for in a protege.
  • 45:00 – Setorii and Harrison encourages the listeners to check out Harrison’s website or email him at studiofunk@me.com if they are interested to purchase any of his signed and limited edition fine art prints.

Jump To Links and Resources


Transcript

Capturing the perfect moment to help tell the story can be a lot of responsibility to give one person especially when Photographing the most famous names in the industry for times and events that will happen only once in a lifetime. Harrison Funk does just that and has mastered the art of capturing priceless moments. He was the personal photographer from Michael Jackson and the Jackson Family, he’s been trusted by Diana Ross, Freddie Mercury, Prince, Johnny Depp, Led Zeppelin, James Brown, Red Hot Chili Peppers, George Michael, and Ice Cube to name just a few. He has been shooting Entertainment, Fashion, and Advertising for nearly two decades. You would have seen his work in publications such as LIFE, Time, Newsweek, Rolling Stone, Spin, TV Guide, and USA Today. 

I want to thank you so much, Harrison, for joining us today.

Oh, it’s great to be here Setorii. I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time.

People don’t know that we actually planned to do this, the middle of 2020. Correct?

We were going to do one with David.

Correct. David Valdez.

Originally, that was going to be a recreation of a conversation that David Valdez and I had at a Car Show. Talking about years of the White House, different shoots that we worked on. At the same time, Michael Jackson had been to visit Ronald Reagan and George Herbert Walker Bush, who was David’s most prestigious client. Then, also visited the Clintons. He went to the White House numerous times. We had this long conversation about shooting the White House, shooting presidents. Photographing, excuse me, he corrected me as well. He said, “You’d always say “shooting the president”, not in good form.” So, the Secret Service gets upset with that.

You photographed everybody from Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, what is it about each president that made them all so unique? They all had that certain genocide qua about them. If you could share a little bit from behind-the-scenes with us about what made them, them?

Every president had a bit of charisma onto himself. It’s interesting, looking back at Richard Nixon, who at the time, this was during his 1972 campaign, I hate to date myself, but I was a little boy. I was at the time 12 or 14. My dad was involved in local politics, and had a lot of connections and Nixon came through, which was in the suburbs of New York, this was in White Plains. Nixon came through and my dad arranged for me to photograph him when he made a stop. He was actually in an open car motorcade, which was kind of surprising because the presidents didn’t do that after JFK. It was interesting because he never flashed his famous “Double victory/I’m not a crook”. I look at Nixon in hindsight and I think this time, he is a great foreign affairs president. He opened up China and Russia, the US, and did so much with trade negotiated, “The Original SALT Treaty”. He was a really good foreign affairs president but, his overwhelming reputation states kind of took away from that. I tried to look past that. When I made my few frames of him, he was not very pleasant. He was curmudgeonly. You can tell he was uncomfortable being photographed. I don’t think he thought of the press as necessarily the enemy, but definitely, there was that element to him. Gerald Ford was just the opposite. Ford had the reputation of not being able to walk and chew gum at the same time, which I found to be ridiculous because he was such a nice guy. I photographed him on a speaking tour. He was doing a speaking tour of colleges. That’s when I got to photograph and he was at Franklin & Marshall, in Pennsylvania. He took time to answer questions from all of the people that were there, interviewing him and all the student journalists. He was very warm and outgoing. I found Ronald Reagan to be the coolest of them all. But of course, I did an internship at the Reagan White House. Reagan had that quality of engaging people and wanted to know the truth about what he was doing. I never had that intimate experience with the Clintons. I went to the White House once and I photographed them in other media situations, outside of the White House, but I never had an intimate experience with them. They were very pleasant. Hillary could be very brash. I heard stories from the Secret Service about her, which I’m not gonna repeat, but just about her brashness. George W. Bush was probably the nicest. He was the kind of guy you want to go out and have a beer with. I went to a church service where I met him and Laura. That was wild. I’m sitting in the pew behind them, because I had all the clearances I needed to talk to him, to be near him. I was invited to the church service by a client who owned a ranch in East Texas, I guess. Laura actually was a gem and I have to say, I admire the fact that the Bush and the Obama families became close. Because it was an unlikely thing, it was an unlikely friendship. George and Michelle, you wouldn’t expect that. I met Trump a few times. I’m not going to comment at all, because there’s too much controversy. I’m just not going to say anything. I met him with Michael once and that was an interesting experience.

Strive to create something unique every single time you pick up a camera.

I was curious if you could share, you went from photographing a president to all of a sudden, in the 80s, being part of the Michael Jackson’s Bad Tour. I know that you did other things with the Jacksons prior, but could you share what it was like to work and be part of photographing and capturing the Bad Tour, it was his first single tour.

It was definitely a unique experience. The Victory Tour was the first tour. Well, I shot a number of shows during the Triumph Tour, which was ‘81 which is where I first met all the Jacksons. I met Michael privately, and Jermaine privately. I became close friends with Jermaine actually, still am to this day and with Michael too, but obviously two very different personalities, Michael and Jermaine. Yet, they both come from the ultimate star family. When you think about it, I don’t think anybody other than the Jacksons has achieved so much as a group and individually, there’s so much talent there. I think every single Jackson brother has done at least one solo. Jermaine has done six. Tito has done three and Jackie has done two, and of course, Janet has her own. But she was one of the boys, she was, of course, Janet. I don’t know if you know that she performed with the guys at one point on TV.

Yeah, I saw that.

She’s quite an amazing talent. All of them have that same quality. Personally, which is the ability to communicate to people and to make people see them as approachable.

It’s genuine. They genuinely care.

Very genuine. I can think of many trips that I made with Michael to a mall or to different malls across the world, and how kids would run over to him to just say hello. The adults would stand on the sidelines whispering, “Oh my gosh, that’s Michael Jackson, do you think we could talk to him?” Well, they probably couldn’t, because he would talk to the kids before he talked to the adults. But there were plenty of times, parents would come up to Michael with their kids. The parents would engage in long conversations with him. That’s something about the Jackson Family. About most of the celebrities that I know with a few exceptions, are pretty approachable.

There’s a lot of artists that I’m sure that you’ve had the pleasure of working with. You don’t have the time to connect with them the way that you may be connected with someone like Michael. How is it for photographers to be able to capture that perfect essence of who they are, without being able to have that moment to connect and to build trust? Prince is a great example, how could you capture those perfect images?

Prince’s show is that interesting. You create images based upon the beauty before you or the excitement around you. Most of the artists that I’ve photographed, I have gotten to know. Because I feel like you have to, in order to really document who they are. You need to know them, you need to know their history, you need to know their personality, and you definitely need to be able to communicate with them. Being able to speak with a client is really paramount. I have found that there have been many clients that I haven’t at least made an attempt to get to know. I consider myself to be the king of the 10-minute portrait. You send me out to shoot a portrait of anybody and in 10 minutes, I’ll capture the essence of that person.

Create images based upon the beauty and the excitement around you. Click To Tweet

Wow! That is a bold statement, let me say.

But that statement is based upon being a photojournalist. So, you get sent by the New York Times to go do a shoot with an artist who is performing in New York, in Madison Square Garden. They’ve only given the New York Times access, they haven’t given anybody else access, and they want you to shoot them in as little time as possible. I have learned how to photograph people easily. Sometimes it’s a challenge. But I’ve learned about pre-lighting a situation. You go in and you set up the shot long before that person gets there. Then the person comes into the room, and you chit-chat a little bit. If they don’t have time to chit-chat, their publicists will tell you and usually, that’s a great opportunity for them to pretend to slap the publicists and say, “No, I want to talk to this guy.” That’s always been my experience, where artists will say to their publicist. Sinatra was a great example. My dad knew Sinatra. So, Sinatra came into the room and recognized my last name, but only because of Michael. He said, “So you’re still shooting Michael?” I said, “Yeah” and he goes, “Cool! How is he? I haven’t talked to him forever.” We got into a conversation about Michael, and he says, “How is your dad by the way? I know your dad.” I said, “You do?” I pretended that I didn’t know that, but I did. I just wanted to see where he would go with it and he remembered my dad’s name and where his office was, and he was telling me that conversations and his manager came in. He says “You want to shoot one frame, wrap it up and get out of here.” Sinatra goes, “My god, you’re rude. I give you the pleasure of working for me. Go inside! Your room is that way. You got a production office, go there and hide.” Then a bodyguard named Julie Risto, the big burly guy. He just snaps his fingers and goes, “Julie! Get him out of here!” I felt like I was in GoodFellas. It was wild. But, I don’t think any of the artists I’ve ever photographed, had the personality of Sinatra. Don Rickles was another one. Rickles was hysterical. When I told him that I did some stand-up, he wanted to talk to me about stand-up. Like, how’d you got into it? What do you do? What gets you great laughs? And how do you feel after the show? I’m answering questions from God, that I would ask him.

Didn’t you photograph Don and George Burns together? In the story with the two of them, something funny happened?

No, George Burns came to The Don Rickles Show. Burns was probably 96, Rickles was in his early 70s maybe. George Burns was just needling. It was wild. Rickles said, “Don’t go too far. I can put you out of your misery in 50 seconds.” But they were friends, I guess they were pretty close. At least it seemed to be that way. Rickles had a way of connecting with people. That was unique because he would insult people to the point where they wanted to just run away. He would end up ingratiating himself to the same people. He’s a guy that would do an hour and a half of insults to people, random people in the audience. He got really nasty with one African-American guy and one Jewish guy. They were sitting next to each other. This was down at one of the hotels in Atlantic City, Paris. The African-American guy was getting very angry, “But when are you going to stop this?” Rickles walks down into the audience and gives the guy a hug and says, “It’s part of the act. It’s all part of the act.” He says, “Will you join me for a drink after the show?” The guy is sitting there with his wife whoever, or his significant other for the night, and the Jewish guy yells, “Hey, what about me?” and Rickles says, “I haven’t gotten to you yet.” He walks over to him and he says, “The offer’s open to you, too. But I’m not giving you a hug because you smell like you’re not taking a bath in three days.” The guy impeccably dressed and you knew this guy had real money. This was not some Atlantic City player. This was a guy that came to Atlantic City to see his show, had his wife and his two kids with him who were older. He looks at Rickles and he says, “No one has ever spoken to me like that.” Rickles said something like, “Good for you, those characters. Grow a backbone. By the way, you coming backstage to have a drink with me after the show?” And the guy’s wife says, “You bet you will be there.” The guy doesn’t know what to say, he just said, “Sure.” So, I go backstage after the show and they’re back there, the two families. He says, “The whole point of this who’s leading up to, I insult everybody. I’m an equal opportunity insulter.” He would do this whole routine about donating to charities. It depended on the night and who he was insulting, which charities he goes after. That night, he raised money for the NAACP and the Anti-Defamation League. He said, “Did you catch the last bit where I sent the bucket around? Now let’s look at the bucket and see who gave more money for the NAACP or for the Anti-Defamation League.” He’s looking at this, thousands of dollars, checks, cash, people just emptying their pockets for charity. He said, “That’s why I insult you. It’s the human side.” This is where we see the human side. If anyone cares enough to say, “His insults are funny, but let’s stop. Let’s stop hating on each other and let’s start welding on each other.”

What does the phrase, Harrison, “Can you go make magic?” What does that mean to you?

It’s a very Michael thing. So, when he asked me to make magic, he asked me to come up with a picture that is special. Let me actually show you, can you see that picture of Michael? The title is “Motion” and it’s Michael moonwalking.

Were you there for the first Moonwalk moment?

No. Michael learned the Moonwalk from Jeffrey Daniel of Shalimar. Michael did not create the Moonwalk on his own. Jeffrey showed him how he and James Brown had both created different versions of it. James Brown also showed Michael. James Brown taught Michael how to do this circular move. Michael made it what it became, but it wasn’t his move. But he learned it from two amazing other dancers. The first Moonwalk was a rehearsal before Motown 25, and I was at Motown 25. As time went by, the Moonwalk evolved brilliantly. Then at one point, Michael wanted an image that really told the story of the Moonwalk with a little bit of collaboration and a lot of research. I pulled together this image. We shot it at Wembley in London during the Bad Tour. It sat for years with only being used once in a program when Michael passed away, I was talking with his mother and she said, “It’s one of my favorite images”. So he’s the one next to it behind my head. Then there’s the one of him with his arms outstretched. That was on the cover of the memorial program. Creating magic is creating something of a unique style, something different, something that not too many people have ever seen photographed before. It’s creating something memorable and creating something that the audience can take away with them. Remember, the artists, its magic is that thing that links the audience to the artist, and the artist to his music or her music.

You were there for so much of the evolution of Michael through the tours, personally at home. Can you just share one or two memories of how you saw Michael evolved or what he was influenced by, or a really happy memory that you had from watching Michael become who he became?

So many of my memories of Michael are happy times. But I’ll tell you one story about Michael, I’ll tell you two. Michael had an office and we had an earthquake. In the building, we’re on the 34th floor. The building starts shaking and swaying. I had an office/workspace, an editing space next to Michael’s office. I hear him gasp and go, “Uh-oh!” I got up and I went into his office, I said, “Are you okay?” and he said, “We need to get downstairs right now.” I said, “Okay, let’s go.” Then he says, “All right, make sure everybody’s okay in the office.” I went around the office and I said, “Everybody line up by the door.” I just took it upon myself to line people up, and we’re going downstairs, “I need this person and this person in front of them behind Michael. I’m going to walk next to him.” Bill Ray came in because that was Michael’s head of security. He was an elderly man, who had been chief of detectives at LAPD. So Bill says, “I see you got this in a fallen hand.” I said, “Yeah, you can take over now.” He laughed, and he goes, “No, it looks like you got it okay.” Then he took over and he started ordering people around. So, Michael and I kind of hung back and went down the stairway talking. Just having a conversation. It was what kept him calm. He hated earthquakes. This wasn’t a huge one. This was only like a magnitude 4.5 or 4.7. Do you remember Lucy? What was her name from the observatory in Pasadena where they had the Richter, the little thing that printed out? She would be on all the channels as soon as the earth breakouts?

Yes.

Michael said, “Gee! I wonder what she’s saying? Too bad we don’t have a TV here.” We thought about how nice it would be to have a little handheld, portable TV that we can watch this on. On the way down 34 flights of stairs and we walked down all 34 flights of stairs. At some point, Michael felt really rushed because of the earthquake. Zoomed down the stairs I was saying, “Excuse me, give us some sight, please.” I don’t think many people could imagine Michael Jackson walking down 34 flights of stairs in the middle of an earthquake. We got outside and he said, “Oh, it’s so bright. Oh my goodness!” He puts on his shades, he looks around and people are looking at him and said, “Wait a second. Is that Michael Jackson?” Nobody bothered him. Nobody came over for an autograph. Not one person violated his personal space. I was amazed.

Everything is worth shooting.

You photograph Freddie Mercury from Queen, you photograph Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, James Brown, Sammy Davis, Jr. Can you share maybe just a thought or two about each person that I’ve mentioned or just some great moments that stand out to you from photographing these amazing artists?

And the one that you didn’t mention?

Yes, of course.

One of my favorite portrait sessions ever was with David Bowie.

I love it.

He was doing the soundtrack for Labyrinth.

I love that movie!

Yeah, it’s a great movie. It’s so incredible. It was in Atlantic Studios in New York. He was being produced by Ruth Martin, who is one of the greatest producers of all time. Stones and Queen. Bowie is sitting on the console. He was on the edge of the console, when I walked into the room and said, “David, we completely forgot that I have on the shotlist, a portrait to do a view in the studio that needs to be done by tomorrow.” We don’t have time to do it tomorrow because of other parts of the sessions that he’s doing. He looks at his watch and he says, “All right. Can we do it within 45 minutes to an hour?” I said, “Sure, not a problem. Let me get set up.” I came back in, it was four forty-five in the morning, we got set up and I said, “Okay, ready?” He says, “Yeah, where do you want to do it?” I said, “Right here. How about on the console?” This is an original Neve board, which is one of the most incredible recording consoles. You don’t want to sit on top of it, and he’s gingerly positioning himself on top of it. By the time I was done with him, I was laying across from him. I put doing a push-up on top of the edge of the board and we finished within his required 45 minutes. He says, “Are you really done?” I said, “Yeah.” He says, “But I want to keep going!”

That’s such a compliment, by the way.

We kept going and we shot some more. I’ll show you those. Actually one of those images went to space.

I saw one of them and it’s amazing. He’s literally positioned. He got his hand close to the mic and he’s got this amazing stance. 

Oh, he’s dancing. He was dancing to the song that’s called, Underground. It’s one of the key songs in the soundtrack. Between takes, he starts gliding into the left stance, and he’s dancing and swaying in front of the microphone. The Film Crew, the guy who is doing the making of the documentary missed him dancing. I said, “David, mission control. We have a problem here.” David says, “Yeah, I know. Do you want to tell them?” I said, “Absolutely.” I went back inside the control room, I told the cinematographer. The director looked at me and said, “Take over. Go ahead. I don’t care.” At that point, he said, “Yeah, you saw something. I didn’t see it. I feel like a jerk, fine.” I got the film crew back in there and I said, “Okay David, do you think you can do it and make it look like it’s spontaneous?” David said, “I’ll try. Spontaneous is not easily recreated.” Then he goes into it and recreates it entirely. We did three takes and the film crew got it. I shot stills on all three of those takes as well. That’s one of the greatest moments that I can think of. You have said, Freddie Mercury. Freddie Mercury was to me, one of the finest and most amazing performers I’ve ever seen in my life. Every night, the show was a little bit different. The only way to shoot Freddie was spontaneous. Because he would change up from night to night, little bits, although we do the same thing. He was well-orchestrated, well-choreographed. You had to go into a shoot with Freddie especially LIVE and be open to anything that he would do. Because he would change things up and do crazy things. The image that you saw of Freddie is incredible. It’s incredible to me because I didn’t expect him to almost pose and hold it while he was singing. It just threw me. The image shows his character, he was a character. Then who else did you ask me about?

Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan.

Bob Dylan was on my bucket list forever. I only got to photograph him at Live Aid. The picture that you saw Bob Dylan with Keith, Richard, and Ronnie Wood was the opening sequence of Live Aid, 1985. I was standing there looking at Bob Dylan and I thought, “Wait a second. Okay, that’s Bob Dylan.” He was singing something like, “I ain’t going to work on Maggie’s farm no more.” I wanted to separate him from Keith and Ronnie. Yet, you couldn’t because the three of them were completely intertwined at the moment. Led Zeppelin, the image you’re talking about was also in Live Aid. Bonzo had already passed away. A lot of people were saying, “Nah! It’s not really Led Zeppelin.” It was really Led Zeppelin. Phil Collins was playing drums for them at Live Aid, and there’s not one picture of him. I couldn’t get an angle to shoot him playing drums that actually made the rest of the guys look great.

Tell us three of your favorite photos that you’ve ever taken.

Michael Jackson, the image I described as “Motion”. The portrait of Vincent Price and a picture of Grace Jones in Grace Jones.

It’s Grace Jones for people that don’t know. Absolutely, look at that! It’s an image of her and she’s wearing a mask, correct? She’s looking at her hair.

Her cousin is also wearing a Grace Jones molded mask and is looking into her face.

No, wow! What is one of the most exciting photo projects that you’ve ever covered?

Quincy Jones is recording a Back on the Block. Because he brought in so many different Artists. Back on the Block as a body of work, from beginning to end. I did a project for Blue Note Records. It was called, “One Night with Blue Note Preserved“. If you’re a jazz fan, they brought together every artist that had ever recorded, there was a LIVE that ever recorded on Blue Note. I got to do portraits of all of them and shoot the recording sessions.

You have traveled all over the world, you have photographed so many notable names. What was one of your favorite moments working as a photographer?

Getting to photograph Nelson Mandela, just after he was released in prison. Getting to photograph Nelson Mandela with Michael Jackson and Elizabeth Taylor, a couple of years later.

What was the conversation that they were all having together if you can share, between Jackson and Nelson?

I’ve never revealed this. It was about what his plans were to bring South Africa out of Apartheid and make South Africa overpowered. Not in a bad way, in a very positive way. And about what the world needs now is Love Sweet Love. That was really the message. Michael, Elizabeth, and Mandela all espoused the same idea for the world. Which is, stop the hate, bring on love, make the world a better place. Michael sang about it a lot. Mandela talked about it a lot. Elizabeth embodied that in all of her charity and all of what she believes in. Her animal activism to amfAR.

Michael Jackson, Elizabeth Taylor, and Nelson Mandela all had the same ideals for the world, which is, to stop hate, bring out love, and make the world a better place. Click To Tweet

Thank you for sharing that. What was the most challenging photo that you ever had to capture?

It’s really hard to pick out the most challenging because, when you strive to create something unique every single time you pick up a camera, it’s all challenging.

I’m curious. Maybe share one of them that it was really hard to get the shot, but you get it. 

One of them was again, a 10-minute portrait. He directed out of Africa. His name is gonna drive me crazy.

Is it Sydney Pollack?

Sydney Pollack, thank you. Yeah, appreciate that. I had a 10-minute portrait session. It was shot for Vanity Fair and I was told he’ll probably end up killing all of these images. “So don’t get your hopes up that anything will be used”, and he approved 75 images. I think that was the most challenging. It was definitely one of the most threatening ones. The converse of that was shooting Vincent Price, it was the morning after he did the voiceover for Thriller and he said, “We really don’t have a lot of time to do this. Don’t make it a long drawn out photoshoot again”. Then he said, “Let’s keep going”, and it was an hour-long. 

Be willing to learn. Be willing to absorb. Be willing to shoot.

There seems to be a theme with that with you. People love working with you so much that even though they put a little window on it, as soon as they start working with you, they just keep saying, “I want to keep going”. 

I see there was another one like that. He came into the studio and one of my Assistants offered him water and he says, “Yeah, I’d like some water.” She said, “Okay, do you want an Arrowhead?” He says, “I don’t care if it comes from an effing garden hose. I just need some water.” So I said, “Are you open to doing every single thing that your label has asked me to shoot?” He said, “Yeah.” Everything I asked him to do, he did it and he was happy to do it. We ended up going down to the L.A. River, we snuck in through a tunnel that gets you down right on to the river bed. I don’t know if you know the story of the L.A. River, it was concreted over to stop flooding. So we get down on the concrete, and we’re down there shooting for half an hour, and all of a sudden, all these little young Hispanic gang bangers show up. One of them pulls out a gun, points at me, and says, “I’ll take the cameras.” It was more like, “Hey ese, I’m one of these big gangers here.” Then he looked over and said, “Hoiiii!” I said, “Don’t call me that!” Then he goes, “Oh my god, I’m stealing.” I said, “Oh no, you’re not stealing from me and you’re not stealing from him either.” Then his bodyguards came down through the tunnel with their own guns out and they said to the kid, “You’re not doing that.” He said, “Right, I’m not doing it.” He says, “Good. Put your gun right here on the ground and have it back.” Then at the end, he takes the clip out and I said, “What are you doing? Why are you doing this? Then he says, “Hey man, I grew up into it. I jumped into it at 6.” His grandfather was a gang banger and his father was a gang banger, they were all in prison. The whole family in prison. I said, “So you want to end up like that? Are you kidding me?”

What advice would you give a starting photographer who’s wanting to become a photographer?

Be flexible. Don’t turn down something because you don’t think it’s exciting enough or in the right line for your career, or because you don’t think it’s something that you’re worthy of doing, or I should say the opposite, that is worthy of having you shoot it. Everything is worth shooting.

Be flexible. Don't turn down something because you don't think it's exciting enough or right for your career. Click To Tweet

What is one thing that you wish you knew when you started taking photos?

How to be that? I was very flexible, but I have to say I pinpointed what I wanted to shoot based upon where I wanted to go with my career. I have a couple of regrets, sort of. I lost a client, I lost Capital Records for about 3 years because I turned down a shoot with Stray Cats. I turned down a video shoot with a Stray Cats. This was really early in their career and they had no budget, I was believing that I had to set myself out as an inexpensive photographer or I would get known for being a budget line photographer. That is actually to a degree, that’s advice I give young photographers all the time. “Don’t do anything on the cheap. If they can’t afford you, then you’re wrong for the shoot.” But this and a couple of other things I turned down really irritate me because I probably could have done so much with those guys. I happen to love their music but, you have to be flexible.

Consider mentoring people today, I’m sure you do. But are you ever open to being a mentor? And if so, what do you look for in your protégé?

I am and I will. I have and I continue to. I look for willingness, I look for somebody who really wants to be a great photographer. Not everybody’s going to be great at anything. You could have no eye at all and technically be great, or you’ll be technically awful and have a great eye. There are plenty of those out there, on both sides. You have to be willing to learn, willing to absorb, and willing to shoot.

Harrison has these amazing images that are available. He has fine artwork prints available for purchase which people can get. Could you tell people where they can purchase some of your amazing artwork?

If you look at my website, and if you want to send me an email. My email is studioFUNK@me.com or you look at my Instagram account, @foto_icon. All of my images are for sale as limited edition, fine art prints. Prints ranging in size from 11×14 to 24×36 and we’ll even go bigger depending on somebody’s needs, especially for interior decorators and designers for restaurants or what have you. The images are available to hang on your walls. They’re signed, they’re numbered, you’re buying from me instead of through a Gallery, although that could change again. But I have done quite a few shows around the world. If you like some of my work and you want to buy, by all means, contact us and we’ll send you the catalogs and quite cheap.

Awesome! Thank you everybody for listening to this episode of OWC’s Leaders and Game Changers. I look forward to having Harrison back again and hopefully, we can do more of an in-person interview with safety precautions, of course, so we can actually show you some of these amazing images that Harrison is talking about. Thank you Harrison for all of your time today. 

You’re very welcome. It was great being here, Setorii. Thank you for having me on. Look forward to doing it again.

Thank you! Everybody, please like and subscribe to the podcast and we look forward to you tuning in to the next episode. Thank you so much for tuning in. Bye-bye!



Checklist 

  1. Start with the basic equipment. Learn to capture images with what you have, like a smartphone, a regular camera, or an entry-level DSLR camera. 
  2. Master the basic camera settings. Aperture, shutter speed, and ISO when combined create an excellent exposure. Find the correct and appropriate balance of these settings before taking a picture.
  3. Keep practicing by shooting images every day. That is the only way someone can get better at photography.
  4. Explore your creativity. Find what inspires you. Take pictures based on the beauty and excitement around you.
  5. Focus on lighting. Balanced lighting is one of the essential elements of a good picture.
  6. Be flexible and go with the flow when capturing images. Shoot everything that fascinates you and try not to be too conscious of the results. 
  7. Be willing to learn and absorb. Photography is a learning process. One should enjoy it every step of the way.
  8. Explore different genres of photography before you determine what your forte is. Don’t hesitate to be experimental with your work. 
  9. Always carry your camera with you wherever you go. That is the only way to capture treasured moments.
  10. Check out Harrison Funks’s website or email him at studiofunk@me.com to learn more about how to purchase his signed and limited edition fine art prints.

More from this show

Subscribe

Episode 9