George Lange is the man behind Lange Studio’s. He is exceptional at what he does because he gets out from behind the camera and in front of the lens. This is a totally unique standpoint for a photographer of his caliber. His work in portraiture, advertising, celebrity, and candid work is world renowned, respected, and revered.
Recently Lange's first book "The Unforgettable Photograph" is killing the book charts right now, and was just promoted at Cannes by Instagram as, I guess, one of their “must read’s”.
He’s a big deal in the photography world, not that you would ever know it from meeting him first off. But then you realize by “Jerry” he means Seinfeld, “Bill" he means Gates and "Annie" he means Leibovitz. While he's quick to point out he doesn't know them all on a first name basis, he's photographed just about everyone extraordinary I can think of, including the President of the United States of America.
Scouts honor, the main reason I was ever interested in meeting him was because he photographed Honey Boo Boo. And we have been fast friends ever since.
So George sat down with me for an hour, which quickly turned to two, and we talked about Squiggling.
George – squiggling mostly starts with having a great idea pop in your head that makes you kinda nervous. When was the last time you did something that made you nervous?
Every time I pick up my camera I do something different, I never shoot the same way because I never see the same way. So I guess I am in constant squiggle. I am always looking for something new. Always asking questions about things I don’t know. The process of exploration with my camera in my hand is totally exhilarating and empowering.
Take these farm dinners I have been photographing this summer in Boulder. The dinners are different every night, depending on the rainfall, the wind, what’s freshest. It is all based literally on which way the wind is blowing. The business is incredible - they post news of a lottery the next dinner and they are sold out almost immediately. Each experience of these dinners is unique. So why would I go in with a formula about how I will shoot the pictures?
I am just operating on instinct, pointing my camera where it needs to go.
I am interested in capturing a moment and even better a feeling. Not a pose, or a “look” or a manufactured anything. I want to capture life.
There are places you can stick your eye, your camera or your mind to see the world differently. I stick my lens deep down in the steaming pot of fresh pasta.
So be in the moment, be guided. That’s is entirely my process, to the extent it’s a process. But have you ever felt uncertain if the pictures would “come out” and you’ve screwed up a whole shoot?
What do we really think we have control over? Why do we insist on telling ourselves, and the world, what we already know? I want to push past what I know and come out the other side more enlightened. I want to take pictures where I have idea what will happen, that is where the good stuff unfolds. These notions of security, predictability, control, that people with more money are happier - who are we kidding?
I want to go to a dinner party where I don’t have a clue what anyone is talking about, and just listen. Maybe I learn something and maybe I don’t. Admit to yourself how much you don’t know.
I have no interest in predictable and I am not looking for anyone to be what I expect. That is my job - to show up and show what is different and unique.
Ultimately I think that is what the Squiggly Line is about. It’s about TRULY showing up. We talked a little about one of the “most sexy women alive” that you photographed. I called her plastic and you said she was very unattractive in real life. What is happening there?
What connects me to people who they really are are. I am not so concerned about what they look like on the surface. The more personal I can make a shoot, the more powerful it is.
When it is personal we connect. It is from that place we share, whether you are a model, actress, business person, neighbor. That is what this journey is about.
I am constantly searching for the goodness in my subjects. The place where we are unique, where we are connected, where we are special. I grew up in a very sheltered community where I felt very much a part of the group. Then I went to college and started to realize I was different and I learned that all that I can do is to be the greatest version of myself.
I learned to embrace what makes me different, rather than always trying to fit in. I was the outsider that dipped in and out of people’s lives with my camera. It has been an incredible privilege to be invited in with so many people in my search for that happiness I had as a child.
You once mentioned to me, with much disdain, that a client had told you that the work only needed to be “good enough”.
This makes me frustrated. Do you want to be a “good enough” husband or wife? Or a “good enough” mother or father. Do you want to eat food that is good enough or do you want to eat great food? Do you want to have “good enough” sex? Watch “good enough” theatre? There is no need to live your life being good enough. Be great - take everything you do as being important and special, even taking the garbage out. No Coasting!
But, one brave squigglier to another, I have my moments of massive anxiety about whether I am doing the right thing. Do you ever feel “I can’t do this”?
I feel anxious all the time except when I am doing what I love, when I pick up my camera. If I let my head get in the way I do get in trouble, my head wants to undo the most inspired ideas I have. Just the other night I was questioning decisions I had been making and I felt paralyzed by it. Then fear does take hold, for sure, I haven’t mastered that part of the equation. Luckily I have a partner who can zoom out, see the big picture, then resets my compass.
What do you do then?
I talk to Stephie (George’s wife) who can zoom out, see the big picture and reset my compass. I remind myself why I am doing what I do. I get active checking in on possible clients, working on my new website and reaching out to friends to ideate. I do what I have to do to get through that moment and keep moving forward. But, do you want to know the funniest thing? (And I hope this doesn’t sound self-obsessed). On Monday morning I went to work and I thought “I don’t know what I am going to do today”. I felt so raw, I didn’t think I had it in me. I started looking at some photos I had just taken and needed to edit and before I knew it hours had gone past and I was totally absorbed in my work and happy. As Stephie always reminds me, “the work leads to the work.”
Steve Jobs said have the courage to follow your heart and intuition, the somehow know what you truly want to become. Do you agree?
Your intuition often tells you something that makes no sense. Every move I have made in my life has been intuitive. The gigantic decisions can’t possibly be logical. I have made 4 major life moves, all amazing. Both my boys were born from single intuitive moments of our knowledge that our family needed to grow. Moving from New York to Boulder was intuitive. Picking up the camera, every time, is intuitive. Sticking the lens in a boiling pot of water the other day – I didn’t think for a second that I could have ruined my lens – fear would have ruined the images. All these things make sense in reverse, when you look back. Didn’t Steve Jobs also say something about connecting the dots afterwards always shows you the path? All these moments craft the journey. It’s not a map - the steps don’t always make sense on paper. Were they logical? No. Big things can’t be “decided”. I think intuition knows how we should proceed, how the process can work. You have to believe in yourself, and that includes the possibility of failure.
I completely agree, we can only get a sense of where we need to go and just show up, do the work with no fear of the unknown right?
We have to embrace the unknown. We have to embrace what we can’t control and push past that concern that you might fail. You have to look UP, get your head away from your screens, and start to see the world, see the connectivity, stick your lens in the boiling water. None of the great things that will happen in your life will happen in front of a screen.
George, I knew this would be a delight and what a lovely way to spend a sunny afternoon. One final question - who would play you in a movie?
I want the story of my life to be a Pina Bausch dance. That would make me very happy.
Shout-out opportunity to the incredible Stephanie Lange, George’s phenomenal life and creative partner.
George Lange’s incredible world can be explored here: http://langestudio.com/
He can be followed/fan’d and tweeted about at: @LangeStudio / instagram.com/lange55 / https://www.facebook.com/LangeStudio