2007_04_billwadman.jpgPark Slope-based photograher Bill Wadman isn't content to stay idle for long. After picking up his first SLR (single-lens reflex) camera in 2004, he quickly developed a passion for the art. Though he received his degree from Berklee College of Music, photography is now his full time career (and "first love"). January 1st, 2007 saw the launch of his latest, and perhaps most ambitious project thus far, 365 Portraits, a website which will feature a new portrait each day of the year. The catch is that the photos must be taken by Wadman on that same day. Thus far subjects have included former Daily Show writer Chris Regan, writer Grant Stoddard, comedian Jon Friedman, animator Odd Todd, fellow photographer Ryan Brenizer, yours truly, as well as people whose titles range from "Smiler" to "7 days new" baby Maura Grace McDonnell. At the conclusion of the project, Wadman plans to make the entire set of photos available as a gallery exhibition. He recently emailed with Gothamist about his favorite camera equipment, his wish list of subjects, and why New York is a "perfect" place to scout for new faces to immortalize.

When did you first get into photography? Did it quickly move from casual hobby to something more serious?
I got my first digital SLR in 2004, so I'd say that it became a serious hobby around then. I guess about a year ago is when I started considering making a career of it. So it wasn't too quick, more gradual but steadily.

365 Portraits is not your first year-long project. What appeals to you about these extended projects versus doing free-form, spontaneous photography? Is your approach to each different?
The first two year-long projects consisted of all kinds of things. I wrote and recorded music, wrote essays and terrible poetry, took random pictures, coded screensavers, made mini movies, and other random crap. This all started because I'm a chronic procrastinator and I was trying to find a way to have myself make something every day. Years of my life were passing by with little or nothing to show for them. I'd sit there and tell myself that I was a musician or a photographer or whatever so I made myself put my money where my mouth is. The first 365 project and the 52 project were fun because each day or week was something new and hopefully different. And while the same can be said of 365 Portraits, there are obviously more constraints. The object of the game is to keep it interesting and fresh while living inside those walls. Every jazz musician who plays "All of Me" plays the same chords; it's what you do inside those chords that counts.

This is a highly New York-centric project, since you live and will be taking most of the photographs in New York, of New Yorkers. Are there specific aspects of the city and its population that you're trying to capture?
Yes and no. New York is perfect for a project like this because there are so many people of every category, and I'm up for shooting every kind of person out there. That said, I'm not going to heavy-hand the project and hunt out people to ensure complete diversity. It's got to be organic; my goal is not to make a Benetton Ad. It'll end up being what it is. The people that volunteer are part of the art and that's what makes it special-⎯seeing what kinds of people show up.

Where are most of your photograph subjects coming fromæare they people you know or referrals or strangers?
Initially it was about half people I knew and half strangers, but as the project has progressed, most of my submissions come from strangers who visit the site and contact me to be a part of it. I also seem to end up getting at least one referral from everyone I shoot. So it could become very incestuous if I'm not careful.

When photographing a famous (or semi-famous) person, is your approach different? Do you study photographs of the person and deliberately try to do something new and different?
Well, let me say that I'd like to have the chance to shoot more well-known people. That said, I don't intentionally look at photographs of the person before the shoot, other than the one or two that they send me. That goes for everybody whether they get their picture taken a lot or not. And I'm constantly trying to do something new and different, but it's normally about coming up with something new and different with regards to the project as a whole and not the individual that I'm shooting that day. There are some days where the photo I choose isn't the best of that person, but it fits the best in the larger work.

You said in the comments on your site, "I try to capture who that person is and not put a layer of my creative process on top of it." How do you go about capturing a person's essence? How much research do you do about them? What instructions do you give your subjects?
Yikes, that quote makes me sound like a jerk. To answer the question, I do very little research. The big trick is making the subject feel comfortable through conversation before and during the shoot. That's where I think a big part of my style is. Some of the time we discuss ideas for the shoot beforehand, which includes wardrobe, location, etc. and sometimes the subject has an idea of what they'd like to do. For example, Jacob Klein from March 26 mentioned a fedora he recently bought, so we centered the shoot around this great hat and all the situations and imagery it could conjure up. So we shot him in alleyways like an old 30's gangster. During the shoot, I'll direct if I have to, but most of the time I like to see what comes out naturally because if it's too forced then it's not a real portrait.

How many photographs do you typically take of each subject? As you're photographing them, do you know which one will be the one you choose, or is that decision made later?
The number of photographs varies from 2-500 depending on whether I am shooting expensive large format film or cheap digital and as to whether I get what I'm after quickly or not. Sometimes I'll have a "Ah, Ya, Ooo, Don't move! " moment while shooting and those tend to be the ones I like in the end, and sometimes I cull it down to a handful of shots by 11 pm and ask for the input of a few close friends of mine. Even then, most of the time I'm only looking for confirmation that the one I liked is the best.

What effects do you do to the photographs after you've taken them?
Mainly selective curves, saturation, a bit of retouching if necessary. The odd photo will have a lot done to it in Photoshop, but I'm not a photo-artist. Some people are as much about post-processing as they are about taking the photo. I am generally not one of those people. I would rather get it right in the camera than try to make something of it later. Then polishing it in Photoshop can only make a good picture even better

Who's on your wishlist of people you'd like to photograph?
I've got a small list right now: Actor Bill Nighy, physicists Michio Kaku and Brian Greene, author Richard Dawkins, historian James Burke, journalist Charlie Rose, photographers Timothy Greenfield-Sanders and Spencer Tunick, musicians Jonatha Brooke, Jeffrey Gaines, and Jill Sobule. I'm sure there are a lot more; it's basically people I admire. But I've really just started to think about who I want to actively pursue. I'm sure some of them would be up for it, the problem is getting to them through layers of reps, people, and handlers. Not to mention making them understand that I'm not a complete nutjob.

Why did you set up your two rules that models can't pose twice and that photos need to be taken on the same day they get posted?
Well, meeting and shooting a different person every day is what makes it so much fun, or at least interesting. That way I end up with 365 different portraits. not 365 portraits of 315 people. And posting them right away keeps the whole thing fresh and leaves me with a small bit of finished work each day before I go to bed. Plus, I can't get behind because the next day I've got another new person to shoot and edit and another the day after that. I work better under pressure, and having to work with a new person each day only adds to that.

What makes a person someone you'd like to photograph? How many requests do you get in an average day and what is your screening process?
At the beginning it was anybody who would sit for me, but over the past few months I have gotten enough volunteers that I can be more choosy. I like shooting different looking people. Different ages, ethnicities, careers. The new plan is to take pictures of people who are really good at what they do, thus my wishlist above. So if some lady is the foremost geologist in the world or some guy is an award-winning playwright, that's the person I want. If someone wants to participate, I ask that they tell a little about themselves and send along a picture. I get about one or two submissions a day right now and I am booked until the middle of May, but I stopped adding people to the calendar about a month ago. So I've got a backlog of over 50 people that want to participate, some of whom I may have to turn away so that I don't have too much of the same thing. For example, as you can imagine, I have a glut of twenty-something actresses. In the beginning when I needed volunteers, I didn't mind shooting people who wanted free headshots, but that's not what I'm looking for now.

What's been the most interesting shoot so far?
There are so many that it’s hard to single out one most interesting shoot, but there are a few that stick out in my memory. For example, back in February I shot a woman named Margot Stevenson on her 95th birthday, or the time I introduced myself to and shot Ken Ficara in Prospect Park, or this past Monday when I shot director Michael Kang in Washington Square Park. Each day is a different little story and I think that adds to the project. I've also become friends with a number of my subjects, which is a nice ancillary benefit.

You call your Eizo CE240W monitor the best thing you ever bought. Why is it so special?
Let me count the ways...The hard thing about digital photography is that your main connection to the photo is your computer screen, so you have to be able to trust that what you see is what it really looks like and that you're going to get what you want when you print it out. The Eizo lets me do that without second guessing myself. That sounds like a bad infomercial but it's true. As my father once said, "buy the best, you'll never be sorry.”

You shoot mainly digital photos, though occasionally use film. What makes you opt for one over the other, and, barring expenses, what would your ideal setup be in terms of cameras?
Digital or film depends on my mood and the subject. With certain people if I know beforehand the picture I want and know I can get it in one or two frames I'll shoot film. Lately I have been addicted to shooting in my studio or on the roof with my 4x5 large format camera, usually with Polaroid 55 which gives me a very high resolution black and white negative right out of the camera. But at $4 a frame the cost is prohibitive to do every day. I would shoot more film or chrome but because I need the pictures right away, usually I don't have the luxury of hours to bring it to a lab. Plus scanning film can be a pain in the ass. The Canon 5D digital camera that I use most of the time is fairly ideal as it's small and fairly hi-res, although I always want more resolution, so if someone wants to donate a 1Ds MkII I'd gladly use that.

You've left your photos open to comments by the public. Do you screen the comments at all? Does the feedback you get influence how you go about shooting?
I haven't deleted any yet, but there have been a couple of occasions where I have responded to rude comments directed toward the subject. Feel free to make fun of me, but these people were kind enough to get in front of my camera, so be nice. Sometimes people write in with constructive criticism, which I encourage and try to address going forward. Things like diversity of age and location and that kind of thing. So I read the comments and if they make sense I'll take them to heart but it's my project and in the end I do what feels right to me. It's not a democracy.

Do you have any specific shoots planned in the coming months? Are there any New York City locations you'd especially like to shoot?
While I have people on the schedule for another month out I rarely make plans more than a few days before the shoot. The spontaneity adds to the fun. That said, I am sure I will be traveling to London where my girlfriend lives and maybe out west, in which case I'd set up shoots accordingly or find people as I go. As for New York, I'd like to shoot at The Cloisters, The Observation Deck at The Empire State Building, on a subway train, Coney Island maybe, Staten Island ferry when it gets warmer.

You've also photographed landscapes and architecture. What's the main difference between those kinds of photos and portraits?
Most of my landscapes and architecture shots are done while traveling so it's more about me recording something or trying to make a beautiful painting. Portraits are different because there are two people involved. I've come to the realize that you've got to get the subject involved in the moment. They have to let you in or it just doesn't work. It's definitely a two-man operation. The cheesy analogy would be a dance, that's trying too hard but you get the point. It may sound silly or strange to say but I've had some really intense shoots where the subject and I have shared something I can only closely equate with sex, except without all the mess and birth control.

Visit 365 Portraits at www.365portraits.com and Wadman's photography site at www.billwadman.com.