February 14, 2006

Photographer Stresses Personal Style, Design

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A pile of books, a bunch of flowers, some chairs and a stack of plates may not seem like anything out of the ordinary, but with careful attention to texture and composition, photographer John Gruen can find beauty in the mundane.

Gruen gave a lecture and discussed his work with faculty and students at the Johnson Museum yesterday evening. Gruen was invited to speak at Cornell as part of a “program the Department of Art is developing to supplement its curriculum,” according to Prof. Wilka Roig, art.

A former fashion photographer who did assignments in Milan and on the West Coast, Gruen currently focuses more on lifestyle work with an emphasis on interiors. His work has been featured in publications such as Better Homes and Gardens and Martha Stewart Living.

Gruen became interested in photography during his senior year of college, when he concentrated in film studies.

“I got very interested in taking my own pictures instead of film making,” he recalled.

After spending many years as a fashion photographer, Gruen found himself drawn to still life photography.

“This type [of photography] is a lot easier to do,” he explained. “There are less people involved than in film making.”

He described how fashion photography also involved working extensively with make-up artists and models, in comparison to the more solitary approach in photographing interior work. Gruen added that “fashion photography was judged so much on what was not in my control; the clothes were horrible for the most part.”

While he said that the work was fun in the beginning, he felt “it was a good choice to move on.”

Gruen spent much of the lecture showing slides of his work, commenting and critiquing them. He explained how a simple picture of two chairs with a bowl of oranges on the seat, with careful consideration of colors and arrangements, can be transformed into an interesting picture. An otherwise simple shot of some plants in a botanical garden, when viewed creatively, can be made even more stunning by emphasizing unique textures and different shapes and colors of the leaves and flowers.

Much of Gruen’s work involves photographing interiors of people’s houses for prominent lifestyle publications.

“I love going into people’s houses, to see how they live,” he said. “The personality of the room is very interesting.”

Gruen mentioned that one of the challenges of photographing interiors is how to allow the personality of the homeowner to come across in his work. Commenting on one scene which depicted a stack of art books with a replica of a bust placed on top, Gruen recalled how the picture “is about [the homeowner]. She’s an interesting person