Whether it’s engaged, emotional portraits, conceptual science fiction, or striking fine art nudes, there’s a special quality to Bryce Chapman’s photography that transcends boundaries. How does he create such cohesive work across multiple genres?
Chapman has been interested in visual arts since he was able to hold a crayon, but his journey into photography started when a great art teacher taught him how to make a pinhole camera. Since then, he’s made a name for himself with images that have both visual and emotional depth.
How does he cultivate this cohesive style? It started with finding mentors who exposed him to new photographers, new ideas and ways of looking at image making and art. When he saw what was possible with photography, he said, “my mind was blown, how is this even possible?” This exposure helped shape him as a young artist, influencing how he approached his craft. And while he still reveres both the photographers who mentored him and the photographers whose work inspired him, he’s moved beyond replicating their styles to taking the elements that work for his vision and manipulating them to suit the story he wants to tell.
One of those aspects he’s taken and shaped for his own purposes, is light. Chapman is lighting agnostic, and will use any light source that suits his vision and helps him communicate the story he wants to tell. This means his portfolio is full of varying light, from hard noonday sun to big, soft strobes, but all of it sits comfortably within Chapman’s style because he’s not trying to recreate the work of others. “I want to take that light and make it work for me, or whoever it is I’m photographing,” he said. Which clearly contributes the overall look at feel of his imagery. “I’m very stubborn at times,” he said with a self-indulgent smile, “and I want to have my own thing.”
For Chapman, the best place to exercise this desire for individuality is with personal work because, he says, giving himself room to experiment “opened my eyes to what it is I truly love.” The inspiration for one of Chapman’s personal projects could come from anywhere, but once inspiration strikes, Chapman takes the idea and refines it, sometimes with pencil and paper, until he’s ready to start experimenting with it. From there, he says, it snowballs and grows, taking on new shapes or moving in new directions, but always teaching him something.
Chapman has had to teach himself how to stop daydreaming about projects and just get to work on them. If the project is possible to do, he says, I just do it, and do it to the best of your ability. If the project he has in mind is not possible yet, Chapman writes it down and keeps it in a safe place until the project is possible. But getting started and actually finishing projects is the most important part. So, how does he decide which ideas to pursue? “Some of my ideas, I know for a fact I’ll need a giant budget to create it. So, I’ll set that to the side until I’m rolling in dough,” he says. But it’s the ideas that speak to who he is as an artist that get plucked from the pile. This means the ideas he does pursue are the ones with most personal value and merit.
Not only has taking the time for personal projects helped him grow as a photographer, it has exposed his work to art directors who will hire him for his vision, and not just his technical skills. To get his work in front of people like art directors, sometimes he simply releases his work on social media, and other times he puts together promos to send via email. “People are watching,” he says, and you never know who might be following your work, so put it out into the world! His "Covid Chronicles" mini-series did just that, and motivated an art director who had been following his work to reach out.
A piece of advice Chapman said has been personally helpful in this endeavor is to “create the kind of work you want to see,” and not let the process be too affected by the end goal. He wants to create work that accurately reflects who he is as a photographer and artist, but that isn’t warped by a desire to please a particular person. Having that purity of purpose ensures the work is a true representation of the kind of images Chapman wants to create, and allows his passion for the subject to shine through, which always makes the end result stronger.
Chapman’s newest ongoing personal project, Mirror of Melanin, has recently been released and shines a spotlight on issues close to his heart. The affecting portraits, with deeper layers of meaning around how we see ourselves and others, sits so perfectly within Chapman’s aesthetic, that it’s clear he follows his own advice...and if the end result is any indication, it’s good advice.
Lead image shared with permission of Bryce Chapman