The following article is by Harold Mason, and appeared in The Photographer’s Mail #168.
Emma Bass Photographer… rising star
By Harold Mason
I have been to umpteen photographic seminars, conferences, meetings and exhibitions and have had hundreds of face-to-face sessions with photographers, yet I’ve never met a more vibrant, enthusiastic, exciting and competent photographer than Auckland’s Emma Bass.
Her ability to photograph people is excellent and I have often admired her work on the covers of such prominent magazines as New Zealand Grace, New Zealand Weddings, North & South, Pro Design, Listener and Next. But when I spent a morning with Emma recently and looked through a wedding album that she had just finished putting together I fully realised the outstanding talent of this photographer. Her journalistic style is sharp, as is her artistic and technical ability, and not only is her work delightfully creative but also very saleable. A winning combination.
Emma was born in Liberia while her English doctor father was studying tropical medicine. Her parents moved back to England then Auckland when Emma was six. Her schooling, including becoming a nurse, was completed in Auckland before she headed off on her OE, finishing up in London. Travelling made her interested in photography and she undertook a basic course that included black and white darkroom work at The Camera Club in Leicester Square. She met a doctor who had a darkroom and spent hours making prints which she collated into an exhibition. The exhibition led to a call from an advertising agency that liked her style and wanted to give her a large brochure assignment. Emma turned the shoot down, admitting that it was beyond her ability, returned to Auckland in 1992 and enrolled for the two year Unitec Advanced Photographic Diploma Course.
Although Emma has developed her own style she finds it hard to articulate exactly what it is, perhaps because she is too close to what she is doing. Here entered husband David, an art director in the film industry, who described her as a people photographer who likes humour, quirky and vivacious photographs. And I believe that he is right on the button.
She called on magazines with a portfolio and work started coming in. Emma has a good business head as well as strong creativity, a rare combination, and has firm opinions about making a living from photography. “I feel that because New Zealand is such a small country one has to be diverse. I shoot weddings, editorial, commercial-like interiors, advertising, the occasional CD cover… anything that comes along.” She went on to say, “If you can shoot weddings successfully you can do anything. Wedding photography is a great discipline for combining technical capabilities, art directing, directing people, time management, consistency… multi-tasking to the extreme.” She takes a breath, “Fashion, people, beauty shots, food — all the genres at once — and the massive responsibility of photographing someone’s ritual is vastly stimulating to me… an honour.” Her sincerity was evident in the wonderful examples of her work that I viewed.
Emma was reluctant to move from film to digital, particularly because of the new learning curve, but is now an enthusiastic digital shooter. She was surprised at how quick it was to learn and is now much more efficient with editing as she works, has become more experimental, a risk taker, and with the new technology has learnt to cut to the chase while shooting, as well as post-production in her light-room.
Talking about technical stuff Emma said, “The world is my studio. Although I have a large shooting room at home (Candy Lane’s parents old dance studio), I prefer to work with natural light. I’m really into simplicity these days.”
Cameras include two Canon 5D bodies with 24-105mm L series f4; 24-70mm L f2.8; 70-200mm IS f2.8; 100mm macro EF f2.8 and 50mm f1.8 Canon lenses. On top she has a Canon 580 EX Speedlite and additional lighting comes from Bowens Esprit 500 and 1000 units. She also has a twin lens reflex Yashica Matt 124G 2 ¼ square 120-film camera from the 60s that she would like to use more for portraits, plus a Fuji 68 medium format camera that she uses for personal projects… interesting extra gear.
Although work is flowing in Emma would love to do a book. “I would also like to do a Masters in Fine Art and was accepted this year at RMIT in Melbourne but the timing was not right… so soon I hope.”
Check out Emma’s website. Client endorsements use phrases like “high energy approach”, “remarkable eye for shape and colour”, “her artistic eye, her technical nous, and her determination to make each shot that little bit different”, and, “Emma’s fabulous personality added enormously to the fun of our wedding day”. And finally, from Lindsey Dawson, editor of Grace magazine, “Emma Bass is one of Grace’s favourite photographers. She also photographed me for the regular picture that appears on my Editor’s Letter page, making me look so glamorous I barely recognise myself! Editors really like photographers who can do that!”
For me Emma Bass’s photography makes her a rising star. She was a breath of warm fresh air on a cold Auckland winter’s day.