ark Robert Halper is best known for his dynamic, personality-driven portraits. A highly regarded commercial photographer for over two decades, Mr. Halper has photographed a broad range of high profile personalities, celebrities, and captains of industry including clients that include AT&T, Paramount Pictures, Sam-sung, and Electronic Arts, as well as national magazines and advertising agencies.
Born in San Francisco, California and raised in Los Angeles, Halper's love of photography began very early on. By the age of eight he began taking his first photographs on a Mickey Mouse camera. Throughout his formative years his attention directed itself toward filmmaking, where he began to build the skills he would later manifest in his photography.
Mr. Halper graduated from the University of Southern California with a double major in Political Science and International Relations in 1987.
Mark Robert Halper's formal commitment to photography began with training at both the UCLA Extension in Los Angeles, California and the Santa Fe Workshops in New Mexico. His would later teach at both of these institutions, as well as several others. Mr. Halper sits on the advisory board at the Art Institute of California in Los Angeles.
Over the past several years, Mr. Halper has directed his talents to the world of fine art photography. "The visual style I often choose to work in is influenced by the optics of early cameras; the softness, lens flare, and distortions are all compelling to me.
I believe that the grace of a photograph lies in the imperfections that are unique to the medium," Halper explains.
In founding Halper Fine Art in 2008, he wanted to create individual and family portraits that reached a level of craftsmanship and artistry appropriate to the clientele with established art collections. Working exclusively in black and white, the portraits Mr. Halper creates for Halper Fine Art are an expression of the same creative vision that informs his larger photo-graphic pallet, including his published portraiture and fine art work.
Mark Robert Halper and his wife Jennifer Hunt of Sony Image Works married in 2007, and have together worked to redefine the concept of consumer portrait photography.
SUNLIGHT & WATER
"Sunlight and Water" is a series of 110 black and white portraits of Santa Barbara County winemakers. It was published under the full title, "Sunlight and Water: Celebrating the Winemakers of Santa Barbara County" in August of 2010. At the same time, a six month exhibition of the work opened in the intimate town of Los Olivos. Mr. Halper's unique concept for the exhibition was called a "Meandering Gallery." Rather than displaying his work at a single venue, the work was distributed among ten neighboring businesses, including eight wine tasting rooms, the "Los Olivos Cafe", and the "Fess Parker Wine Country Inn". The book and exhibition received extensive coverage in the press, including cover and feature articles in "Santa Barbara Magazine", the "Santa Barbara News-Press", "805 Living", the "Santa Barbara Independent", and "Broughton Quarterly".
RUTH: How long have you been a professional photographer?
MARK: I've been working profession-ally and earning a living creating imagery since 1989 - that's better than two decades.
RUTH: Who or what inspired you?
MARK: I think there are a lot of photographers who are photographers because they love photographs; I'm in another group. For me, it's about the fact that I really enjoy being a photographer - which is a completely different thing. I enjoy the unknowns, the challenges, and the rewards of creating something unique and beautiful. In terms of other photographers, I love Irving Penn (who doesn't?), Keith Carter, and Frank Ockenfels 3. In terms of style, I tend to reach back to earlier eras - my most current work is inspired by what we now consider the visual limitations and failings of old technology and optics.
RUTH: In three words, describe yourself.
MARK: Smart, Creative, Entrepreneurial
RUTH: In three words, describe your photography.
MARK: Timeless, Sophisticated, Simple.
RUTH: What drives you?
MARK: I've got one go-round on the planet, at least as far as I know, and I want to achieve something great during that time. I want to do the very best work I can, and I'd like to do something that out-lasts me. I'm not really very good at relaxing for me it's all about reaching for greater heights, and being rewarded for my abilities and contributions.
RUTH: How is life as photographer in California?
MARK: Life as a photographer anywhere lucky to have been able to re-invent my-self and my business over the last few years and to have ended 2010 very successfully.
RUTH: What is your greatest fear?
MARK: Failure. Not on a small scale - I fail all the time at ideas and endeavors, but for every few failures there is a success that greatly outweighs the risks that didn't work out. I'm talking about failure in the grand scheme of things; not being able to keep up and maintain a strong business that allows me to create imagery and have a level of professional and creative security. Ironically, it's only by building a strong foundation that the kinds of risks we've taken over the past several years have been possible to take. I don't want to have to do something else.
RUTH: What has been your biggest success or achievement in the recent years?
MARK: That's easy. Creatively, my Sun-light and Water portrait series is the best work I've ever done, and I'm very proud of the book and the exhibition. Professionally, we built up a consumer-based portrait business from zero, and did it in a year and half. 2010 was a very good year, and it took us just 18 months or so to build to that level. I didn't do that on my own; both my wife, Jennifer Halper, and our studio manager, Michelle Rosch, were indispensable in what was accomplished.
RUTH: How did those successes or achievements change your life?
MARK: For two years, we defined success as "staying in the black", and now we're back in a position where we can really look toward the future with substantive goals. The change in business structure also opened the time to not only create the Sunlight and Water imagery, but to launch the six month exhibition and to participate in better than twenty events over that period of time. My work, on the consumer side, is valued in a way that rarely exists in publication (where the shelf life of most images is measured in weeks or months), and on the fine art side the work is helping to define this period of time in Santa Barbara wine country history. I'm proud of both of those accomplishments.
Of the vintners, Halper states, "I feel a strong affinity with these people. We think of winemakers in glamorous terms, but the work is farming. There is a quiet passion that allows them to nurse the grapes over time into what we know as wine, but the process is really a very messy and earthy business. I think, or hope, that I've captured a layer of truth in all of them." Halper continues about the way in which his many subjects and clients respond to his process, "When I'm setting up, people often don't under-stand what I'm doing or what I see. When they view the finished imagery, it is as if they've never before seen themselves, or whatever my subject may be in that way before.
Then they smile. They see something that can only be communicated visually. They see what I see; I've influenced the way they look at the world."
Mr. Halper and his wife reside in Los Angeles, California. They have received notable praise for their efforts to help the victims of the Sayre Fires in Sylmar and have raised funds for a great number of charities including City of Hope, The American Cancer Society, the Tiger Woods Foundation, and Camp Ronald McDonald. They now consider the Santa Ynez Valley their second home.
story, images and, bio courtesy
Mark robert halper
edited BY ruth omanya & corey o'donnell
RUTH: Are there any obstacles, struggles, or challenges you have faced in your career as a fine art photographer?
MARK: I took a different path than most fine art photographers choose. I looked at the traditional fine art landscape, which is highly political, and decided to by-pass it altogether. What I wanted to do was create an exhibition that would be seen by a far larger and more diverse section of the public that attends most art galleries, and found the wall space myself rather than leaving that responsibility and decisions to others. In doing so, we were able to do something that I don't think has ever been accomplished - we mounted a single show that virtually transformed a town into a single art gallery. The exhibition spans the walls of ten different businesses in the quaint center of Los Olivos, including the Los Olivos Cafe, The Fess Parker Wine Country Inn, and eight different tasting rooms. We also did our own PR, and generated far more broad-based press than I could have ever expected had I taken a conventional route.
RUTH: What inspired your book, "Sunlight & Water"?
MARK: It started out as a vacation and a creative stretch - one week spent tasting wine with my wife, and creating portraits of wine-makers. The reaction to the first set of images was just amazingly positive, and on the second trip it became apparent that there was enough material to do a book. Once that was clear, "not" doing it just didn't feel like an option to me.
RUTH: What advice can you give aspiring photographers?
MARK: This may sound callous, and it probably is, but most photographers should keep photography as a hobby and make a living in some other way - at least if they feel that they have any choice in the matter or that anything else could make them happy. For those who don't see any other option, outstanding skill, both in photography and in business, are absolutely essential. To be a good photographer, one needs to be frequently and consistently creating imagery that challenges you and stretches your abilities. Business requires study and practical experience, if you can get it. There has never, by a long shot, been a harder time to do this. At one time simply being competent was enough, but today so many people can create imagery that is "good enough" by using technology, that to make a living one needs to have a much higher level of competence and talent than ever before to actually make a living in the field. I can't stress enough how much real work is involved. This is not a field for the faint of heart, or those who aren't willing to put in far more than one would be working for somebody else.
RUTH: With your extensive experience in photography, where do you see yourself in 3-5 years from now as far as growth as a professional photographer?
MARK: I see another personal project/book being completed, and I see continuing to build our consumer-based portrait business in conjunction with the vision of our fine art business. We're looking to become increasingly exclusive and to build respect in the general community.
RUTH: Other than Sunlight & Water, what other projects are you currently working on?
MARK: We did our closing event on February 13; after that I'll look at what's next. I have a few ideas, but nothing I'm ready to talk about yet. I prefer to make announcements about what I've done, rather than what I plan to do.
RUTH: Where can fans connect with you?