001: Interview with Photographer Michael Benz

Here at Meraki, we believe that the true essence of anything is in the detail, in the individuality, and within it's core. Fortunately, we've managed to bring local photographer, Michael Benz, on board for exactly that-- a unique edge, and skill set to showcase the future of Meraki Supply Co.

Michael is our go-to guy for all of the photography, design, and graphics behind Meraki. I wanted to first and foremost take this opportunity to officailly introduce you all to someone who plays a huge part in the future of this company. Thank you, Michael, for all that you do; many adventures to come, my friend. Welcome to the Meraki team! 

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001. Tell us a bit about yourself.

I absolutely live and breathe my work, through and through. Ever since I got a taste for photography on a trip to San Francisco in 2007 I was immediately sensing an addiction. From that point in time till 2010 I was doing what I could exploring all the different disciplines I could until I came across one that I developed a certain type of love for; event photography, I spent a few more years pursuing specifically that till I gained the knowledge and gear set to start photographing Portrait photography, since then Its taken over a lot of my work. I absolutely love working with individuals in the studio as well as out on location in the Wilderness in Alberta. The explore series of photos that I do currently just started out as a pastime, somewhat of an escape from the urban life, but now its become an entity of my work I take extreme pride in, ever since working with my explore friends as well as with Meraki and Amos Brand Goods.

I have never felt the comfort and confidence in anything that I have done before to what I do currently.  Right now I spend my days as a freelance graphic designer, events coordinator and photographer. The mix of all three have been a very refreshing aspect to my lifestyle and I’m very proud of myself to reaching this point in my life, because something like this was always a dream, now a reality.

002. Describe your style.

I take a very raw approach to my work, somewhat in the form of a journalist. As a child I had an obsession with reading National Geographic’s after coming across my moms 1988-1991 set of issues, I always loved the story that the images told, how they spoke to me and supplemented and sometimes overpowered the words in the issues. I think the main ideal that National Geographic journalists like Steve McCurry extended to me is the feel the photo will give is far more important then the perfection associated. Over the past few years I have had a more summarized form in the back of my head; “Perfection is boring.”

In absolutely everything that I do either familiar or not familiar, I never doubt myself, and push myself to reach a different stature then what I have already achieved. Reaching different levels and completely different feels in the projects I undertake is the form that I feel successful, ultimately; it just has to be better then before, or very good to me at the start.

Primarily in my work over the last few years I have become a massive advocate to VSCO (www.vsco.co). It has absolutely changed my workflow and color depth of my images, its an absolutely breathtaking set of parameters to edit my images in and an very large contributor to my final product of the delivered images I push out.

003. Who are some contemporary photographers and collectives that you like to follow – and what about their work do you love?

Steve McCurry is a large contributor to really establishing my liking of photography as a child. His images documenting for National Geographic in his mid age was probably the most tremendous forming a healthy sense of envy over the experiences he was a part in. His ability to capture the soul of the commissions he had undertaken was absolutely amazing to watch as a child, I honestly don’t think that anyone will come close to the rawness he was able to display. Extending to the last roll of Kodachrome he was able to shoot brought tears to my eyes, in the form of the death of the most perfect film in my eyes, and something that will never ever be able to be replicated again, that is the ultimate achievement.

Michael Muller is also held in very high esteem to me, his body of work all around is unbelievable. He is on the complete inverse of Steve McCurry to me, capturing moody images from celebrity portraits, to his exploration work in very treacherous forms. Over the past five years he is probably the most followed photographer and really pushes me to try new things with my portrait work, and to seek out mood and atmosphere in the light I photograph in.

Extending from that my peers around me are really the largest source of inspiration to my current style. The largest of those is Tye Carson, becoming friends with him when I was just budding as a photographer really pushed me in creating a style and actually making the move to become a creative individual, he is and always will be a massive source of help, consultation and support in my professional and daily life.

Phil Meintzer has become a peer of mine recently in the last three years. I helped bring him up the same way that Tye did to me, and that really makes me feel amazing to be a source of inspiration as so to someone else. Its absolutely huge, he was extremely interested in events photography, we shot together an absolute ton till the end was in sight with that. At that point we both started to pursue portrait photography & weddings very strongly together last summer. He was absolutely the driving force in the Explore series of photos to come to conception as we both explored together on the first few sessions, the rest is history to me.

004. How has social media played a role in your photography?

Its massive, Instagram has been the most insightful for my ability to share my work with the world. It’s a staple in my daily processes, and opens so many doors to new friendships, clients and projects. The community is so huge and the positivity surrounding is tremendous in getting recognition and footprint on the creative world. It contains the most complete feed of my weekly work, even more so then my website. It has been such an amazing aspect to include in my daily routine and a pastime I absolutely love it. It also makes me realize the sheer amount of talented individuals out there doing what they love, and I love seeing peoples great snaps, its absolutely amazing.

005. What gear do you use?

Primarily I use a Canon 5D Mark III paired with a Sigma 35mm f/1.4 A, a Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L. Next on my list is a Sigma 50mm f/1.4 A, super hyped to be getting that.

Along with that in the film world, I formerly used a Contax G2 w/ a Zeiss 45mm f/2, recently I have downgraded to a Canon AE-1 w/ a 50mm f/1.4 S.S.C for my own good hah! Along with my monster a Mamiya RZ67 paired with a 110mm f/2.8.

I’m a strong believer that dependable gear is a very large factor in the produced work a photographer is able to accomplish in terms of dependability, but it all comes down in how you use that equipment that really matters.

006. What are some other projects that you’ve found yourself a part of?

Recently I have become a very close friend to the Amos Brand Goods team out of Wisconsin, giving me a lot of freedom and a lot of work to showcase their leather goods, along with some proper consulting work to move them into a line of Camera goods that I have helped them design along with battle testing the goods that they produce to give them insight for future work.

Along with that I have taken a lot of the Creative Direction at a local nightclub Habitat Living Sound producing posters for them, along with consultation, peppered with the events that I throw there. I’m a huge Electronic music lover at heart, and working with artists in that form has been a very insightful and fulfilling process for me to assist in getting a lot of them off the ground creatively. I love it.

007. What does working with Meraki Supply Co. mean to you?

Meraki is also a very huge and exciting project that I have taken on. I cant wait to work with Chelsea in tenuring the brand of the store along with providing some awesome images of the products in actual use on the series of explorations we have planned this summer. It was honestly such a perfect fit for the summer and the future of this year that I could ever ask for. The flexibility and trust that has gone into the relationship between Chelsea and myself is huge, I really see this partnership going a long way and a very exciting ride at that.

008. What do you want viewers to take away from your work?

I really would like my viewers to look at my work for the FEEL ultimately. Documenting is what I do, and stories are meant to be perceived through the series of captures that I take. Connection is really what I try to get across the transcendence of the feelings of my clients captured through images. I try and push myself to create experiences, not only in the moment but recollecting the day and the experience at the shoot, and to put those feelings forth to my viewers transferred as best as possible.

009. And last, but certainly not least, why do you take photos?

Photography has become a labor of complete love, its what I feel that I am best at and it ultimately fulfills me as an individual every project I undertake.

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More photography from Michael can be found at: http://benzphoto.ca