Monday, October 2, 2017

Add a Pop of Color to Your Life with PhotoPop Prints!

Have you ever been up front at a show and watched the photographers try to get a shot of the band? It's interesting to watch them run back and forth trying to take some photos because most venues require that you have a photo pass to shoot the band and even if you have a photo pass they only allow you a few songs to get the shot. Plus, it's loud, it's dark and people are a pushing you and kicking you around while you work. All of these obstacles can make capturing the essence of a live show impossible, but some photographers always seem to be able to get the shot.

CJ Benninger is one of those people. He is low-key one of the best live photographers this city has ever seen. During the first 10 years of this decade, he was front and center at every important show and he has an enviable archive of the Detroit music scene. He has always had an eye for capturing the magic on camera and I've always been impressed by his work. But, his latest project, called PhotoPop Prints, might be my favorite thing he has ever done.

CJ Benniger recently announced that he had teamed up with his wife Lauren to create a new line of pop art that you could purchase called PhotoPop Prints. Together they have curated over 75 amazing shots that are visually stimulating, colorful, and perfect for the person who wants to really dress up a wall. These stunning shots turn everyday objects like a cup of coffee or a stuffed animal into something magical and eye-catching. The prints that they have created take the ordinary and make it extraordinary.
I reached out to the husband and wife team to ask them a little more about their latest project. I also talked to CJ about his journey and his history in musical photography. Check out what they had to say about starting a company together and visit their new website to purchase a print for yourself!

A little interview with CJ:

HID-When did you get your first camera?
CJ- "I got my first camera in 1997. My Grandpa gave me his Minolta 35mm when I took my first photo class during my junior year of high school."

HID- What inspired you to pursue a career in photography?
CJ- "It's just what I wanted to be doing, even though at the time I started I had no idea how I would make a living at it. After I graduated from high school, I was actually enrolled in the Culinary Arts program at Schoolcraft College and decided two weeks before classes started that photography was really what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. So, I took a semester off, worked to save up money, and in January I started the photo program at Oakland Community College."

HID-When did you start shooting live music?
CJ- "I started shooting shows my junior year of high school, which was 1997. A lot of my friends were in bands, so I started shooting their shows, and then I just got in the habit of bringing my camera to any show I went to. I loved doing it- I shot so many punk and indie shows. I have enough good imagery to fill a coffee table book. Back then you didn't need a photo pass for most shows, even at Saint Andrew's. Then in 1999 I started shooting for Real Detroit, and they got me into larger shows like Weezer, Travis and Richard Ashcroft."

HID You are amazing at portraits, what attracted to you to shooting these up close and personal pictures of people?
CJ- "I've always liked photographing people, specifically trying to capture a certain side of someone and to be able to tell a story through just one image. Creating a photo that is engaging, that you want to spend some time looking at is always my goal and I want the viewer to be asking themselves questions about the subject."

HID- What's your favorite live show that you ever shot and why?
CJ- "I've shot so many (hundreds?) shows over the years, it would be hard to choose one. I definitely have some favorite live images that I've captured. I always loved photographing Hot Water Music, and The Constantines. They are two of my favorite bands, and always put on such a great live show."

HID-Who are some of your favorite photographers?
CJ- "Richard Avedon, Danny Clinch, Eric Ogden, Chris Buck"

HID-Do you have formal training in photography or did you teach yourself?
CJ- "I felt very fortunate to have had two full years of photo classes in high school. My school (Livonia Stevenson) was one of the only schools in the state that had a color darkroom. So I had two semesters of black and white and two of color. After graduation, I went to Oakland Community College and got an Associate’s Degree in photography, and then immediately after that, I started assisting a lot of well-established photographers in the Detroit area. I learned so much as an assistant, especially since the industry was switching from film to digital at the time. While assisting, I also started getting shooting jobs on my own. I built up a client list and eventually started my own photo firm, CJ Benninger Photography."

HID-What advice would you give to someone who wants to pursue a career in photography?
CJ- "Oh man.........if you really want to do it, you have to commit. Do test shoots regularly. Shoot, shoot, shoot. Save money and invest in equipment. Figure out what you enjoy shooting and how you enjoy shooting it, and develop a style. When you start assisting, work with as many different people as possible. You'll learn something from everyone, regardless of what they shoot. You'll learn technical aspects as well as how to act around clients, and how not to act. Treat everyone with kindness. Pay attention, because I learned that most photographers (in my experience) aren't going to say "hey, check this out" or "let me teach you how to do whatever". They are being paid to do a job, and that is what they are focused on. But if you pay attention and watch them work, you can learn so much. One other thing that I would say is that Detroit is a tough market when you are starting out. You may want to consider moving to a larger market like LA, New York, or even Chicago. There are more opportunities for jobs, and you'll have a better chance of working with people on higher-profile jobs. Do it while you're young. You can always move back, and if you do, you get to bring everything you learned back with you."

A little interview with CJ and Lauren Benninger, creators of PopPrints:

HID-Why did you decided to create PhotoPop Prints?

Lauren- "The idea for the site came about after CJ surprised me with a Valentine’s Day gift of a 30X40 photo of a dozen donuts from my favorite donut shop, Avon Donuts in Pontiac (I am completely OBSESSED with donuts). The photo was simple but striking- the colorful donuts were set up in a grid on a stark white background. It was bright, bold, and made me happy every time I looked at it! Other people seemed to really like it too, and many friends and family members who saw the photo asked if they could get a copy for themselves. And from that, the idea for PhotoPop Prints was born!"

HID- How did you work together to come up with all the different layouts/shots?
CJ and Lauren Benninger- "Coming up with the ideas for the images on our site is a collaborative process. We draw inspiration from the world around us, taking “ordinary” objects and using them to create really extraordinary art. It can be anything- flowers from our yard, our kid’s toys, favorite foods- even something as simple as a cup of coffee. We’re also drawn to objects that have a story to tell or a history, like vintage items. Things that are worn or have imperfections often make the most fascinating and beautiful subjects."

HID-What is the hardest part about working together being that you are a husband and wife raising three kids?
CJ and Lauren Benninger- "We did the majority of the work for the site- planning, shooting, editing- after the kids went to bed, so that was definitely a challenge. It was so tough some nights, after working all day and taking care of the kids, to not just pass out on the couch and binge on Game of Thrones. We really had to dig deep some nights and just ignore how tired we were or how messy the house was- snacks and alcohol helped a lot when we needed a little extra motivation!"

HID- What is the best part?
CJ and Lauren Benninger- "It was exhilarating to work on this project together. Having a creative focus and a collective goal (that didn’t involve our day jobs or the kids) was so fun and was a great distraction from the insanity of our everyday lives! Being able to just put everything aside for an hour or two a night and work on something purely artistic was, and continues to be, pretty inspiring for us."
HID-What’s your favorite print in the current collection? Why?

Lauren- "It’s so hard to choose!! I think our floral stuff is really beautiful. I am especially partial to the ombre carnations- the color is so rich and detailed- they really jump off the page. I also love the matchbooks, which are vintage matchbooks that my grandparents collected during their lives while traveling."

CJ- "I really love “All The Dinosaurs”, and of course, the vintage cameras!

HID- Do you think you will continue to put out new prints?

CJ and Lauren- "Absolutely! We plan on putting out new prints on a very regular basis. Seasonal collections are also going to become a part of our site. We’ve currently started work on our upcoming holiday collection, which will feature all sorts of fun stuff for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah and New Years."

HID- Do your kids have a favorite print?
CJ and Lauren- "Our four-year-old twins are very…um, opinionated and yes they definitely have favorites. Luke loves the matchbox cars, probably because the photo was shot using his car collection and Grace, our little animal lover, gets excited every time we shoot stuffed animals. Our twins share a bedroom, so we put a very large 30X40 shot of the gummi bears on the wall above their beds- it adds a lot of color and fun to their shared space. Our one-year-old daughter Rose doesn’t really have a favorite, but if we had to guess it would probably be any one of our food photos- she loves to eat!"
HID-Do your kids like to get their pictures taken?
CJ and Lauren- "The only pictures that our kids like to take are selfies- they LOVE taking selfies. If we leave our phones unattended the twins (and even the baby) usually steal them and end up taking like, 50 selfies at a time."

I don't know about all of you but I am obsessed with this new project and can't wait to finally own a print! If you are interested in purchasing a print you can order something here! Or reach out to the couple and have them create something custom for you! Don't forget to follow them on Insta here!


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