Ted Sabarese is happy to be a photographer. Actually, he’s ecstatic and sometimes grins for no apparent reason.
Before settling in to this career, he spent time as a college English teacher, graphic designer, fiction writer and advertising creative director. But always with a loaded camera around his shoulder. Seriously. Always.
These diverse experiences—along with years of studying photography at the New School in New York City—helped to shape his visual style. Incorporating bits and pieces of learning from all of his previous “lives,” Ted’s work most often demonstrates a clean, graphic, character-driven narrative (Even if the character happens to be an inanimate object like a down-on-its-luck houseboat or a lonely set of microphones). His personal and fine art work have won wide, critical acclaim and have been exhibited in galleries in both the U.S. and abroad. This exposure compliments his many commercial advertising and editorial assignments and awards.
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2009 International Color Awards
2009 Applied Arts Photography Annual
2009 London Photographic Awards
2008 International Photography Awards: Gold in People/Other
2008 International Photography Awards: Silver in Advertising/Self-promotion
2008 International Photography Awards: 20 Honorable Mentions
2008 PX3, Prix de la Photographie Paris: 1st, Editorial, 2nd Portrait
2008 American Photography Annual 24
2008 Applied Arts Photography Awards: Gold in Portrait
2008 London Photographic Awards Fashion Competition
2008 London Photographic Awards Portrait Competition
2008 London International Creative Competition
2007 American Photo Magazine Images of the Year: Finalist
2007 Lucie Awards nominee for Professional Photographer of the Year
2007 International Photography Awards: Fine Art Photographer of the Year
2007 International Photography Awards: Gold in Fine Art/Portrait
2007 International Photography Awards: Silver in People/Portrait
2007 International Photography Awards: 6 Honorable Mentions
2007 International Color Awards Masters Cup
2007 Creative Review Photography Annual
2007 Graphis Photography Annual
2007 London Photographic Awards
2006 International Photography Awards: Silver in People/Portrait
2006 International Photography Awards: Bronze in Fine Art/Portrait
2006 International Photography Awards: 3 Honorable Mentions
2006 International Photography Awards Best of Show Exhibit
2006 American Photo Magazine Images of the Year: Gold in Portrait
2006 American Photo Magazine Images of the Year: Honorable Mention in Advertising
2008 Calumet Photographic Gallery, London (2 group shows)
2007 Gallery 1839, London
2007 Farmani Gallery, Los Angeles
2007 Denver International Invitational Exhibit
2005 CVB Gallery, New York (solo exhibit)
“Feature Shoot” Magazine Interview
1. Your advertising, editorial, and personal work have a similar aesthetic while serving different purposes. Is there anything you change about how you shoot when photographing advertising as opposed to personal work?
Thank you for the compliment. I think if you look at my body of work, there are a couple, constant elements that have helped to define my aesthetic. Casting and composition. I enjoy shooting individuals who don’t necessarily conform to the typical definition of beauty. People with physical idiosyncrasies and arresting, quirky personalities pique my interest at castings. When one comes along, I start to get really excited and know I have the basis for a provocative image. Compositionally, I tend towards simpler, more graphic setups that allow the talent (and subsequent story) to be hero. I don’t like clutter. I’d rather subtract props than add them to an image.
So, to answer your question, I try to do most of the same things whether I’m shooting advertising or fine art. Find a great cast and use a light, thoughtful touch on art direction. For ad jobs, I enjoy working together with the creative team and client. And taking into consideration all of their concerns. When you’re more collaborative, the shoots run smoother, people are happier and you usually finish in a better place. Lighting may vary slightly, also. Many advertising clients are looking for a cleaner, punchier look, but I’ll try to add a bit of moodiness whenever I can.
2. You've had a few careers before settling on photography. What were the steps you took that enabled you to make a successful transition?
Luckily, all of my previous careers, one way or another, contributed to making me a photographer. Teaching college English and creative writing honed my storytelling abilities. Graphic design helped cultivate my visual sensibilities. Working on the creative side in advertising not only made me a more conceptual thinker, but also got me looking at talented photographers’ books and participating in photo shoots, where I watched like a student. During this entire “advertising” period, I was taking photography classes at the New School. Without my advertising background, the transition to professional photography would have been much more challenging. Plus, I have an insider’s understanding of all the different types people involved in the production process—creatives, account execs, art buyers, clients, etc.—and can empathize with all of their individual concerns. That’s proved particularly invaluable.
3. There is a definite sense of humor about your work. How did you gravitate towards this style of photography?
The sense of humor you see in my work is a pretty close approximation to my own. I’m no ha-ha funny comedian. I’m one of those people who can be quietly amusing, if you’re listening well. I prefer my comedy on the subtle side, whether it’s in photography, film or fiction. After years of experimenting with different styles of photography, I learned that’s it’s always easiest (and best) to do what comes most naturally to you.
4. You have many awards under your belt. Do you feel that you have been commissioned for jobs directly from this recognition?
Awards certainly don’t hurt, but I don’t know that I’ve ever been awarded a job solely because of them. When my book gets called in for a specific project, the people looking at it may recognize more of the award-winning work. They may be impressed to see my list of achievements. All of this helps on some, maybe subconscious, level, but the portfolio still has to wow them and demonstrate the exact style of photography they’re looking for. That said, I continue to enter all the major shows, every year.
5. Do you always carry a camera around wherever you go? If so, what or where do you find yourself photographing most often?
I used to carry a film camera with me at all times. Literally. At work, in restaurants and bars, around the city, in church, in the subway, in the bathroom. My friends couldn’t stand me, but I always wanted to be armed and ready for whatever visual possibilities New York threw at me. I took a lot of black and white street photography, party snapshots and liked to give myself projects to work on (I still have a wall of images showcasing close-ups of people’s open mouths). I think there came a point where I got that all out of my system. Nowadays, I do sometimes carry around a Canon G9 and fill up the memory card with pics of my 20-month-old daughter.