Forrest Aguar is a working photographer and photo assistant here in Atlanta. After graduation from the University of Georgia in 2013, he has been steadily gaining his footing in the photo industry. With a unique style based in minimalist compositions and flat, yet vibrant color palettes, Aguar is a creative image maker that’s worth watching out for. I sat down with him at local bar, Wrecking Bar Brewpub where we chatted over his extensive knowledge of beer and his journey as a photographer trying to remain true to himself.
How did you get started in photography and how would you describe your style as a photographer? What type of work do you usually gravitate toward?
I feel like it started when I took at a class at UGA, when I was a scientific illustration major, called Editing for Digital Photography. With photography you’re constantly dealing with new clients, dealing with people on your team, talking to people that you’re shooting and I really loved that. I don’t really know why. I kind of fell into it. I went to art school and knew I wanted to be an artist. I took that digital editing of photography class and a black and white film class and I just loved shooting it. I loved the whole film process. I think it all comes down to the immediacy of the medium. Before that in high school I used to do stencil art and screen printing. I like how you can take a photograph and make it look like it's a painting or a print if you light it correctly and flatten it. I’ve always been real computer-savvy. Software is not a problem for me. I’m able to push an image in Photoshop and make it into a real piece of art. So overall I think it's the combination of the socialness of the profession and the immediacy of the medium. I’m glad that I did it.
I studied fine art photography and what’s so cool about photography is that you can pay the bills doing practical work and you can also make art with it. If you’re a painter you’re making art but what are you doing to pay the bills if you haven’t made it as a fine artist. Maybe you’re painting signs or something. Maybe that’s the equivalent for photography, but it just seems more fun to be a photographer. It’s so practical and the application is so diverse. It makes you kind of feel lucky in that sense. But at the same time technology is advancing and the iPhone takes such good pictures that everybody is a “photographer” now. I think the trick is the ability to consistently replicate quality and have a certain aesthetic and style. People who are hiring professional photographers know they’re going to get that better quality from professionals. What I really think is crazy is how much professional photographers don’t think they need to be on social media and how they are falling behind and I think in the long run that’s really going to catch up to them. It’s slowly turning into a professional portfolio site.
I’d say the work that my girlfriend, Michelle Norris, and I product together is very stylized. It’s mostly about color stories and minimal composition. We shoot anything from fashion and product photography to band photography, food photography, travel photography. My style in general is that I feel like I hyper focus on composition. That’s a lot of what I bring to the table and to our team. I also shoot events and editorial and probably anything to pay the bills but I’d say the number one lesson about photography is that the image needs to tell a story that’s convincing. You don’t need to worry about being candid or being true to the facts. What’s really important is creating a good image. So many photojournalists think that's violating the truth of the situation or something but a shitty picture of someone’s back isn’t going to be as good as if you turned them around and got them to recreate something that just happened to get a good photo of it. It’s telling the same story but it's a better image. In my opinion, there’s nothing wrong with taking out details that are distracting in Photoshop. As long as you aren’t changing what happened, you’re making it simpler and more direct and more stimulating.
What I’d really like to do is be a creative commercial photographer so that there’s still a budget there to do something fun. I can pay the bills and not be scraping by for clients or products that I stand behind but that I could still be creative and really have fun with. That’s the dream right? I think the trick to do that that is to create a niche and style that people really seek you out for. That’s why my portfolio and my Instagram is so stylized but I shoot all kinds of things.
What do you shoot with and why?
I shoot with a Canon 5D Mark III because it's the best workhorse out there that I know about. Why do I shoot with it? Well my very first camera was a Canon AE-1 Program film camera with a 50mm 1.8 lens. I shot with that for 2 years before I shot with any digital camera. Then I had a Canon Rebel. I actually still use it when I travel. I have a Canon Rebel SL1 because it's tiny and it's cheap. I broke one when I was in Mexico and bought another one for $250. It’s the perfect travel camera. I don’t think it matters whether you shoot Canon or Nikon. What matters is that you know the system like the back of your hand. It’s just a tool in the end. You don’t want to be figuring it out as you go so once you learn a system you just stick with it. I think that Nikon photos look great. Sony photos look great but this is just what I’m used to.
When I first met you you were on an assignment for Atlanta Magazine. What other publications or companies have you worked for?
I’ve done product and creative content for Sublime Doughnuts. I’ve shot events for Delta. I just got a job shooting ecommerce catalogue work for Red Dress Boutique in Athens that I think will turn into regular work. One client I work consistently for is Atlanta Medical Center. I started shooting events for them and now I shoot commercial work for them. I just did a series for Georgia Food Bank taking photos for their Summer Meals program. I started shooting for this landscape architecture company called Tunnel and Tunnel.
I see that you are involved with creative agency Very Clever. What exactly is Very Clever and does it help you find work? If not, how do you go about finding work/networking? Very Clever is something that Michelle and I joined this year. This other guy in town named Tim Lampe. He reached out to us because he wanted to a portfolio shoot with us because he liked our Instagrams. He felt that we shot in a similar style. We did that with him and we were talking to him about these bigger client jobs that he’s done and these national campaigns and that’s where we want to go so we asked him to tell us about that. He said sure and asked us if we want to join this collective he started with 2 of his friends called Very Clever and we said sure. There’s too other guys in it. One is in Miami and the other is in Chicago. They all have pretty big Instagrams and they all shoot in the bright, poppy, flat color stories. We fit into it. We have a different style but we definitely fit into it as a genre. We each joined their website and we each have a bio and portfolio on the site. We also have a joint portfolio page on the site. We sort of market ourselves as a team if they want all of us for hire. It’s almost like a DIY agency where we are repping ourselves without having to pay anybody to rep us. I don't really know where it's going to lead.We just did a spec portfolio shoot for King of Pops. Tim, Michelle and I teaming up. We’re trying to chase that content where we can do commercial work in our style.
I see that you are the Assistant Liaison for the Atlanta Chapter of APA. What does that role entail?
I honestly had no idea what it was at first. I had a meeting with the former director of the Atlanta chapter. We were just talking and I was just trying to network I guess. I didn't know if she was going to be able to get me production assisting work. I just figured I would meet her and get in front of her and have her know who I was. Even if I couldn’t get direct work she was one of the biggest outlets in commercial work so she’s someone you’d want to know. When she was leaving she said that the current photo assistant liaison had been doing it for far too long and that I looked like I had my head screwed on straight so maybe she would suggest me to Andrea, the new director of APA. I said sure but I still had no idea what she was talking about. I met Andrea Dorsey, she was another producer I had reached out to just to meet. I went to the APA Portrait Project event that they had at the end of the year, met her and got the position. Basically I’m on the board which means I’m supposed to go to board meetings. Being on the board means that everyone has a voice on decisions that need to be made whether it's a national funding issue or setting up events since APA is mostly event driven. It’s been cool to have a voice and bringing my generation’s perspective to the table. They seem to respect what I say which is really nice. At the same time I’m on the board with a bunch of people who are really experienced in the photo industry. I’ve learned a ton about how the industry works. It’s been a good experience. It feels good to be a part of something bigger in the photo community and give something back.
What advice do you have for photographers looking to get into assisting?
So my first piece of advice is make sure you want to be a photographer and being a photo assistant is an excellent way to learn lighting, excellent way to learn how the industry works and excellent way to get connections and gain photo jobs through it. A lot of the photography work I do now is through connections I made through photo assisting. Some other advice I have for photo assistants, especially in the Atlanta Photo community, is that it’s word of mouth. It’s all about your network. People aren’t going to hire you if they don’t know you or if they don’t like you. Yes, you need to be a hard worker and pay attention to detail, but at the same time you have to be friends with everybody. It’s a social setting like college or high school all over again. You don’t want to burn any bridges because you never know which connection is going to lead to a new thing. I feel like the people that are easy going and easy to work with and don’t bring a bad mood to the environment, that’s gonna take you a bit farther than being good. Photography is more about making connections than your skill set. If you’re a good photographer and you market yourself well, that will get you work but if you’re a good photographer and everyone likes you that will get you more work.
What advice do you have for photographers such as myself, fresh out of school or just starting their way in the industry?
If you’re a photographer that wants to start out assisting, you should either get in good with a photographer that will let you come to their studio on the weekends and use the lighting to shoot your own stuff in it or consider investing in cheap strobes and modifiers early. Being able to apply what you learn on set for your own shoots is huge. It’s going to make you a better photo assistant and it’s going to make you a better photographer. If you’re just doing it for other people and you’re just moving a modifier around and you don’t know what it’s actually doing you’re not going to become a first assistant faster. You’re not going to get the advantage of being a photo assistant which is learning about lighting.