Q&A with Fletcher Oakes
by Odell Hussey
I met Fletcher a few years back in San Francisco, at an event in the city. His passion for taking pictures and trademark beard struck me immediately. I knew right away I wanted to take his portrait & interview him someday. I finally got the chance to do so earlier this year when Fletcher and his partner Barbara stopped by the studio to chat. Fletcher was happy to answer my questions, although I think he would rather be taking pictures.
My name is Fletcher Oakes and I am a photographer & artist.
When did you first start doing photography?
I picked up my first camera when I was 10 years old. I shot and did darkroom work for about 5 or 6 years. Stopped doing it. When I was in my 20’s I met my mentor in a sense, who I don’t know personally. Robert Frank is a world famous photographer. Robert Frank got a Guggenheim. The first Guggenheim to do this type of project. So it was a project of documenting America. He did a book called the Americans publish is 1956. I first saw it in 1958. “Oh great book … I like this book.”
Then in the early 60’s I was living in the Bay Area. I came from the midwest. I seen the book back in the midwest. I am in the Bay Area, and I’m living here. And I run into this guy who’s taking photography course at SF State. I Said, “oh your into photography, did you ever hear of this guy Robert Frank?” He said “Oh yeah, I love Robert Frank”. Between us we said we’re going to go to the library and check the book out. We go to the library, check it out. We spent all night looking at the book and the photographs. The next day I went and bought my first camera as an adult. It wasn't a Brownie, it was a Voigtlander. You know that camera? With a Zeiss lens … beautiful camera … little folding camera, you could carry it around with you. Great camera.
And I bought that camera, and I took pictures with that for several years. I was taking classes. I went out and started talking class at SF State in photography. I had Jack Welpott, he on a level just below the Ansel Adams and Imogen Cunningham and all those… So he was my teacher, and he was a great teacher. And I took seminars from people from like Ansel Adams, and Imogen Cunningham. In fact somewhere around I’ve got a photo of Imogen Cunningham, which I love, I wanna find that someday. Anyways … but that was it, that was mentor, Robert Frank … and how I started.
What is it about photography that made you wanna do it?
Just being an artist and having visions and seeing things. And being able to see. My real love in photography is in the portrait and I see in portraiture.
I think it goes to the fact that I really enjoy talking to people, being with people, and relating to people. You know, just being around people is something. And trying to interpret through portraiture, kind of the essence of people. Doing my best, for better or worse, doing my best.
What does work with photography mean to you?
I just love to do it. It gives me a great deal of pleasure to see, to hear from people that I took their picture and they like their pictures. Often I take pictures at events, a lot of event around the city. And a year later I’ll go back to that event and I have a bunch of 4x6 prints in my hand and I will look for the people. And they love it, and they just love it. When people see their picture, they love it.
Do you have any advice for other photographers?
Take pictures, just take pictures!
I have a friend, he’s my student friend. I give him lessons and like most people with software. He he keeps coming back and forgetting everything he learned. Which I understand perfectly, I forgotten so many programs. Some like After Effects, I’ve forgotten it at least three times. Every time I go to it I have to relearn it. So … But just keep taking pictures, because that what it’s really about. If you don’t get the eye, if you don’t get the vision. Then post processing won’t do it, but post - production … but or where as post production will do it … I mean I take a lot of photographs where sometimes I’ll shoot an event and the event is like 2-3 hour shoot. And I spend like 20 hours in post-production, you know? Then Barb (wife), will come home from a wedding and say “well this photographer, says she gets everything down in a couple of hours”. And I think holy shit, how does she do that? But, she is shooting a lot with flash and I don’’t use flash. Heavy sunlight, so I got this contrast issues, so it takes me hours for post. And that’s where it doesn’t become financially viable. My jobs pay me between 13 to 3 to - 7 an hour … (Laughs).
I really appreciated the time we spent in the interview. Having someone tell you about their life, about what they think, and the decisions they made is fascinating to me. Being able to really listen to what someone is saying, and to receive their story, is a great honor. Experience is priceless in this life and learning from it is even more valuable.
To see learn more about Fletcher's Photography check his website: http://photos.fletcho.com