Posted February 24, 2015 by Casey McCallister
Brian Mollenkopf has a unique story. From archaeology into photography, check out his background in our interview with Blue Maple Photography.
Tell us about yourself. How did you get into photography?
I am an on-location portrait and photography specialist – I bring the photography to you! If you have a location you want photographed or want photography at a location, I’m the one for you.
In 5th or 6th grade I got a Polaroid camera and that was the “bomb!” Not only was it a new camera, but it was an instant camera! I wanted to photographed everything – family members (especially my Grandparents), scenic locations (I just loved the Marblehead Lighthouse on the Lake Erie shore) and cool cars at the time. However, I grew up and lived in the farm belt of Ohio where the scenery and terrain is basically flat and homogenous with lots of agricultural field. A short time after getting a camera, I found an arrowhead while playing football in the neighbor’s yard. That sparked my interest in archaeology.
Time went by and college came. I originally majored in education, but shortly after starting college I took an anthropology class and again that sparked my interest in archaeology and I decided to pursue that path. Later, while taking a black and white photography course, a professor really liked my work It’s then that I switched to photography. This was the time when digital was coming of age replacing film and the photography major program did not have a clear direction. Once again, I was back into archaeology and I received my degree at the university. I owned and operated a Cultural Resources Management firm (prehistoric archaeology, historic archaeology, and historic architecture) in Ohio for a number of years. The part I enjoyed the most was the visual elements. I enjoyed the photography, scanning and displaying the artifacts, and creating and computer editing the maps and excavation schematics. Then life happens as it does to so many – my wife and I have kids – we first had twin daughters, then two year later another daughter. Rather than look for daycare and be worried about a lot of travel and remote locations, I sold the business to become a stay-at-home dad. Since, we’ve added another and I now have four daughters. As our children have gotten older, I am pursuing photography once again. Hence, I am back to that Polaroid, only now shooting professional grade gear and exceeding clients’ expectations.
I think a lot of my creative vibe has been passed along. I have twins that are now in college – one majoring in studio art and the other in photography. My third daughter, now a high school senior, is considering be an art teacher and my fourth daughter in middle school is heavily into animation.
You are a very versatile photographer. What kind of subjects really reel you in? What catches your eye to compel you to photograph it?
I love landscapes. If I could just shoot landscapes I would be a happy soul. I live in the farm belt of Ohio so any terrain or landscape that is different excites me. Vacations outside this area of the Midwest are always a bonus with new landscapes to explore. Plus, after the cold weather breaks, I want to go explore the Appalachian Foothills portion of Ohio with camera in tow.
Any projects that you’re working on that you’re excited about?
Coming up at the end of March I will be a photographer for the Heroes Tribute Hunt – Honoring Those Who Protect Our Freedoms. It will be a special day filled with family oriented outdoor events and a guided hunt for disabled veterans. Some of the planed events include; proper care practices for harvested game, safe gun handling techniques and use of firearms, modified sporting clays course, fishing, archery, etc…. I will be doing aerial images, candid, group, and action shots.
Who are your mentors? Who do you look to for inspiration?
I really don’t have a mentor. I don’t spend any time on Pinterest, 500PX, Flickr, etc. surfing to come up with idea. I want to blaze my own trail. If I like the results of my artistic project I will peruse it more. If not, I will dream up new ideas and challenges.
With the barriers of getting into photography becoming fewer, how are you staying competitive in the quickly changing field?
I tell everyone that having a camera doesn’t make you a photographer; it makes you a camera owner. I secondly tell them that I’m not doing this (photography) for additional spending money. This is my career. Additionally, I guarantee my work. I hold a Ohio Pupil Activity Permit which require FBI and Ohio criminal background checks, and I have insurance, the proper permits, and pay applicable taxes.
I’m also very conventional/conservative. I try not to follow the latest trend. I want to be myself – not a photographer that is similar in style to person X, Y or Z. Plus, if you do follow the current trend, then a few years into the future you (or your client) will look at the work and it will be very dated and not a timeless piece of art.
What do you wish someone told you when you were just starting out? Any advice for fellow photographers?
There are no steadfast rules in photography. Shoot, crop, edit, and produce as you see it and how you like it. Be yourself, be an individual, and don’t be a slave to trends.
Also, don’t pass upon any opportunities that come your way. You know, that door that opens may lead you to something great. If it doesn’t, just turn around and walk back out – no harm no foul. The door I opened was a gig with a local nationally recognized indoor/outdoor shooting range, gun store, and gunsmith shop. At the time, I was doing a lot of senior portraits and was concerned that this may alienate potential clients. After some consideration, I decide to do the photo shoot. At first it was just going to be a simple gig with just some interior shots of the complex. However as we met and work out details it become a full production involving a full day of photography that included interior shots, customer shots, employees shots, class room shots, live action shots, and a 360° virtual tour. The organization even closed for the day and used happy customers as models. This was one of the most fun shoots I have done to date, not to mention all the repeat shoots I have done with the organization since. Also, our relationship is ongoing. Just two days ago we met and they are going to start selling some of my themed artwork in the store.