In Conversation with Billy Hess – Photographer Extraordinaire

They say beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. Today I am speaking with celebrity photographer Billy Hess, who’s work is breathtaking. He shares where his inspiration comes from and gives advice to struggling photographers trying to make it. Meet the talented and handsome Billy Hess.

David:

Hello Billy thank you for taking the time out to speak with me.

Bring me back to the day you decided you wanted to become a photographer. What inspired you?

Billy:

My father inspired my love for  photography. My father was a low paid factory worker. We were poor and living in a low income housing project in the City of Yonkers. He loved taking pictures. He had an old German 35 mm camera with bellows that he bought when he was in the Navy. When I was about 10 or 11 he let me use the camera and encouraged me to shoot photos. I think it was his away to keep out of trouble and off the streets. We even developed some of film in our house. He would turn our kitchen into a photo lab and other times when we had money, we would send the film out to a discount lab to develop. He also had an old 8mm movie camera which he would use to make funny homemade family movies.  He gave me that camera to use when I was 12 or 13. I loved horror movies, so my friend and I made a movie called the Blood Beast. We borrowed a horror mask from a friend and let him star in the movie as the Blood Beast. The short films plot was the monster went into the projects killing people. We got in so much trouble with the housing mangers. For an example we did a special effect  where the Blood Beast knocked down a retainer wall on a victim and we had our neighbors cat eat chicken skin dipped in fake blood off the face of the victim so it looked like the cat was eating the victim. . So the neighbors thought I was crazy and we got in trouble for knocking down a retainer wall which took us kids three weeks everyday chiseling the bricks  to loosen up the bricks so  it was ready to be pushed over for the shoot.

From then on photography was a hobby for me that kept the heat of the Mellon (one’s brain) so to speak. It was a stress reliever and made me happy while growing up poor in the city projects.

My photography started to morph into a different level around when I met a once famous lead singer of a UK boy band that came to the US to reinvent himself and try to save his career. We became friends and I would shoot all his promo photos and his performances. I always had the passion to shoot live concerts since I was a singer in my younger teen years singing Rock a Billy and New wave. I was even an Elvis Impersonator and was able to make some money. When an artist performs singing a song you feel the emotion and through my lens, I try to capture that feeling the artist his projecting. I try to get what I call the Soul of the image, where I want you to feel the image, not see the image. During this time, I met celebrity Journalist Eileen Shapiro. She liked my photos. She gave me the opportunity to shoot celebrities for her and later we became best of friends and we work a lot together on behalf of her PR firm World Star PR and New ayork’s biggest LGBT magazine Get Out.

David:
What have you learned about yourself as a photographer?

David:
What have you learned about yourself as a photographer?

Billy:

I learned that I am driven in life by passion whether it is shooting photos, relationships, personal beliefs ect. If I was impassioned by something I give it my heart and soul. I also learned that I love a challenge and work good under pressure whether getting what the celebrity is trying to portray in a shoot or shooting a concert with challenging lighting or a dimly lit small venues in NYC. I always rise to the occasion when my back is against the wall.


David:
What is your biggest challenge as a photographer?

Billy:

There are many challenges The biggest challenge of being a concert celebrity photographer is  the unpredictable nature of business.  Things can change so quickly from getting permissions to shoot, putting in requests dealing with different PR & management personalities. Making money and having to have to sign restrictive contracts that you must sign to shoot A-list artists, where the contract  limits your use of the photos you shot. Also getting the ever changing lighting to line up with the shot and getting your angle then meeting changing deadlines to produce and deliver your edited photos. Shooting is the easiest most enjoyable part of it all.

David:
What is the most rewarding part for you as a photographer?

Billy:

Getting what I call the “Money Shot”, a perfect shot photo that captures the emotion or projection of the artist or model where the artist or model looks at the photo and  can feel the photo. It’s most rewarding when they say “wow what a great photo.”  Also getting to know some amazing artists even the divas.   


David:
If you could change one thing about photography what would it be?

Billy:

Dealing with amateur & unprofessional photographers whether in a photo pit or red carpet that don’t know or care about photographer etiquette.  Those who have undersold themselves just to get in to shoot the event or concert. This hurts the professional photographers trying to make a living..

David: What advice do you have for struggling photographers trying to make it in the industry?

Billy:  

Never underestimate the power of passion. I believe, if and when you struggle with this industry, as long as you have the passion in what you do  it will keep you going forward and eventually you will arrive.

David: Are there any photographers you have been inspired by their work you can name?

Billy:

The first  photographer that inspired me was Ansel Adams  he was a landscape photographer and environmentalist known for his black-and-white images of the American West, he spoke  so deeply about photography, for example one his quotes “A great photograph is one that fully expresses what one feels, in the deepest sense, about what is being photographed.” ― Ansel Adams.   When I accomplish this, I call it getting “The Money Shot”. 

Another inspiring photographer I feel is the best in the business is Neal Preston he is known for his photographs of rock musicians. He has worked very closely with such artists as Led Zeppelin, Queen, The Who, Bruce Springsteen, Fleetwood Mac, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, and others.  You just do not see his photos you fell is photos. That is what I try to accomplish when I shoot a photograph. I want you to fell the photo not just see the photo. I call this, “In the soul of the image
 

David: 

What would you want your legacy to be?

Billy: 

I want to be known as a photographer that captured the true soul of the artist or model that was in front of my lens whether in a studio on stage.

David: 

Thank you for your time. What are some words of wisdom to all the readers?

Billy:  

I ‘d say it not so much where your passion comes trying to fulfill your dream but rather how your passion survives. 

David:

What would you want your legacy to be?


Billy: 

I want to be known as a photographer that’s captured the true soul of the artist or model that was in front of my lens whether in a studio on stage or on the red carpet 

David: 

Thank you for your time. What are some words of wisdom to all the readers?

Billy: 

I’d say it not so much where your passion comes from trying to fulfill your dream but rather how your passion survives. 

Photos: Courtesy of Billy Hess

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*