chip simons phoOutcast of Originality

"Once upon a time I shot a computer big wig…and he was such an ass, I thought (and said) "you know…I don't think people care what you look like anyway…but they do care what you say" ... so I proceeded to shoot him out of focus and as a silhouette. ."

By Chip Simons


I have always strived to be original and different than everyone else. I am often asked where I come up with ideas and how I can reinvent myself over and over. I give a lot of talks so I have some pre-rehearsed lines like….

Shoot whatever you want that make s you happy and gets you excited about shooting more and more.

 Don’t try to be like everyone else….think how you can be the opposite.

 Change your perspective…don’t ever show me something from 5 foot 9….I know what it looks like already.

 Show us something we have not seen before….and not your naked body…

 Don’t be so obsessed with taking great pictures…..that’s a horrible pressure to put on yourself.

 Stop making sense.

 Photography is theater and a big fat lie…your subjects are actors and you are just showing me what you want me to see….why be so obsessed with trying to make it look so real. It’s not.

 You can do anything you want…there are no rules…you could shoot your toenails for 365 days if you want…

 You don’t have to focus…or light…or shoot a level horizon…or even right side up….

 You can take the worst pictures on earth if you want…it’s really easy.

 I think that your emotions are like a boat and your brain is the rudder….you have to explore new places…or be content to just drift with the currents.

 Nobody really cares what you do so you better like it….or at least realize it is all part of a process that will lead to something else.

These little sayings go on and on…but the nuts and bolts of what I have done is more like:

I hated living in New York City in 82’….I thought I would go hang out in the park….I saw babies and dogs playing on the hill….it was sunny and people were friendly. I decided that I would rather be a dog running around and playing, than live in NYC. I put my camera down at the perspective of another dog…and when the dog went to sniff it…I blasted them. I then started to make them different exaggerate and /or contradict their character. It was so fun. I called it “I am a dog.” This led to a lot of my color psychology in other pictures.

Pug and Empire State
© Chip Simons

I had a lot of confidence and ego in NYC in those early daze…and I talked my way into shooting for Rolling Stone and Spin and Sony records. The problem was…I had no gear, no idea how to make people look good. I just had a Nikon, a handheld flash, and some flashlights that I had practiced lightpainting for about 5 years…I think I got that idea from seeing a picture of a blimp lit with car headlights in a time/life photo book.

So, I would illustrate ideas for magazines and shoot everybody with light painting…..

Black Hole
© Chip Simons

I even remember stopping at a store to buy more cheap flashlights on the way to a shoot. It’s so cool that you can do multiple focus, multiple faces, floating heads, my sneakers walking all over, and write things with leds. It is so fun and the mistakes are so good.…

I just shot this girl in an alley with a flashlight and a bike safety light…three frames in about two minutes including jokes…two frames were really good.

Once upon a time I shot a computer big wig…and he was such an ass, I thought (and said) “you know…I don’t think people care what you look like anyway…but they do care what you say” so I proceeded to shoot him out of focus and as a silhouette. My photography had evolved to a point that I didn’t focus,,,and didn’t even light the subject. I did a whole series of action figure “silhouettes”…(yes…pre-iPod by two years at least…

BunnyNow I live on a little farm in New Mexico along the Rio Grande. There is a forest called the “Bosque” along the river. It is like a Hansel and Gretel place...kinda like a storybook. I was back there playing around with assistants dressed up as hillbillies wearing various masks for another series called “monsters” (doesn’t everyone do this?) One of the masks was a 49 cent bunny mask. The assistant had on flannel pajamas and I said….let’s pretend that you are really this bunny character that lives in the forest…and I am hiding in the bushes and you don’t know I am watching you …you are just going about your day…in kind of a melancholy way. This created the series “Bunny.” I love that I don’t have to drag any lights along. I shoot with my stomach and intuition…not my brain. That is another topic I would have to explain at length….




© Chip Simons

A Belgian friend wrote me…saying that America is so weird…you have these things called “corn dogs” and “popcorn chicken” I love plays on words to conjure up images”

I was wondering where Swiss cheese comes from… I ended up with a holy cow.

Holy Cow
© Chip Simons

I love the idea of holes in things….and giant scale and weird color of course.

Toad & CopNow, I don’t know what I am doing with Photoshop…so a lot of cutouts look so bad….but “bad” is what was so charming about postcards from the thirties and forties. How funny is that…I am free to make “bad” pictures….because ‘bad’….is ‘good.’ If the Photoshop cutouts are too good…the pictures won’t be bad enough…so it won’t be any good. My stock agency won’t accept any of these pictures because they are so bad….I said…but that’s the idea and the charm “Bad is Good”… I was at an art show with the holy cow and someone said “wow…that’s so great because… it is so bad”.


© Chip Simons

I have a series called “probe”…which is just pictures of my lightstand in the road with different colored gels blasting . It came about because I didn’t have anyone with me to take a picture of…and just a landscape is too boring. I was cracking up (there’s another shot) that I got emotional feelings for a freakin’ lightstand…like it was a sensitive little character checking out the earth…all because of color and light and a little crook in the flex thing that holds the light head. (My stock agency won’t accept these either…)

Probe Pyramid
© Chip Simons

Point of Interest I have another series called “point of interest” where I just shot my finger pointing at things around the world. It is a direct by-product of running around with an 18mm lens all the time) I was fascinated that when you see the speck of what I am pointing at…that you mentally zoom in and see that thing BIG in your mind. It is like when your grandmother saw a horrible picture of grandkids as dust particles in front of a monument…and she would say ”auhhhh…they look so cute…they sure are growing up” or something…. She zoomed in and saw you big in her brain. (Maybe this explains why magazine crop my stuff to death…) I shot a jet one day overhead (really bored on a job) and I had the same affect happen in my brain. I see people on the jet and a jet parked at the airport in my brain….now I have a series called “jet”.

I woke up yesterday and looked at some leftover bacon. It was the last piece…and nobody ate it. It just sat there for awhile…I shot it… and I was amazed how much emotion and memories a piece of bacon can evoke. I don’t know why…I just find myself strangely drawn to objects lately.


BaconYes…he is crazy…

The one event that really has me questioning my sanity, happened at 2am while trying to figure out what to do with this hay bale I had just cut out (what a pain)…and I went looking for backgrounds. I came across some crappy shots of seedy hotels in Santa Fe. I pasted the haybale on the bed…and put another peeking out from behind the bathroom edge. I got into the shadows and made it all green (haybales like that color) then I snapped with the punchline…”hay…could you turn off the lights?”

I fell out of my chair.

Hay in Motel
© Chip Simons

This is just a few little stories ….maybe they will give you insight into how I come up with ideas. Everyone has their own weird perceptions and mental problems…just take advantage of them. Being a photographer gives you a license to do whatever you want. I would not worry if nobody understands you and you don’t have much work because you are so weird. It will work itself out. As long as you’re happy and excited to just see what something looks like in your picture.

Now... a quick review:

You don’t have to focus or light anything.

 You can buy photo gear for $1.59.

 You can get work for fancy magazines with just a big ego…

 Sometimes what you do for relief of an uncomfortable feeling or from boredom might just generate cool pictures.

 Laughing out loud in the middle of the road in Nevada is a good thing….

 European womens’ misunderstanding of American slang is an untapped resource of funny pictures.

 And…it really doesn’t matter if you take pictures anyway…..nobody cares….there are a million guys, that were at that party, who will gladly take the job anyway…

 You might as well like what you are doing….

Chip SimonsAs for me:

I feel so mentally free to do whatever I want. I am not trying to impress anyone with my technique or who I have shot. I can still work for stupid magazines and get something out of it. I am not famous or known by anyone but a handful of photographers…maybe. It’s all about the light and the feelings and the ideas. Content is really secondary somehow. I think that innocence; excitement, entertainment, wonder and just plain fun have taken over in my photography. I keep wondering if photography is a means to an end…and I will just quit some day (having gone so far off the deep end that nobody will hire me or buy my pictures)…or if these ideas will lead me to things I never imagined…I wonder…


More of Chip Simons work can be found at