When I read Ed Freeman was going to teach a Photoshop course at the Los Angeles Center for Photography, I did not hesitate a moment and immediately signed up. It is not often one gets a chance to be taught by an artist. His images of nude bodies floating in blue water remind of the characters painted by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel Universal Judgement, the same definition, the same intersections and crossings of limbs, often the same blue. His monochromatic series on surfers, makes you feel like the iconic Wanderer above the Sea of Fog in Caspar David Friedrich’s 19th century painting. The Desert Realty series triggers the playing of Jevetta Steele’s Calling You, the soundtrack of the German movie Baghdad Café.
If these series take you on a dream-like dimension, the images of homeless people in Los Angeles make you come back to a reality where it is not an abstract homelessness that comes out but, rather, individual human beings whose eyes are not lost or vitreous but show character and beauty. A similar sensation of serenity we find in Ed Freeman’s travel photos, characterized by subdued, soft lights conferring a meditation-like calmness.
Opposite to the travel photos, we find many of what he calls urban and Western realty, almost drawing-like structures, sometimes as unreal as an architectural project. To conclude, the photos of orchids, deep-toned, seducing cannibal vaginas open a door to a dizzying walk on a fairy path.
What is beauty for you?
I can’t define beauty, but I know when I see it. I look for beauty and I find it even where it is hard to see, in the expressions of the homeless people, in abandoned buildings, on the streets of poor villages.
In the first half of your life you were a musician writing for singers like Carly Simon and Cher, producing records like Don Mc Lean’s American Pie, you were even a road manager on the 1966 Beatles tour. What brought you to photography?
I am a social animal. At a certain point I found myself writing avant-garde electronic music on a computer, I was terribly bored so I turned my hobby, photography, into my work. But once a musician, always a musician, so I still play music, but I am totally concentrated on photography.
What do you think of digital photography and deep image editing?
Before digital cameras, apart from composition, all one had to do was a correct exposure and a perfect focus. Digital cameras, and then image editing Apps, have opened a whole world of possibilities for the expression of creativity. My view has totally changed in this regard. I remember I went to a show in San Francisco that was the early manipulated photography. I thought I would have never done anything like that. A few months later I started using Photoshop and my work totally changed. The gap between someone who takes a photo and someone who creates an image has become huge. Anyone can take a correctly exposed and focused photo, but the standards of fine art photography have been raised. Photography is distancing itself more and more from the portrait of reality and becoming an expression of the photographer’s creativity.
Where do you see the future of photography going?
Photography is becoming limitless. Special effects have become normal. Probably the future is video and moving images taking the place of still photographs. What has not changed is quality: a good photograph is still a good photograph.
Looking at Ed Freeman’s fine artwork, his abstractions, it is immediately visible that Western art has played a major role in his formation and the border between photography and painting almost disappears.
I have always been drawn to the edges of things – the outer limits, the transitional point where one thing turns into another. Frontier towns, sunsets, coastlines. I am fascinated by the ever-narrowing DMZ that separates photography and painting, capture, and manipulation. I love the indefinable place between realism and abstraction, severity and sensuality, repetition, and randomness. These images are the result of exploring those borderlines. I am a photographer but these are not photographs. I am not a painter but these are paintings – except that they are not painted.
Does photography lie or tell the truth?
Even a simple act of cropping a photograph can tell a different story than what reality is. Lay people often think photography is photojournalism and the faithful portraying of reality. But photography is an artistic means and has gone beyond the original role it played. So photography tells the story you want it to tell.
Your latest complicated editorial accomplishment?
Definitely the cover of Playboy magazine summer edition last year. I took over ten thousand photos in two days. The challenge was to create a photo with three nude women that would have not triggered the “black bag” treatment at the newsstand. Finally, moving the legs three pixels to the side did the trick and we had the cover. But on the other hand, spending two days by a pool surrounded by beautiful women and have great catered meals is a great way of living a workday.
You work with models for your underwater images?
I work with models who often are also dancers, some of them, like Brian To and Marisa Papen, I have worked with many times. Dancers have a natural harmony to their movements and make working with them very easy. They move and I just have to photograph and think about the composition of the image without worrying about their posing.
You are originally from Boston, close to the beautiful light of Cape Cod, the same we see in Hockney’s paintings. How do you like California light?
When I arrived in California, I thought light here was awful. Then I discovered downtown Los Angeles amazing light. It is so clear and gives buildings a special tone. I love the desert and when I moved to LA, I wanted to shoot the iconic landscapes of this region. But for landscapes there are only two options: either photograph at dawn or at dusk. Dawn is too early for my habits and at dusk, I’d rather be home enjoying a glass of wine. Only buildings can be photographed with the stark light we find in the middle of the day. That is how my Realty series started.
Your Realty series is at times surreal, especially in the contrast between the building and the sky.
In many of those photos, editing is crucial in creating surreal images. I always take photos of the sky because I know I may use a certain light or certain cloud formations in my editing. I have thousands of them and many times the sky can dramatically change and enhance a building that in real conditions would be flatter and anonymous.
During my life as a record producer I had the chance to work with great concertmasters like the former Bolshoi and the Tokyo Symphonie masters. They were in the studio doing very simple works but they were capable of anything.
I was in Rome taking travel photos for Getty Images to fund my worldwide travels. The taxi driver, after the Trevi fountain and all the other iconic tourist locations, took me outside of Rome to a small cemetery. I did not know why but all the same I went in and took some photos. At a certain point, I turned around and saw Russian painter Karl Bryullov’s grave, I could not believe it, he was my great-great-great-uncle!
Your present project?
Due to the lockdown, I am home and am photographing flowers. I use a special technique called focus stacking. I capture even sixty separate photos of the same object, each with a slightly different focus point, and I later combine them on Photoshop. This is how I have a perfect focus in all points of the flowers I shoot. I used to do this manually, now I use a Nikon D850 that does the hard part for me while I do something else.
Today, when not traveling, Ed Freeman lives in Los Angeles Chinatown. He is planning to teach Photoshop with Zoom calls where students can learn from him but can also learn from one another.