In his own words: Fine art photographer and author Ed Rubin
Ed Rubin is a production designer in film and television and a fine art photographer. He has six Emmy award nominations and won an Emmy for Art direction for Disney’s Cinderella. His work has been in over forty-five international competitions including the International Biennial of Photography in Malaga, Spain. His portrait of Vermonter Wilmer Brandt won first place in the Council on Aging’s Aging as Art at the Bowers Museum of Santa Ana, California. Here, Ed gives us a behind the scenes look at his book Vermont: An outsider's inside view.
On creating a book on Vermont: I originally came to Vermont in 1998 from Los Angeles to production design the independent feature film Mud Season, starring Rusty DeWees and George Woodard. I knew absolutely nothing about Vermont except that it was where maple syrup came from. During Mud Season, I met Vermonters Elliott and Florence Morse, and we became good friends. We stayed in touch over the years, and in 2010 I returned to Vermont because I was in a photography exhibition at The Darkroom Gallery in Essex Junction. I came out for the opening reception and also to see Elliott and Florence. It was at the opening reception in the gallery that I got the idea to do the book. I realized that Elliott and Florence were showing me a Vermont that tourists don’t get to see - the Vermont that they know, that their friends know - the Vermont of the real people who actually live and work there, and I saw how interconnected everyone in Vermont is, how they help each other out and yet remain fiercely independent, and how much they love and are defined by the land that they live on, and it was so different for me, coming from Los Angeles, that I had to show this. I did this book because Vermont is special and I fell in love with its unique character. Vermont has an accessibility that you don’t find elsewhere. And, I might add, for a small little state with the population size of the city of San Francisco, it is actually huge in character, history, and complexity.
I am so grateful that I did this, so thrilled that I said “yes” to an idea instead of saying “no, I can’t,” because in saying yes I have learned what it is to feel fully alive and to thrive as an artist, as my authentic self. I have met so many angels who have helped me on the way - in ways that I could never have anticipated - and I know now, that my book is not only my gift to the people of Vermont - it is their gift to me.
On the inspiration for the book: I was inspired by the people and Vermont itself - the variety of people, the consciousness of working together and being of service to each other, and loving and respecting the place where they live. Life in Vermont is not easy. Everyone has three jobs and the weather, especially in winter, can be brutal. The love people have for this special place overrides everything - Vermonters are fiercely proud and passionate about where they live - yet they are private, preferring to simply live their lives outside of any sort of limelight. They are incredibly authentic about who they are - they aren’t perpetually waiting for their next audition like people in Los Angeles - and I found this amazingly refreshing. I wanted to show, through my photography and writing, that there are still places in America where people know each other deeply, help each other freely, and are bound to each other in heart, mind, and community.
On selecting subjects to photograph: I had absolutely no plan when I set out to photograph people. I simply showed up in Vermont, and started asking my friends if I could photograph them. They would then recommend their friends to me and I would call them up, and most said yes. Then, those people would recommend other people to photograph. It grew completely organically. I also started asking complete strangers that I would meet in restaurants and other places if I could photograph them. I had never done anything like that before, and it took some courage to do. I had to develop a whole way of being with people while I photographed them that put them at ease. I would tell bad jokes, and sometimes we would even sing! I would be taking pictures as I asked them questions and I would look for that one moment when they would exhibit something really authentic about themselves, and I would get that shot. Usually a photo session would take about 45 minutes. I had no lighting equipment and did not do different camera setups - that, I feel, would have been artificial and distracting and possibly intimidating to my subjects, who were not used to being photographed by some guy from Hollywood. And, I wanted everything to be totally authentic, not artificial. I wanted my photos to express exactly who my subjects were, to tell their story through a glance, an expression, and I also wanted them to be in their particular environment - the place where they spend most of their time - either at work or at home. The places they are in also tell their stories.
On the work involved in creating the book: It took 4 years to create the book. I went to Vermont five times, staying 3 weeks each time. I took 20,000 photographs and was downloading about 800 photos per day. I went through every photograph, deciding which ones were the best. That’s why it took 4 years. The last two years, I actually stopped working in the film business in Hollywood because I needed that time to finish the book, otherwise it would never have been completed. I narrowed the selection down to about 350 photographs, and each photograph in that group was done in both black and white and color, because I wasn’t sure which version I would use in the book. Some photos, because of the bad lighting conditions I was shooting in, had to be in black and white. With the help of my book designer, Ron Shore of Fine Arts Press, I was able to narrow the selection down to about 200.
On the title of the book: The title Vermont: An outsider's inside view was actually suggested by my life partner, the poet Sam Ambler, who also edited my writing and helped with photo selection. Sam is brilliant, and An outsider’s inside view was his idea. I came up with Vermont.
On the absence of winter scenes in his book: I grew up in Southern California and I spent my summers going to the beach. My family used to go up to the mountains once every couple of years to “visit the snow.” I’m not kidding. I never saw an actual snow fall until I was in graduate school at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh! And I was twenty-five years old. The six years I spent both at school and in New York City were enough winter for me. Really. Also, the truth is that I was running all over the place every day and night in Vermont taking pictures, and I couldn’t have done what I did and also deal with snow. The roads are daunting enough in the dark, where anything can jump out at you at any moment, without having to deal with ice. I have no idea how to drive in the snow, and it terrifies me. So, no snow pictures - that is someone else’s book!
On his next project: Well, I just finished production designing the independent feature film Sister Cities in Los Angeles. Sister Cities is about four estranged sisters who are reunited for a weekend by the supposed suicide of their mother. It is directed by Sean Hanish and based on the play by Colette Friedman.