Behind the Lens
Informational & Inspirational
Photographer Joe Kramm shares his approach to making design look its best
If you happen to pay attention to the photo credits attached to the exquisite images circulated by top New York design galleries Atelier Courbet, Friedman Benda, Hostler Burrows, and R & Company, then you’ll notice they have something in common: photographer Joe Kramm.
Kramm's been working his photographic magic for over a decade and recently launched JAR Studios along with partner and stylist Ralph Nassif. Their speciality is capturing and amplifying the allure of design objects and interiors—not just for galleries but also for studios like Fort Makers, brands like Matthew Fairbanks Design, and interiors firms like Elizabeth Kohn Design
Intrigued, we reached out to learn more about Kramm’s eye for design.
What drew you to photography as a profession?
In high school, I had an amazing art teacher who got me interested in photography, shooting, processing, and printing black and white film. I loved being in the darkroom. From there, I knew I wanted to go to art school, but it wasn't until I met my first photo professor at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design that I realized I had something in photography. She really encouraged me, and I learned through her that your eye, talent, and creativity are valuable assets, and it’s possible to make a livelihood using those skills.
How would you encapsulate your approach to your work in general?
Collaboration is by far the most important aspect of what I do. It's so easy for me to get really excited about light, shadow, and composition. So having an engaged client who can help educate me on the work is vital to ensure I'm capturing the right details to best tell the intended story. It takes a village, and I've had clients who make things say that they never really see the piece fully until we've photographed it. I can't think of a better compliment.
What would you say are your essential goals when photographing design objects?
When photographing design I often tell clients there are two types of images, informational and inspirational. Informational images tell me everything I need to know about a piece. What's it made of? How tall is it? What does it look like from all sides? Inspirational images can be more fun—more about mood, environment, or how to use a piece. Both are important, and for me both are fundamentally about lighting. I try to keep my informational images bright, clean, and as descriptive as possible. The inspirational images can vary. I tend to do a lot of vignettes and groupings, and I like to give a little more drama with the lighting.
What about interiors?
Photographing interiors presents fun challenges that studio work just cannot. You've got to work with the space, move and tweak, move and tweak, until you get a composition that works. Typically I'll work with the designer of the space; they're great at bringing in additional elements that can really make the image come to life. Lighting is my favorite part of what I do, so I'm always looking for ways that I can add light to a space to enhance what's already there. Again, it takes a village. All of these moving parts need to come together, and the final image needs to appear effortless. It’s a delicate balance.
Can you share one or two projects in which you felt especially connected to the subject and the end result shows it?
Just days before the pandemic started, I was out in Sonoma California with my friend and designer Becky Carter. We were shooting a project that her studio had just completed. There were three unique spaces: a wine bar, a market cafe, and a speakeasy. We were a small crew, but we had total reign over this beautiful space for two full days. We probably did 13-hour days but had so much fun. It barely felt like work—and prop wine was fair game as the night went on. It was great, but then days later everything goes to hell. We're in quarantine, so I had nothing but this last project to keep me busy. Becky and I would go back and forth on edits, have zoom calls to catch up, and really took the time to make everything perfect. The images are fantastic, and I learned a lot working with Becky.
I've worked with R & Company since 2013 and with them have had the opportunity to work on several book projects. One of my favorites was the second volume they did for the Haas Brothers. I got to fly down to South Africa to shoot the Afreaks, these wonderful beaded monsters that the twins designed in collaboration with these amazing local women, dubbed the Haas Sisters. We shot in this studio that was a former church, and I met some amazing people. I was just blown away by the experience. The images from the shoot are super fun and playful, and having them in book form makes them all the more special. I'll never forget that shoot.
What projects do you have coming up next?
I'm currently working on a new book project with a private collector. We've been documenting prominent pieces from a huge ceramic collection, both in the studio and on location. I'm very excited to see where it goes—I'm a total ceramic fanboy. Other than that it's business as usual. I've just started working with a few new gallery clients and am looking forward to traveling again for work. I've got some interior projects in the works on the East and West coasts. This was a goal of mine before Covid, so I'm glad to see things are coming back. Always looking forward to the next collaboration.
Thanks, Joe! ◆