Interview with Creation Photographer Chris
If anything captures the essence of a Convention, it might be the photo-op. A moment of joy, a memory of not just the Convention but of fandom. If you talk to any fan who's been to a Creation Entertainment Convention, they will speak not only of the photo, but of the role of the photographer Christopher, in not only taking stunning photographs, but in making the moment special.
I spoke to Chris just after he'd finished working on the recent Salute to Supernatural Convention in Las Vegas. Having done between four and five hundred conventions, I started by asking whether he noticed a difference in the vibe between different cities.
"Every fan is there for different reasons, and every fan is there united by the show. Capturing that moment for them is something that I've always looked at just a moment of pure happiness. To capture that is going to be different and special for every person. "
– Chris, Convention Photographer
Chris: For the cities for Supernatural conventions that we've been in, they all have their personality. Whether it's the Midwest, East Coast (where I’m from) or different parts of the west coast they take on the personality of that city.
I think it's important sometimes just to take a step back and take a breath outside and go and have a coffee somewhere and just sit down. I always try to enjoy the city we are in, otherwise I start walking into walls.
I think traveling was always in my blood. A lot of places in North America can tend to blend together, but there is always something in each place that stands out. My mom was from Toronto originally, so I was always going to Toronto when I was a wee tot, so to incorporate that with the conventions is great also because that's where my heritage is from.
Jules: Working a Convention must be pretty intense. You are working long hours, and taking hundreds of photos.
Chris: A friend of mine who's a photographer asked "How do you keep yourself into it?" and I said that every fan is there for different reasons, and every fan is there united by the show. Capturing that moment for them is something that I've always looked at just a moment of pure happiness. To capture that is going to be different and special for every person.
My goal is making sure that the last fan is treated as the first fan. At the end of the show I'm not dropping off as far as what I'm giving them. It's not just about the photo. It's about that short time that the fan is not worrying about any problems in their life. They appreciate someone that they're there to see and to have a moment that they'll probably and hopefully remember forever. I want to make sure that it's a special time for everyone that's there.
"Chris makes the photo op experience effortless! He is the invisible hand that guides the nervous fan through the op with a smile and of course produces the photos that provides lasting memories."
– Randee McDonald,
Jules: Fans speak about how important you are to creating the whole experience for them and in making them feel relaxed. How do you approach that?
Chris: A couple of weeks ago one of the fans said, "I just wanted to tell you that you get it." And I thought for a second, well, what was she talking about? But then I understood – it's that I respect how important it is to the fans.
On top of taking pride in what I do and making sure that it's a great photo, it's a lot to do with the atmosphere of the room. Fans may not realize that how I set up the room is very important to the process because it allows fans to be in the room before their picture and so they see other fans taking their picture. If you were just going into a tent where you come in and "Bam!" the photo is taken, fans wouldn't have that chance to take a breath and realize how it works and have the fun of being there and seeing it. So the set up in a way is integral.
One of the key things is actually the music. Firstly, I can't work without music in that kind of environment. It would just be crickets chirping in the corner. Also, it's a public environment, but it's a very private sometimes. If fans want to share with others afterwards, that's their prerogative to do so. But in that moment that the fan has with who they're there to appreciate – it's personal. So the music means everyone doesn't hear everyone else's conversation.
The photo-op is the one moment that there is one-on-one interaction with the fan and the guest. Just the process lends itself to being more personal. To differentiate between the autographs and the photo; there is the lack of any kind of barrier, like a table. Obviously security is there just in case, but, again, it's just a very sweet fandom to be part of and I'm lucky to be there.
People may not know it, but I actually thank every single fan that's there as I'm taking the picture and I'm genuine about it. It's not just like a kind of robotic kind of thing because I truly do, and we wouldn't be there without them.
The fans will say that the photo room is their place of solitude. They know what it was going to be and it was going to be a highlight for them. So that alone is why I do it.
Jules: Of course you're often just taking a portrait shot; you are also working with whatever whacky poses the fans come up with to do with the actors.
Chris: I think it helps for the fans to be in the room beforehand because they see the personality of the actor, especially first-timers because people that have been there before they have an idea and they've seen other people's photos. I can't really think of any time where it was over the top or crossed the line. Fans know peoples' personality and it's a fast-paced environment.
Sometimes a fan will come up and they'll say, "I don't know what to do." And I'm thinking "You only had six months girl! Get it together!” It's amazing where people get ideas from, the imagination and the creativity. The amount of people in costumes has dramatically increased in the last couple of years. There's a crew of young ladies from Japan and they've been to probably 15 or 20 conventions, and they're always together, always giggling, very sweet. They always have fantastic little candies to give, and one of them is actually an animation artist. Her friends go to her with ideas they want and because of the language barrier she will actually draw what the pose the fan wants in the picture. They are priceless to see. I have quite the collection of them at home.
Putting the actors at ease is also a big part of it. If the photographer is yelling at fans to go next and get out, - which is just not my personality – then the atmosphere is tense. I've always clicked with the actors, and it could be something as small as musical tastes.
Obviously fans know I play music, but I actually have different play lists depending on who is in the room. I think it lends itself to better photos; that the actors are more at ease, and not so much that they put their guard down but, again, naturally if we're comfortable in a situation, we're more relaxed.
A funny story with Jim Beaver. Jim walked in and I think I was playing was probably a more modern mix, something like "Massive Attack", and Jim's face was priceless, because I always play old jazz for him.
It's all part of the atmosphere that I want to create. If it was up to me I'd have Christmas lights and lava lamps going on or trampolines with baby monkeys…
"I am in a wheelchair and I very often prefer that my chair not be seen in pictures because I like to have the focus on the people in the picture rather than my chair. This last convention that I went to which was Vegas Con, Chris took the most wonderful photos and my chair doesn't show in any of them! "
– Amy Larae,
Jules: Do you remember the first Supernatural Convention you did?
Chris: The first time I met Jared was around 2006 in California at the Grand Slam Sci Fi Convention. It was a multi-genre convention where there's different properties - it could be Battlestar Galactica, mixed with Firefly, mixed with Lord Of The Rings mixed with Star Wars. It was the second season of Supernatural and he didn't have a ton of photos, but the fans that were there seemed very devoted to the show and that's obviously kept up and just built up from there.
The first Supernatural convention we did was in Chicago and it was half Buffy and half Supernatural. Supernatural was on Sunday and Saturday night there was a buzz in the lobby of the hotel and it was fans that were there for Supernatural. It was Jensen's first appearance in North America. They didn't know what to expect, and they heard things that have happened at UK shows, so people were just very excited to be there.
That's the first glimpse that I got of the fandom being united in one place. To feel the energy they had was unlike anything that I have seen besides Star Trek. Seeing fans excited about a property like that was - you had a feeling it was something special.
I consider myself lucky to have been part of it because I was there from the beginning, and I haven't missed one yet, which is kind of scary when I see that list! I think there was only one that year, and then it just took off from there.
I could probably - and actually the boys also - recognize fans that have been there since the beginning. It's nice to see those faces and obviously they wouldn't keep coming back, not only for the convention, but it's also for meeting fans that they met at other conventions and become life-long friends. That's one of the nicest things for me to see -- the unity of the fans brought from different places. It's what Star Trek represented - the mixing of cultures and the uniting of them and that's nice to see in another fandom.
Jules: One thing we've also seen which occurs at the Conventions is that the actors have, just like the fans, formed some very close relationships, even though most of them didn't work on the show together.
Chris: That's true. And honestly of all the conventions that I have done for probably nine years at different properties, I have never seen that happen on any other convention – that so many actors have built up friendships through the conventions.
You know in the past some actors wouldn't talk about going to do a convention; it was just something that you did and you never mentioned it. Now it's become more accepted. It's something that is part of their life and they are touched by fans and obviously want to continue doing it. They enjoy it, and I'm in the same boat. It's something I look forward to.
"Chris has been such a huge inspiration for me, and he's been so patient with me asking a million questions about photography. Photo ops can be overwhelming but when you walk into the room and he has his music playing and you see him behind the camera you instantly feel better."
– Megan Jackson, Stardust and Melancholy Photography
Jules: Where did you interest in photography start?
Chris: When I was growing up my Dad had a dark room in the basement and I think it kind of stuck with me. Just being in that environment to see something on a piece of paper become something else. I always had smaller cameras just growing up and enjoyed taking pictures. Then I had a band for nine years, called "The Metric Resistance". I played bass.
The band eventually dissolved (recently reunited!) and I was looking to do something creatively but a bit more isolated, where I wouldn't have to depend on other people to do it. It just coincided with digital photography taking off and I started doing band photography and eventually I started doing some work for magazines.
Around that same time was when Creation was starting the photo-op process. To try and do that with film, rather than digital, would be a nightmare.
It was a perfect storm and I started doing their pictures and eventually started doing all their shows.
Back then Stargate was big and we had started Lord of the Rings and that was around the time the third Ring movie came out. I was a fan of Lord of the Rings also, so being part of that was fun.
Jules: So you were obviously a fan boy before anything else?
Chris: The Creation Conventions in the 80’s were run out of a comic book store in New York City. At one they were point they were doing close to 100 Star Trek conventions a year. That's when I started helping out at conventions.
The first convention I technically worked at was in '88, it was a Star Wars convention in California, and I was lucky enough to meet George Lucas and Gene Roddenberry. I was 14 but I was still playing with Star Wars dolls. To meet people that I grew up admiring was great and I'll never forget that.
I grew up with Star Wars and to eventually come to meet the people that were involved in the making of it was fantastic. And that convention, in particular, was great because Lucasfilms was involved and they had converted an entire room to a Star Wars museum where they had props and they even had the Death Star trench on the floor.
For me it was exciting to see the people that were involved in the making of the film, not just the actors. It's similar with Supernatural, getting to meet the people behinds-the-scenes is great. I've gotten to meet them as well and the writers, and the visual effects guys and they're all sweet..
"If my house was on fire and I could only grab a handful of things, I would grab my binders full of photo ops. That's how important they are to me."
– Tamara Fuller,
Jules: And being a fan that went to Conventions yourself must give you an insight into what we are going through on the other side of the lens.
Chris: Well, back then pictures weren't part of it. I think my mom had taken some Polaroids of people and I have been lucky enough to meet people I admired like Vincent Price, writers like Isaac Asimov.
Again, that was something embedded in me early on in being in that environment, so it never really phased me to be around people that were in that field. I've always admired actors they're people and they're doing something creative and having an opportunity for fans to meet people that they admire like that I think is special. That's one thing about Supernatural conventions in particular is the family feeling there at the conventions.
There are fans that I've known for a long time, new fans that are there from different countries and to see them intermingling - especially newbies for the first time where they're walking on the walls! It's overwhelming at first, so I try to spot out people that are maybe first timers to put them at ease.
I think the Internet has lent itself to people talking about the experience that they've had, so people know that it's not just walk into a tent, take a picture and leave, and there's no emotional connection with anyone.
Jules: So going back to the technology side of things. As you say, you started when digital had come in but even since then you must have seen a great evolution in the equipment. What's changed the most?
Chris: Specifically the printer. In many Conventions early on I would have to find photo labs and the photo labs would be inconsistent from city to city, so it would almost be a roll of the dice to find out how pictures were going to look.
So it became very frustrating, and my goal always was to deliver the best product that I could to the fans, considering that they travelled and how much they mean. So pretty early on I was on a search for the capability to handle everything. Nowadays, there is not so much maintenance on the printers and basically they take care of themselves.
As long as I know what I'm doing, then the product is going to be better and eventually technology caught up to where - obviously with multiple printers - to deliver them in a way that I feel they're acceptable and great,. I have all the control over everything from start to finish, which is what, I think, anyone creatively wants - is to see something through from start to finish.
Jules: When you're packing to go to a convention, what are you taking?
Chris: As I'm packing I do play a circus theme song in my mind! You know, especially pack up has that kind of atmosphere - the stuff is going on the train with the elephants, but generally I carry my cameras and my computers and everything else is shipped on pallets from convention to convention. The pack up is rough because everyone feels it at the end of the convention and then I'm lifting up 100 pound printers to put them away but that's part of it.
I'll always have at least two cameras - you'll never go into a job with just one of anything because something is goes to break. You know, one time or another a laptop is going to die, cameras are going to die. The Vegas convention was pretty funny. In the middle of one of the shoots my camera batteries died but right at me feet was the second camera with the same batteries, so I switch them out. You have to be prepared for disaster because eventually something is going to stop working.
I think it just lends itself to being prepared for backing things up, never leaving equipment alone, making sure that someone's always watching it, but I've been pretty lucky in that sense.
"A few years ago I was at a convention and was having a truly awful day and he was kind enough to let me hide out in the photo op room out of the way so I could just decompress. After a while of sitting by myself and crying, someone walked past me and I looked up to find that Chris had placed a little white flower in front of me. He didn't say anything, just winked at me as he walked away. I still have that flower."
– Terri Samuels,
Jules: And then you have the actual space you are going into…
Chris: Obviously with Supernatural and the other properties, it's places that I've been many times. But it could be the hotel is different but the city is the same. Especially when we were doing the Twilight conventions, where it was a lot of cities for the first time. That was challenging. Sometimes you don't know what the room is going to look like.
Some of these cities I would end up almost in a make-shift closet or small room and I could hardly stand in there. That was actually - probably the worst room I've ever been in was England. I think it was a Xena convention; I actually had to switch it out because it was basically a janitor's closet with a bloody mop in the corner!
Jules: And what sort of cameras do you use?
Chris: I use Canon and I've always used Canon. My dad always had a Canon, so that's what I had when I started. A lot of my friends have Nikons and I've always been jealous of their flash system. Each company has its drawbacks and pluses, like anything else, but Canon is the way to go for me. I use a 24-70 lens for the majority of the shoots. Just for the ability to go wide, to zoom in. You need that based on the different requests, different people and different poses.
Taking pictures of people is very different than taking photographs of a landscape. I think the biggest thing with photographing people is trust. Making sure that they know that you know what you're doing and also that I'm actually looking at each photo as I'm taking them. If something is horribly awry, I will make sure that we get that one done again.
Obviously, the more you do something the better you are. For example I see a flash in people's eyes from the lights and if I don't see that flash I know that their eyes were closed. It's probably half of a second looking through there, but that's just one thing that stands out to me as far as a trigger to double-check that one to make sure that it's good.
My grandmother always told me that no matter what you do to take pride in it and do it to the best that you can. I have two boys, so I'm just trying to instill that in them because I think it's an important quality - make sure, no matter what it is, you treat it as the greatest thing in the world. Someone mentioned to me that they've been at conventions overseas or here where they take the photo, and as they walk out the door they're handed the photo. Something that I want to fans to know is that the reason it does take a little longer is because I am centering each one in the software and cropping them, doing color adjustments on them, to make sure that they're as good as they can be. Anyone can set it up to print them from the camera and they're going to look off centre. They're going to be inconsistent and I can't deliver something like that.
"At my very first Creation event when I was blown away by Chris’s artistry.. Chris said he knew that people traveled from far away to attend these events and that for some of them this was going to be a once in a lifetime opportunity. He said he always took an extra moment to make it perfect for them. "
– Vanesha Gya,
Jules: You find what you want to do best about whatever job you are doing.
Chris: Absolutely. Being in that environment at Conventions – people ask me "how do you deal with the pressure?" I don't feel any pressure and I think that goes to just being confident in yourself and that you know what you're doing and that I love what I do. So it doesn't feel like work. You know, Vegas was I think three days in a row of 18-hour days, and my feet felt it but I didn't feel it myself. Just that walk back and forth through the hotel, plus it's the desert so my knuckles were all cracking again; that's war wounds. I play baseball/softball and I come home bloody and just horrible looking and everyone on the team is clean. So when I get back my wife says, "Why do you come home like you’ve been in a massacre?" and I said "I play hard". And then I tackle her.
Jules: Is that part of the satisfaction you get from the job? It's a bit of an adrenaline rush?
Chris: Yeah, absolutely. I have warned the fans, essentially first-timers, that not specifically Monday after the convention, but Tuesday is when that rush kind of dies down. I can imagine it's very tough to deal with because of a four-day convention where you're almost a week in a high-paced environment, running around and enjoying yourself and then Tuesday, you know, everyone is back to their work.
And I do feel it all. So it's natural. When everyone's back to somewhat reality that it hits you and you think back, what the hell just happened?
"The fact that he is willing to work with fans to make our often crazy poses work in a photo means A LOT. He could have rules in place to keep things simple to keep the lines moving, but no, he allows us and the actors to get creative, and works with us to make sure it all comes out right. Chris is truly deserving of all the praise and accolades he gets from the fans."
– Ebony S. Davis,
Jules: For many fans, you have become a real part of what makes the Convention special.
Chris: You know, fans ask to take photos with me and I say "I'm going to break the camera!" But it's all about them. One girl in particular she shared something with me that Supernatural was the show that brought her out of the house for the first time in four years.
After the convention she said how it changed her - to go to a convention to meet the actors she appreciated and she had many pictures taken - as far as taking her out of her shell. She sent me a picture of her living room and all of my photos were on her wall.
That right there is why I do it. You know, to reach someone, to hopefully change them in a way. Maybe they can forget about their hard times and hopefully take a step in a direction that they're happy with.
Jules: As you said before, everyone's got their own reasons and their own story behind being there and you're part of telling that story.
Chris: Yes – it's great to be a part of it and to deliver a product that fans will remember and fans appreciate, and Supernatural fans definitely do.
Obviously we're not making the show, but in the same regard I take a lot of pride in the fact that we're in a way representing the show. It's important to think about the people that make it and the people that are there hours in the rain in Vancouver making the show happen. Because I wouldn't be here without the dolly grips and electricians and everyone else that is a part of making the show.
Jules: And how long do you think the Supernatural Conventions (can/will) keep going?
Chris: Something that's powerful enough to create friendships that last, is something that shouldn't be taken for granted. Look at Xena where the show has been off the air for 15 years and fans continue to reunite at the conventions. Similar to the Supernatural conventions, a lot of times the fans look more excited to seeing their friends that they've met online at a convention, and that's special to see that.
Supernatural fans in particular, are worldly and they come from everywhere. From Vietnam to Australia, Canada, and South America where it seems to be huge.
The conventions definitely have the power to continue long after the show finishes.
Interview by Jules Wilkinson, Supernatural Wiki Admin
Many thanks to Chris for his generosity in doing this interview, and for all his awesome work at Conventions. The photos on this page were kindly supplied by Chris.
Nothing in fandom is a solo activity, and this work was made better by betaing input by Amy. Thanks also to the fans of the Salute to Supernatural Convention group on facebook for their wonderful comments about Chris. there were many more than I could include here!
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Please link back to this article if quoting from it.
For inquiries about the Supernatural Wiki, you can contact Jules at email@example.com
Interview conducted 22 March 2014; posted 26 April 2014