Craig Semetko photographed by Aziz Yazdani
Craig Semetko (https://www.semetko.com/) is an American photographer focusing on authentic human experience. Born and raised near Detroit, Michigan, Semetko became a professional comedy writer and performer after college and years later discovered photography as another means of storytelling. His comedic background has given him a highly developed sense of the absurd and ironic, resulting in a strong theme of humor throughout his work. In his foreword for Semetko’s first book “UNPOSED,” Magnum Photos photographer Elliott Erwitt writes, “Good photographs are tough enough to shoot. Really funny ones are even harder. Good and funny photographs observed in nature not arranged or manipulated but simply observed in real time with amazing consistency, constitute a minor miracle now presented in Mr. Semetko’s book…In my book, he is the essential photographer. That is, the one who sees what others could not have seen.” Semetko was one of 10 photographers chosen worldwide by Leica Camera to be a part of its “10×10” exhibition celebrating 100 years of Leica photography. He spent three months in the fall of 2013 traveling throughout India for the project and the resulting work was displayed at the grand opening of the new Leica headquarters in Wetzlar, Germany, in 2014. His second book, the award winning INDIA UNPOSED, was also born of this project and was published by StreetView Press in the spring of 2014. Semetko spent much of 2011 and 2012 working on a long term project on the United States. The project was partially funded by a successful Kickstarter campaign and Semetko is continuing work on the series with a book publication expected in the fall of 2022. Semetko graduated from Northwestern University’s School of Speech in Evanston, Illinois, and holds a masters degree in Consciousness Studies from the University of Philosophical Research in Los Angeles. He teaches workshops regularly for the Leica Akademie worldwide and his photographs can be found in private collections in Europe, Asia, and the United States. Semetko currently resides in Los Angeles and Chicago.
LACP Interviews Craig Semetko
LACP asks Craig Semetko ten questions about their background, career in and beliefs about photography
Los Angeles Center of Photography: What kind of photographer are you?
Craig Semetko: People think of me as a street photographer, and I’ll often describe myself as that in order to simplify things, but the term is limiting. I take an awful lot of photos that are not in the street. I do prefer to photograph people, spontaneously and often candidly, as in street photography, but I also enjoy portraiture, landscapes, and anything else that piques my interest. My emphasis is on authentic moments that are not staged. My first two books and upcoming book all have the word “Unposed” in the title.
LACP: How long have you been shooting?
CS: Since February of 2000.
LACP: Where did you get your training?
CS: Looking at the work of Cartier-Bresson and Elliott Erwitt in various bookstores in Southern California.
LACP: When did you know you wanted to devote your life to photography?
CS: I’m not sure I’ve ever come to that conclusion. I did become obsessed with using a camera to document interesting things I saw shortly after discovering the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson and buying my first Leica in 2000. Prior to that I expressed myself through writing comedy sketches. It’s really about telling stories, whether through writing, telling jokes, or showing pictures. I don’t mean to sound pretentious or somehow anti-photography, but I have great affinity for HCB’s quote, “Photography is nothing, it’s life that interests me.”
LACP: Did you ever come close to giving up?
CS: No. However I occasionally go for periods of time when I photograph less often. In those times I’ll read more, watch classic movies, spend more time with friends and family…I look for inspiration in different forms and that rejuvenates me when I come back to photographing.
LACP: Have you sacrificed anything by being a photographer?
CS: The type of photography I do is best accomplished alone, and when you combine that with the fact that I travel a lot I suppose you could say I’ve sacrificed some relationships.
LACP: What have you gained by being a photographer?
CS: Many things. Opportunities to meet people and visit places I would never have otherwise, an openness that I might not have experienced without photography, and an enhanced ability to notice beauty and odd details around me, to name a few. As a result I am rarely bored, with or without a camera.
LACP: What classes do you teach at LACP?
CS: While I’ve taught dozens of workshops throughout the US, Europe, and Asia, I am looking forward to teaching my first at LACP. It will be based on street photography and bringing more luck into one’s work and life.
LACP: What do you love most about teaching?
CS: Providing inspiration. I love when students tell me after a workshop, all smiling and excited, how inspired they are. What could be better than inspiring someone? Also, I’ve been fortunate enough to have developed deep friendships with a number of my students, enhancing my life immeasurably.
LACP: What advice would you give someone who is thinking about making a career in photography?
CS: When asked this question, Elliott Erwitt responds, “Be an heir.” It gets a laugh, but his point is taken. I would say go ahead, absolutely, be a photographer–but have at least one other source of revenue. That way you are not dependent on a client telling you what to photograph, you photograph what interests you. As a result, you will not be affected by trends and outside voices and you will develop your personal style more quickly and confidently. And when you go to pick up your camera it will represent your passion and not work. And eventually, with luck, people will start paying you for your vision, not someone else’s. This has been my experience.