By Ozzi Ramirez
Welcome to NYWIFT, Beth Eisgrau-Heller! Beth is a Brooklyn-based visual storyteller and photojournalist, and a proud Gen-Xer to the core! While she explores a variety of subjects through her art, she is mostly interested in addressing issues regarding the present racial divide in the U.S. and aftermath of the pandemic.
Some of her work experiences have included collaborating with the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Tish James for NY, the New York State Trial Lawyers Association, ICP, Grey Advertising, and Getty Images. Additionally, she has offered her talents to KEXP, Willie Mae Rock, Camp for Girls, and the Hip Top Music Fest, all of which are causes and organizations close to her heart.
Learn more about Beth as we converse about her relationship to her craft, the reigning philosophies that she lives by and that influence her technique as a visual artist, and her potential sixth sense when it comes to the merging of music and photography!
Describe yourself. Give us your elevator pitch!
I am Gen-X to the core, a New Yorker with deep Lower East Side Jewish roots, a feminist, and a Brooklyn-based visual storyteller and photojournalist. Since March 2022, I have covered hyper-local, Brooklyn-centric news, arts, and cultural events for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, and the Tish James for NY campaign, among other clients.
I am a mom to a special needs tween and by extension, an education and student transportation equity advocate. I’m also the ringer at karaoke – I sing my face off!
In my work, I seek stories that counterbalance the nation’s divisive, racist ethos and the lasting trauma of gun violence and the COVID pandemic. My specialty is waiting patiently for in-between moments of joy, connection, community, renewal, hope, creativity, and individual expression.
As a photographer, some might say you are constantly observing. Through your work primarily, what is one great lesson you’ve learned or insight you’ve discovered about our culture?
My mom instilled in me, “If you don’t ask, you don’t get.” But sometimes, it is difficult to silence negative self-talk. I love taking pictures so, so much, though! Throughout my life, I’ve adopted, “Fake it ’til you make it!” as my M.O. And as a result of putting myself out there, by being gregarious, I have found more people that say “yes” than “no.”
Never underestimate people’s capacity for kindness, curiosity, and connection. Most of the time, they are thrilled to have their photo taken and receive a copy of it. But also, in the larger context, as a photographer, you must always ensure you are photographing from a place of compassion, and that you are not acting as a voyeur. Are you coming from a place of authenticity? Is it ethically your place to tell the story unfolding before you?
In the bio section of your website, you use the term “reverie” as it relates to your approach to photography. Can you elaborate?
For me, music and photography have been inextricably linked since childhood. I witnessed the birth of MTV, music zines, pop, and street art. I’m also a vocalist and photographer with a lot of performance experience. While shooting music in particular, I can feel the moments of tension and release coming. It’s like a sixth sense! There is no better feeling than capturing an artist at the peak of their performance, unless I were on stage singing with them and taking pictures at the same time.
Your range as a photographer is apparent through your dynamic portfolio, which includes but is not limited to portraits, unit stills, editorials, and concert work. Do you have a specific area that you align with the most? As someone with a keen “camera eye” what distinguishes an average photograph from one that is breathtakingly stellar?
Thank you! I am a popular culture vulture and someone who has always needed to “know how the sausage is made.” That drive, plus my event production experience, are the impetus for my pivot toward unit stills. I love photographing anything and everything from behind the scenes, or being in the thick of the action, like marching in a parade or protest and capturing a participant’s eye view of the action.
What distinguishes a stellar photograph from a snapshot? It can be subjective, but in my opinion, it’s this: Was there an intention behind the image you took, or does it look like an accident? For example, there shouldn’t be a flagpole coming out of the person’s head. Are you close enough to really see the whites of your subject’s eyes? Did you get to capture the moment when there is a connection, or did it happen just a millisecond later? Is the photo in sharp focus or intentionally blurry? Did you choose to shoot from an angle other than eye level or head-on? Basically, does the image tell a meaningful story that resonates universally yet pushes the envelope at the same time?
What brings you to NYWIFT?
I joined NYWIFT because regardless of the industries I’ve worked in, I have always wanted to support women, and I love, love, love networking and meeting new people.
But I also have a keen interest in unit stills photography; it is a natural progression based on my unique combination of skills and experience. Now that the writer’s strike is hopefully coming to an end, my goal is to connect with members that need unit stills. I’d like to continue to build my portfolio and meet the Local 600 membership requirements. I only need 97 more non-union days or 30 union days on set!
What is the best and worst advice that you’ve received?
I am very fortunate to have had several exceptional teachers and mentors throughout my life. When I worked at ICP in the early 90’s, I took tons of classes. One of my favorite instructors was Susan Kleckner, who taught Roll a Day, Visual Diary, and New York at Night. She reminded her students regularly, “If there is one good picture on each roll of film, you are a decent photographer.” It’s a good reminder that it takes practice to maintain your craft.
And Ann Ruckert, my performance coach, always said, “Say yes to everything. You never know where it will take you.” Sadly, both of these extraordinary women are gone. Heeding their advice is one way I continue to honor them.
I think the worst advice has always come from the voices inside of my own head. The ones that say, “No, you’re not ready” or “Don’t do this.” My favorite quote is from Martha Graham, who said, in part, “No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction; a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.” Imposter syndrome is a real sticky wicket.
How did the pandemic influence your work life?
During the lockdown, I had an epiphany. I decided to have gastric sleeve surgery. After years of struggling with a bad back and achy joints, I now reside in a body that is fit and strong, and enables me to photograph with confidence and increased stamina. My only regret is not having done it sooner.
Also, in March 2021, I was selected for PhotoShelter’s inaugural Mentorship Program and was mentored by photojournalist Whitney Curtis. The experience put wind in my sails and was instrumental in jumpstarting my career.
Do you have any upcoming projects in the works?
I have several ideas for long-term projects. I am in the beginning stages of researching my hometown and the possible connection to its designation as an EPA Superfund site and incidents of Parkinson’s Disease. You know, light reading!
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