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The Guise of Gems


WHY WOULD SOMEONE choose to make a living photo-graphing something so small, complicated and delicate that’s difficult to even hold in focus? In a word, passion.

Passion is a word we throw around often in describing feelings about someone or something. But what does it mean to have a passion about something we do for a living? It is not usually related to our means of making a living, but in my case, I am lucky enough to have that feeling towards what I do each and every day. Photographing jewellery and gemstones is something I have been passionate about for over 30 years – and I still am today.

Left: I recently shot this image for a fantastic designer, Zoltan David. He always sends me pieces that have so much detail, they take two images to show the entire piece. The idea was to create a view of the ring that was as dramatic as the piece Right:This piece was sent to me by Jerry Szor Contemporary Jewelers and photographed on white. I liked the piece immediately, so I shot it for my portfolio in a much more casual manner (Photo by John Parish)

If you dream of being a photographer, you might be thinking of beautiful men or women, exotic locations and travel, or sleek automobiles, but you are probably not thinking about gemstones and jewellery. Most of my photographer friends take one look at a piece of jewellery and turn away and run; it’s not for them. When I first looked through a camera lens, I was immediately drawn to the small things and their tiny details.

Photographing a praying mantis or wild flowers close up was what captured my attention. It seemed like a beautiful world that not too many people saw or paid attention to. Seeing the tiny hairs on the body of a bee or the intricate details of a piece of jewellery or gemstone always amazed and drew me in. In my world of being a photographer, the details were what I liked and excited my interest. We all take our own path and this was an area that I could be passionate about.

First, there was the challenge of getting light inside of the gemstone so that it lit up and showed its natural beauty, essentially bringing it to life. Then there was the challenge of arranging jewellery in a beautiful manner and holding it in place so that you can light it. Many times, the entire setup would collapse before even being photographed.

This garnet ring was sent to me by JJ Buckar of Canada. The ring was beautiful, but I felt like it needed a human setting to show it in its best light. I tried to create a little story that went with the ring (Photo by John Parish)

Every step along the way can be filled with challenges and problems that need to be solved. However, it has always been exciting to conquer these issues and this problem-solving drove me to use my creativity to find solutions. The computer and Photoshop made many of these obstacles easier to overcome, but created many additional steps that needed to be done to complete the image. Even now, there are few photographers who want to deal with these small, complicated objects, where even your fingers are just too big.

When I began working with jewellery, I was blessed with a teacher who was both patient and knowledgeable. She could take a piece of jewellery and bring out the life in it and make it glow. As I began working with individual designers who made unique one-of-a-kind pieces or cut specialty gemstones, I began to look at jewellery in a whole new light. Each piece began to feel like a small sculpture and it was my job and honour to bring it to life, to let the viewer see the beauty that was there. I loved it from the start and each day has brought me new challenges and solutions. My day is never dull or boring, it is always a joy to go to work and see what surprises come my way.

Left: This stone was cut by Larry Woods, a very innovative gem cutter, for the 2013 AGTA Cutting Edge competition. The challenge was to capture all of the detail inside of the stone Right: These gorgeous rings were sent to me by Cynthia René. She wanted them photographed on white, but left the arrangement up to me. I had just finished a large project that was all shot on white and was looking for a different way to arrange things (Photo by John Parish)

When someone sends me a piece of jewellery or gemstone to photograph, I am always amazed at how beautiful it is and how extraordinary the craftsmen are who create these pieces. I often have no idea, at the start, how I am going to photograph a piece until I look at it for a while. Many times I will see things in a stone that are just not visible until moved into just the right light or held at a particular angle. Some pieces are so complicated that I have to create two different images to show the piece in its entirety; it just can’t be appreciated in one image.

The reason I do what I do is really very simple. I’m passionate about it because I love the individual creations, I love the challenges involved in creating the image and it keeps me in touch with people who are experts at their craft. In today’s age of mass production, where concern is only about the bottom line, it is rewarding and exciting to see what people can create on their own when they put their minds, skills and creativity to work – ideas shaped out of metal and precious stone, things that come from the earth and were there not too long ago. Every piece I see has the essence of the designer in it and trying to capture that essence is what I love doing.

Receiving an item is like receiving a present from the designer. I hope my imagery captures all of the craftsmanship and skill that he or she has put into it, and passes this on to the viewer. I am blessed with doing something I truly love and amazed at the creativity of the people I work with. When I see some of these creations, I know that we can do anything. AG

Read the rest of this article in No.96 Issue 3/2013 of Asian Geographic magazine by subscribing here or check out all of our publications here.



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