Nate Hassler’s career path was heavily influenced by his now-retired parents, photographer Tom Hassler and quilter/welder Trisha Hassler. “I have to give a lot of credit to my parents for helping me not only discover my desire to have a career in the arts, but to nurture that desire and to provide me with an exceptional means to get going on that path,” he says.
As a child, Nate spent his summers at his dad’s photography studio in downtown Portland. In addition, Nate’s mother was the head stylist and studio manager, so “it really was a family affair,” he says. He got his start as a gofer and intently observed the dynamics of the studio, as well as the interactions between a photographer and his assistants, until he was old enough to be put to work.
By the time Nate started his Junior year of high school, he knew he wanted to have a career in photography. However, his heart initially pulled toward motion picture, not stills. “I worked as an intern in the locations department for a small movie production over the summer after junior year, and I was completely star struck,” he says. “The lights, the big budgets, everything was awesome and I wanted in on it. By the time the first day of senior year rolled around, I’d made up my mind and had already applied and been accepted into the Brooks Institute of Photography motion picture program.”
Art school isn’t for every budding artist. Many contest it’s a huge waste of money, while others gain much from the institutionalized experience. Whatever the case, it’s best to make the most of your investment and take advantage of your resources while you can.
For Nate, art school was a bitter-sweet affair. On the one hand, he felt that his teenage naivety was taken advantage of and the recruiting department told him anything he wanted to hear only to get into his pockets. On the other hand, “even though the cost is astronomical and the amount I learned was basically nothing, I don’t regret going,” he says. “I met some of my best friends in the world during my time at art school, and the experiences I had there shaped my life into what it is today.”
Nate believes that the concept of art school is fantastic, although he thinks there’s much room for improvement. Art school recruiters make wild claims that their candidates will make 6-figure salaries within a year of graduating. Nate concludes this false advertising is a way to get into students’ pockets without informing them of future debt or realistic industry-based job market forecasts. He understands that college is a business and he doesn’t hold it against them — because he cut his losses and dropped out before he could finish.
“The biggest benefit to art school is the connections you make, not the education you get — and especially not the piece of paper that says you earned a degree in fine art,” Hassler says. “No one gives a fuck about your degree if you’re an artist. The portfolio and who you know will take you way further than a degree ever will.”
A year after leaving Brooks Nate briefly attended the University of Oregon before deciding to start working full time.
It took a few years to hone in on a career objective, and it was “a costly way of going about it, but I met a lot of great people and I learned a lot about myself, so it was worth it.”
Alisa Damaso: What inspires you at the moment?
Nate Hassler: I have a set of bookmarks in my browser that I look through once a week, mostly portfolio sites from guys who are further along in their careers than I am. I love to look at the stuff those guys do and daydream, plot, scheme, and try to figure out how I can do something like that someday. I also get a lot of inspiration from simply looking at advertisements and magazines. There’s so much good stuff out there, you just have to make a conscious effort to look for it. And once you find it, analyze it, figure out what they did, and why.
AD: When you’re not working, where can you be found?
NH: Most likely you’ll find me shooting or working on post for a personal project. I don’t have a lot of time when I’m really not doing something related to work in one way or another. That’s the beauty and the curse of a career like this; you hardly ever get a day off. When I’m not working on something for the magazine I’m working on a way to get more work of other types, or make connections for future jobs, stuff like that. Or, you’ll find me in the bar.
AD: What makes a great photograph?
NH: A great photograph can mean a lot of things. To me, the first thing I ask myself when looking at any photograph is “do I like this?” Meaning on the surface, is the initial impact good? Is it interesting in some way? Do I want to keep looking at it, or am I moving on? If it has good initial impact, then I look for technical errors. Not aesthetic style choices, but errors. There’s a big difference between knowing how to do something, and choosing to break the “rules” for a certain look, than just fucking up and doing it wrong. If a photo looks cool, and doesn’t have anything wrong with the presentation, then in my opinion, it’s a good photograph. What takes a “good” photograph to the level of being called “great” is not easy to explain. To me it’s just an intangible element that makes me smile and keep looking back at the photo over and over. If I can’t turn away, that’s a great photograph.
AD: How much post work do you do?
NH: Lots. All of my photographs are heavily adjusted and retouched. Occasionally I outsource certain types of retouching but I always at least do the initial compositing and adjustments myself, and work closely with the retoucher to make sure the end result is what I want. I know this subject is a touchy one, but in a nutshell, you have to embrace post processing. The bottom line is if you’re trying to make your images look as good as they possibly can, you HAVE to do post production in at least some small ways. And as an aside to the people who might call themselves “purists,” don’t forget that making a print in a darkroom is still post processing. Your negative is exactly the same as a RAW file — useless until it’s worked on, finished and presented.
AD: Besides cars, what are your favorite things to shoot?
NH: Landscape photography is something that I really enjoy, and wish I had more opportunities to shoot them. The reason why I like to shoot landscape is pretty similar to why I like to shoot cars, actually. Landscapes and cars don’t talk, they don’t move around (unless you move them yourself) are not camera shy, and the way you go about shooting them is typically slow and contemplative. I enjoy the slow process of getting everything just right, and walking away knowing that my final image is going to be really awesome. Or sometimes it’s the complete opposite. When you say “I shoot cars,” there’s one of two things that people think of — still life, or motorsport. Motosport is a hectic and intense display of speed, sound, movement. It’s very much different than a still life automotive shoot, but I love doing that as well. When you’re standing next to a small hole in a fence waiting for a Porsche or M3 to fly by at 140 MPH, you don’t have the luxury of slowly gathering yourself and controlling everything. If you miss it, you have to wait for the next lap and hope they don’t wreck in the meantime. You have to make compelling images under harsh conditions, and it’s a challenge that I gladly accept.
AD: Are you worried about the economy?
NH: Yes, I am worried about the economic climate because photography is one of the first things that companies will cut back on (or cut out completely) when times get tough. But things are looking up, and instead of worrying about the economy all the time, I try to worry about ways to improve my portfolio and become better than the other guy. I feel like there is a ton of stuff I’d like to change, shoot again, or shoot for the first time. The old saying is totally true: You are your own harshest critic. Keeping ahead of the game and shooting personal projects is a very important thing for someone like me, so I’m constantly battling to not let myself slip up or get lazy.