I’ve known Greg for years. Everybody knows Greg. He’s a photographer and works on shows. He’s handsome, warm, fun, and talented. Models love him and celebrities kiss him on the cheek, but none of these things seems to really affect him. No matter what happens, he’s always relaxed.
Last time I saw him, we were chatting at the end of a show and he began to talk to me about his life on the farm and, suddenly, everything was clear. For a few years, Greg has split his life between fashion and farm. In fact, not far from the life of my friend Laura Ferrara, and just as inspiring!
We decided to show you a little bit of his life, and to ask him a few questions on how all of this is possible…
Translated by Frédérique Péan
Interview with Greg Kessler, Fashion Photographer & Farmer
How would you describe your current lifestyle?
Can you tell me a bit about your fashion photography career?
My father was in the fashion business and one day asked if I wanted to go to a fashion show. Of course I said yes and, to keep me out of the way, they gave me a camera and told me to, “go follow Roxanne” (Roxanne Lowit). She is a legend and this was in the late 80s, so all the supermodels were there and it was probably the best place a kid from NY could ever imagine to be: backstage hanging out with Elle Macpherson, Cindy Crawford, Christy and Linda. I was a happy guy!
I’d been bitten by the photo bug, and was really shooting everything I could. My school saw I was shooting these girls and got me to work for the newspaper, so I had free film. I was shooting about, and some smaller journal magazines picked up my work. It was pretty great. I continued passively to shoot through university and, when I got out, I turned down an ad job and started assisting a photographer I met at a friend’s party. That lasted for 5 years and then, when an editor asked if I would come shoot for their magazine, I decided to leave and do my own work. While I was doing some editorial and smaller ad work, I became most know for my backstage at Style.com and the Model Morphosis in The New York Times. Now, as the fashion shows are generally becoming uninteresting for a variety of reasons, i am looking again to other areas of fashion and other aspects of photography (food and farming).
And you grew up in the suburbs just north of New York. How has the city been an influence in the direction of your lifestyle and a source of inspiration for your path to photography?
It was the really the best of both worlds, to have the excitement of the city so close to the safety of the suburbs. I can’t say that I’m particularly interested in going back to the suburban lifestyle, but it has allowed me to appreciate the beauty of being away from the city. I’m a little further out of town now but growing up in and out of the city has stuck with me. I love being on the farm, but I also love to pop back into the city for work or take a day or two with friends.
You have spent a long time right smack, bang in the middle of the fashion industry, shooting backstage at the world’s biggest shows. What has that been like?
It’s been great and still is great! I’ve seen a lot of incredible things, worked with a lot of great, creative people, and have seen both the fashion and photo industries change in a way no one could have predicted. Sometimes you ask what can possibly come next, and then you somehow find it or are a witness to it. Either way, there is always something new. You think you’ve seen or heard it all, but something always comes up and you’re like, “that was pretty cool,” and you take it from there.
Then, in 2010, what happened?
Burned out may be a little harsh, but I definitely needed a break. I was coming off a long few months of work that finished with a month of fashion shows. You can work every day and be fine, but do 30 days of fashion shows and your head starts hurting really bad. It’s one thing being on set and working together to make an image or story look great, and it’s another thing to be backstage with 50 different people, four or five times a day – and through much of that you’re trying to capture images. It’s mentally and physically exhausting. I mean, the excitement is like no other but, when you can’t remember taking the picture, it loses that magic. I didn’t like that.
So at the end of that season, I came home physically and mentally drained, finished up my deadlines and left town. I didn’t know I would end up at the farm. It was just an opportunity that presented itself.
Was there a particular moment you remember thinking “I think a farm is a great idea!,” or was this a dream in the pipeline for years?
It was all a bit of chance, actually. A friend working at the farm was pregnant. When I told her she shouldn’t be working so much and that I could help, her eyes sort of popped out of her head as she nodded in agreement. I started the next day and loved it. It wasn’t easy work, but it was something totally new for me and I just took to it. That was five years ago and, now, I’m planning around my experiences there and plotting where it may take me.
Can you describe what your responsibilities on the farm are?
I’m a farmer. I plant seeds, pull weeds, and harvest crops. I also worry about bugs and when it will rain.
What was the transition like, from spending all of your time in the city to spending much of it on a farm?
Let me tell you, it’s a very easy transition. You feel a weight lift almost immediately. Suddenly, there’s a little more time for everything. Maybe because there is less to do but, for me at least, it was much easier to focus and enjoy life instead of constantly feeling the need to be one place or another, or constantly position myself here or there. It just felt right, so there was really no question.
It’s almost like you live a double life. Is this the ultimate balance, or do you sometimes find it difficult to adapt from a fashion shoot to farm life?
It is ultimate! They of course have their differences, but they both get you out of bed early and keep you busy all day long – there are just different tasks in between those bells. It’s nice to be able to mix up the two. Maybe it’s a little hard to leave the farm for the city, but they both complement the other.
Little this, little that… But I’m dedicated to both the same.
Do you ever feel like you have to shake off your farm persona when you arrive at a shoot, or vice versa?
No, I think you are who you are and that’s what makes working with lots of different people great. It is funny, though; my fashion friends are always curious about the farm. The farm people, well they’re happy when I’m back in the field.
How has the slow pace, the surrounds of nature, working on the land affected, your state of mind and your outlook on life?
I feel happier and healthier, and not too bothered about the little things anymore.
It was a big shift, but what has been the most rewarding part of it all?
I’m not sure there is one, ultimate rewarding aspect, but you really become more appreciative of the other things around you and realize you don’t need much to be happy. In New York City, it becomes very easy to take things for granted and be a bit myopic. Here, you can stop and look at the birds do their thing or just watch the wind blow. It’s sounds a bit corny but it is pretty meditative. At the end of the day I’ll just look out over our orchard and say, “you know, this is OK.”
And the most difficult thing you had to overcome?
You can do just about anything you want in New York at anytime. Out here, you can get a little jealous of that… Sure are a lot of movies and restaurants over there ;)
You now have an agricultural column in The New York Times, ‘A Chef in the Field’. Can you tell us what it’s about?
‘A Chef in the Field‘ came out from us having lunch in the barn early one spring, just trying to put a meal together with whatever we could scrounge out of the field. It’s funny with the whole farm-to-table movement happening. Everybody loves going to the market and everyone seems to know their farmer, but something is missing from that exchange. People still don’t know where their food comes from or, more specifically, what their food looks like in the ground. There is still a disconnect. ‘A Chef in the Field’ wants people to be able to trace their food better or at least be more aware about where their food comes from and to eat seasonally. We also want to demystify some vegetables and help people introduce more variety into their lives. To help this along, we take a chef for each piece to a farm and create a recipe around what is fresh and available for that time of year.
What has it been like to bring these two passions of your life together?
It has been such a great surprise, to love two things so much and have them work together in such a perfect way. I couldn’t ask for anything better.
We’ve started noticing more and more people making the change, and embracing a simpler life. Why do you think that is?
I think people are tired of fighting for things that shouldn’t be a fight and realizing that it is just better to do things simpler. Why complicate life and create difficulties, why put yourself in a position to get frustrated? Work with people you enjoy, and enjoy working. Keep the conversation open. So long as you’re not hurting anyone, do more things for you. Keep things moving and keep things happy.
Would you take any of it back? Ever return to your old life and give up the farm?
And your best advice for someone who is thinking about changing their life in a big way, like you did?
There’s no reason not to. Take the step – you’ll be much happier that you did, even if you go back.