Arts and Culture 2011

Amy Holtcamp



Artist of the Week – Brett Flashnick

Posted 10/28/2011 11:46:00 AM

This week’s Artist of the Week is Brett Flashnick, who grew up in Columbia where his parents owned a commercial photo studio, Carolina Custom Photographic.

“I spent a lot of time there and always remember being in awe of the entire process, from the photo shoots to seeing the images develop in the darkroom,” says the award-winning photographer. “The studio was like a second home to me.”

After graduating from the prestigious photojournalism program at Western Kentucky University, Flashnick returned to Columbia to follow in his parents’ footsteps. Today he runs Flashnick Visuals, which provides custom photography and video services to clients like The Associated Press, The New York Times, USA Today and The Washington Post.

Q: How did you become interested in photography and photojournalism?

A: While photography was the family business, my parents never forced it on me. They always encouraged me to find my own road in life that would make me happy. However, if I ever wanted to take pictures and learn more, a camera, film and advice were always available to me.

I didn’t find an interest in photojournalism until my senior year at Irmo High School. I needed one more class to fill up my schedule for that year, and the only thing that really interested me was journalism. Once the teacher learned about my background with photography everything else just fell into place. Even though I had no background in journalism, I was given the task of being the newspaper’s photographer and set off learning everything I could about that side of photography. By the end of my senior year the idea of using photographs to tell a story, rather than the commercial sense I had grown up with, really peaked my interest.

Q: When you are taking a picture, what are you looking for? How do you know when to take the shot?

What I tend to think about and look for when photographing a person is their personality. I try to create photograph of them that goes beyond what they look like and tells a story about who they are. When I’m photographing an event, I typically look for what the underlying story is and try to show that rather than what someone would see at first glance.

Q: Do you have a favorite photo that you've taken? What was it?

This is a tough question. Asking a photographer to choose a favorite photo is like asking a parent to choose a favorite child, so I can’t narrow it down to just one.

[But] from a historical/journalistic perspective … the image I made of two Citadel cadets carrying the confederate flag down from the Statehouse dome on July 1, 2000. This was very early on in my career, and at the time I was the staff photographer for the S.C. State Museum. I was inside of the dome … to document this event from a historical perspective on behalf of the state of South Carolina.

The morning of the removal was the most intense situation I had ever found myself in (I was only 19 years old at the time.) I knew that I had to come away from this event with an image that would be viewed as a part of this state’s history and would likely be on display for the rest of my life. From inside the dome I could hear the thousands gathered on the Statehouse grounds chanting both in celebration and protest as a team of helicopters circled overhead. I knew the flag had been removed from the dome when the chanting reached a climax, and a few seconds later I saw the shoes of the two cadets start to descend the staircase that spirals down through the large section of the dome. After that I really don’t remember much else. I was so deeply focused on what was happening through the lens, all I can remember is hearing the shutter of my camera and a crazed rush through the hidden passages of the statehouse as I followed the flag to the point of where it was handed off to the governor, and then passed along to a representative of the museum.

Q: Your new venture, Flashnick Visuals, “provides premium photography and video services tailored for each client.” How is it different working on commission versus working on your own, photographing what interests you?

I was always taught and strongly believe that everyone has a story to tell. I also realize that we live in a very visual society, where we are constantly bombarded with images of all types. I want to help business, organizations, artists and entrepreneurs find their story, and tell that story with visual imagery in a way that will help them stand out from the clutter. I’m very passionate about storytelling. To me the camera is the best tool I can think of to do that with.

Because I have always pursued my passions I am fortunate that I typically get commissions or assignments to photograph and film things that I love, or interest me. ... I think that as artists everything we create is personal on one level or another. For me the only difference between what I create when there is a commission or assignment and what I create when there isn’t is time and deadlines …When the work is personal in nature, I can spend as much time as I need or want for all of the elements to fall perfectly into place. I can wait for the right weather, the right light, the right time of year, the right subject, etc., to make the image and don’t have to compromise my vision to make that happen.

Q: What's your favorite place in South Carolina to photograph?

I grew up in Columbia and left for a few years to pursue a college degree and start my career as a photojournalist. When I moved back here, I returned with a different set of eyes. I saw and experienced so many things in the 20 years I lived here before “seeing the world” that I really enjoy going back to those places and looking at them with a different perspective because I notice and appreciate things that I didn’t before.

Some of my favorite spots around Columbia are Lake Murray, the Broad, Saluda and Congaree rivers, the state and national parks, live music venues, downtown. This area has already gone through a massive change in my lifetime, and the growth is getting even more rapid. I’m always fascinated when I see photographs of Main Street from 50 years ago, the Vista 20 years ago, and other scenes from the past and can compare with today.