Peg Project – Structure 003. 8x10 view camera, Portra 160 Color © Craig Cutler

Peg Project – Structure 003. 8×10 view camera, Portra 160 Color © Craig Cutler

Conceptual still lifes — a lollipop, shoe, bisected pomegranate, thistle — may come to mind when you think of Craig Cutler’s stunning photography. Or maybe an unusual point of view in location shots at museums, parks or the Eiffel Tower. His range is impressive, and if there’s one thing to expect from him, it’s the unexpected.

After meeting with Cutler and learning about the work he creates, I realized “photographer” is perhaps too still, and a bit too narrow, to describe him. (Though he admits the 8×10 camera is his favorite medium.) His body of work is vast, intensely moving and, today, it literally moves.

With industrial design on his mind — and a keen interest in architecture — Cutler entered Georgia Tech after high school. In just one year, his plans were derailed and his studies came to an abrupt halt when he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He took a year off for the surgery and subsequent recovery. When he felt ready to start school again, he was at a loss. His friend Dan Krippahne, now vice president and creative director at FCB Health, suggested the graphic design program at the University of Delaware, and Cutler went.

The program instilled in him a lifelong love for coming up with ideas, concepts and storyboards, but Cutler says, “I wanted to shoot the things I was designing.” This desire led him to New York City and an internship with photographer David Langley.

While he immersed himself in the craft of photography, his college friends provided opportunities — “bare bones jobs” — to prove himself. Former classmate Ann Lemon, then a young art director with Doyle Graf Mabley, was working on a Steuben Glass campaign and had looked at hundreds of books from still-life photographers. She recalls:

There was a lot of beautiful work, but so much of it felt stiff and dead. Craig was just in the process of going out on his own from being an assistant to David Langley. I had always looked up to Craig and knew his incredible attention to detail and obsessive work ethic. But his work was full of mystery, life and story. His background as a designer means he is always thinking about the meaning and context of the images he creates. He brought the comps to life, executing them precisely but also infusing them with drama and light.

For Steuben Glass, Cutler and Lemon worked with Polaroids and large-format transparencies. “There was always tension as to whether or not we ‘had’ the shot. I remember shooting all night and into the next day on more than one occasion. Once a rear-projected slide caught fire from having it onscreen for so long,” Lemon remembers.

The Steuben Glass ads were Cutler’s first spread in New York Times Magazine. They caught the attention of New York Times advertising columnist Phil Dougherty, and from there, Cutler’s career began its ascent.

Today, Cutler’s client list includes IBM, Samsung, Visa, United Airlines, Boeing, Esquire and the Washington Post. His favorite projects happen when clients come to him and let him sketch his ideas. As Cutler says, “Concept, design, sketch and execute.”

While those projects continue to surface, he sees changes in the industry. “Print is a much smaller window than it used to be, whereas the door for film is much larger,” he says. Publications are embracing this change, and so is Cutler.

Read More in Photographer’s Forum :: Fall 2016 / Vol. 38 / No. 4