Jeff Berlin on urban life and space suits

15 May 2014

Fully immersed in urban life, Jeff Berlin has a way of capturing  the iconic faces that would be known in any city. He has shot fashion, beauty, and celebrity portraits for some of the world’s top editorial and commercial clients. We caught up with New Yorker and talked about how photographing is collecting and experiencing new worlds.

Describe the moment you knew photography changed your life.

I knew my life would be changed by photography the moment I landed in Milan, Italy. I moved there in the 90s, as was the thing for a young fashion photographer at the time to do. I was still very much in my formative years and for a kid from NYC, Milan was so different – it was wonderful, and frustrating. And it was a huge period of growth for me, both professionally and personally. After about two and a half years in Milan, I moved to Paris. I now look back on my years in Milan as a sort of fashion photography boot camp. I was there, in the trenches, an American journeyman launching a career and finding his own photographic identity after a few years of assisting. 

If you could sum up your work in one word or one sentence, what would that be?

The alchemy of translating my various passions into compelling images.

What is the most remarkable person, place or thing you have ever photographed and why?

Years ago, I was at The Garber Facility outside of Washington D.C. It’s kind of like the closet or garage for the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum. On that day, we saw the B-29 Enola Gay and other very historic aircraft, and they were, at the time, just in storage and in various states of restoration. It was kind of like roaming around the coolest airplane hangar you could imagine. 

Most mind-bending, however, was the climate controlled room with space suits from the Apollo missions all laid out on racks. I will never forget standing literally inches from the suit Apollo 15 Lunar Module pilot Jim Irwin wore on the moon. I could see that lunar dust had permeated the fabric and the seams. And the bluish-purple outer boots, the same ones that left those distinctive footprints all over the moon, were also there, sullied by moon dust. It was otherworldly to see this suit in such proximity, not behind glass or in a case, but right there in front of me. 

While I wasn’t on a formal photo shoot, this was the most incredible thing I have ever photographed. 

Talk to us about your bucket list... what is on the top of that list of things to photograph?

There are so many places I have yet to see, and photography is an amazing catalyst, letting me enter new worlds and experiences. I plan to be making pictures, and collecting experiences, for a long time.

If you had not become a photographer, what might you be today?

I have always felt one can become anything if they put their mind to it. As long as I’m doing something creative, I’m happy. 

Give us your thoughts about the Global Imaging Ambassadors program?

The Global Imaging Ambassador program is terrific. I work on a lot of varied projects and to be able to work with some of the best, most current equipment available is amazing. Sony is very forward-thinking and really pushing technology. They’re continually innovating and it’s a lot of fun to participate with them in this innovation. 

What is your favorite Sony camera of the moment?

I am loving the a7S. For me right now, it’s the camera that does everything very well. My work is a mix of stills and motion, and the quality of the files I’m getting from this camera is superlative. I’m also very much looking forward to using the 4K video recorder!

Learn more about Jeff Berlin and see his variety of portraits here