Today, I’m sharing an interview with Gale Zucker. Many knitters know Gale as a knitwear/knitting photographer, but Gale is also a designer, teacher, and photojournalist. We attempted to meet up for an interview at Vogue Knitting Live back in January, but schedules were too crazy all around, so we opted for an email interview instead. (Gale was nice enough to stop by and say hi while I was working a shift at the Michelle’s Assortment booth, so we did get to officially meet.)
You can find Gale online on Ravelry (as SheShootsSheep and on her designer page), on her knitting blog, She Shoots Sheep Shots, on her website, as @galezucker on Twitter and Instagram, on Pinterest, and on her Facebook page. You can read more about her Photography for Knitters workshops here. All photos are copyright Gale Zucker and used with permission.
Underground Crafter (UC): How did you first get started knitting?
Gale: I grew up in an extended knitting family. You’re female? You knit..and crochet, embroider, sew, you name it. The sound of needles clicking (always the metal ones) is the sound of my childhood. I really don’t remember who taught me first, it was either my grandma or mom. I knit as a little kid (poorly and impatiently), and then off and on through high school. Crochet was really big then for me, too. I did a lot of other crafts also. I like to make stuff. In college, knitting settled in as my go-to habit. I have been known to go off on other crafting binges, but I always have something on the needles. And..even though I keep saying knitting in answer to the questions in this interview, I also mean crocheting. Not trying to dis my hooking friends!
Gale’s photo of the Putney Mountain Vest pattern. (Read more about her shoot here.)
UC: What first drew you to photography and photojournalism?
Gale: Here’s another “since I was a kid” answer, coming right up! I’ve always loved the storytelling power of photography, and memorized Life magazines that were around when I grew up. I started college majoring in Environmental Sciences but spent more time playing around in a darkroom than in a science lab. I switched to journalism school, with a photojournalism major. I wanted to be a newspaper and magazine photographer, which is what I did for many years before switching over to more commercial work.
Gale’s photo of Ellen Mason wearing her Mary Rebecca pattern. (Read more about the shoot here.)
UC: When did you first combine your interests in knitting and photography?
Gale: I used to keep the two separate, although I kept on getting travel magazine and New York Times (at one time, my main client) assignments on farms. I jokingly started a portfolio called She Shoots Sheep Shots. Little did I know it would become part of my identity! In the early 2000s, I was doing a lot of work photographing youth at risk, youth in the judicial system, foster care for books and non-profits—and it was knitting that I turned to to de-stress when it got grim. I discovered knitting blogs and the new wave of knitting stores in 2004, so I started a knitting blog too and connected to new friends. (She Shoots Sheep Shots became my blog name).
In 2005, a book editor client asked me if I had any ideas for a book. She was expecting me to suggest some visually stunning social issue topic but instead, I blurted out that I wanted to travel around the country photographing fiber farms and show where yarn comes from, intentional lifestyles, and have knitting patterns at the end of each chapter. (The idea was met by dead silence and an incredulous “no..really? you don’t…..knit??!!) The timing for my idea was good, so we put together a book proposal that ended up becoming my book Shear Spirit: Ten Fiber Farms, Twenty Patterns, and Miles of Yarn from Potter Craft. Since then I try to bring knitting and photography together as often as I can.
Gale’s photo of the Aria Tunic pattern.
UC: You’ve collaborated with Joan Tapper on two books. How did you two come to work together? What was the development process like for the two books (or was each one quite a different process)?
Gale: As I was developing the idea and book proposal for Shear Spirit, I needed to bring a writer on board. I truly believe in recognizing your strengths and collaborating with others. I approached a very talented travel writer I’d worked with on some longer magazine assignments, and he agreed to jump in. Just as we were going to send the book proposal out to publishers, he called to say he’d had a great offer for two book contracts, and he needed to pull out of my proposal. He felt so terrible about it that he said was calling his former editor at National Geographic Traveler. He promised she would look at our idea and match me up with someone good, since she had the bead on all the top travel writers working. I was totally intimidated by her reputation. Ten minutes later, the phone rang. It was Joan Tapper, the editor from NatGeo saying “I love this idea! I’m not passing you on to anyone, I want to work on it with you!”
It was the best professional “blind date” ever – we work together really well and have become close friends. She lives in Santa Barbara, California; I’m in Connecticut. We email a lot, and talk on the phone, as we develop material. We have very different styles of working and organization but it make for harmony. (and she deserves an award for patience with me). Craft Activism: People, Ideas, and Projects from the New Community of Handmade and How You Can Join In was put together the same way Shear Spirit was–we research and compare notes via email and phone, we break down the tasks of making/producing a book and share them, we travel together to some of the subjects and separately to others. I am in awe of her writing and editing talents, and we have a very similar take on what we encounter.
UC: How did you get started teaching photography classes for fiber enthusiasts?
Gale: After Shear Spirit was published in 2008, I received photo questions regularly from knitters saying how frustrated they were with their photography. It was at about that time that prices dropped on good quality digital cameras, and faster online connections became the norm for knitbloggers, and Ravelry started–so there was a real interest in better, bigger, eyecatching images for knitters & crafters. I noticed a lot of horrible photo information online–from overly tech-y talk that focussed on equipment more than vision, to outright misinformation, and mean-spirited blabbing.
I’d taught photography before at a community arts center and as a college level guest lecturer, so a workshop where I combine my two passions? No problem! I started teaching at some yarn shops- which I still do, all anyone has to do is email me and ask–and now I teach at knitting events, like VK Live and fiber festivals, and retreats. I’ve done two live webinars for Interweave, which were recorded and are available to watch and learn at your convenience.
UC: Without giving away all of your secrets, can you share a few tips for those among us whose photos never quite live up to the beauty of our finished fiber objects?
Gale: My mantra: Keep shooting. Pixels are free. Which means, keep shooting, trying different angles, compositions, more shade, less shade, even if you think you’ve got the shot, try it from a different perspective. Don’t stop at “eh that’s good enough.”
The other most important tip is turn off your flash! There’s always a way to use natural light and keep that straight-on harsh flash from ruining your photos. Look for open shade, and light coming from the side to bring out texture.
UC: What are your favorite knitting and photography books in your collection (besides your own, of course)?
Gale: I have many photography books, and many knitting books but few that combine the two to suit my picky picky picky tastes. I had an Alice Starmore guernseys book that I loved–it didn’t matter that I’d never knit any of the sweaters in it, I wanted to be the woman in the images, on the rocky UK coastlines, and in pubs with sailors wearing oversized guernseys. That’s the kind of knitwear photography I love, that tells a story. Can’t take the photo journalist out of the knitter! The Brooklyn Tweed Wool People publications are gorgeously produced and I enjoy looking at Stephen West’s more recent images. They’re leaning more toward performance art with sweaters than anythng else, and are so very entertaining. And Carrie Bostick Hoge’s style is awesome. It’s way more quiet and subdued than I am, but I love it. I like anyone who creates a look and visual stamp–I find a lot of knitwear photography to be super formulaic. (Wow, I sound like a grouch. I’m not. You asked!)
UC: Do you have any crafty websites you frequent for inspiration or community?
Gale: SO MANY! Working from a home office, the online crafting community is my virtual coffee break and offers world-class procrastinating opportunity to this world-class procrastinator. These days Pinterest is often my launch pad to explore other sites, I follow a bunch of designers & artists who lead me all over. I still read a lot of blogs. I love a well-written blog.
UC: What are you working on now, in the crafting/knit world?
Gale: So much! I feel like spring has sprung and I’m busting out!. I’m shooting more for indie knitwear designers and sweater companies. I’m incorporating some video work in, as I did for my client, Camp Kitschy Knits. I am pretty sure that is the first and only retro knitwear stop action video with original banjo-uke and concertina soundtrack.
I’ll be at TNNA, so anyone interested in talking to me about a photo project or workshop or something new and different can grab me there–I think I may even book some location photo shoots while in Indianapolis. And I’ll booth sit for friends at the show.
I’m still editing and getting out a book from my epic photo shoots at the NY Sheep & Wool Festival in 2010 and 2012. Pretty sure it’ll come out by the end of summer as an ebook and print, perhaps in an unorthodox format. Sneak peek video, here.
Joan Tapper and I are brainstorming new book ideas. Stay tuned there!
And more teaching! Check on my Photography for Knitters page to see more listings-I am nailing some very cool ones down now. And, Fiber College of Maine, one of my favorite annual events, Sept 3-7th. This year I’m co-teaching a Savvy Storytelling – writing + photography blogging workshop with the wonderful Beverly Army Williams, and a workshop that is a Photo Scavenger Hunt. The Gees Bend Quilters will be teaching there this year so we will have PLENTY to look at with our cameras.
Thanks so much for taking the time to share your story (and your pictures) with us, Gale!