Cold Spring photographer Pamela Cook describes her early academic life as “definitely disjointed.” After graduating from high school in Michigan without a clue what she wanted to do, she studied architecture for a year. She loved the design, but nothing else.
“The technical aspects of architecture didn’t make sense to me, even though I am, in many ways, technically oriented,” she says.
As it turned out, Cook did find a genre that she excels in and has a passion for: photography. Today she has a roster of design, editorial and fashion clients for still lifes, interiors and landscapes in New York City and the Hudson Valley.
“I never saw myself doing the kind of work I do now, but it does seem like a natural progression,” Cook says. “I never thought I’d largely be photographing homes, interiors and textiles. I find them to be works of art on their own.”
After dropping architecture, Cook worked a series of jobs, many in restaurants, before enrolling in a two-year course in photography at a Michigan community college. There, she struck gold, she explains, with a professor who taught the basics but also let her students experiment. “She’d tell us ‘figure out what interests you and then how to make that interesting to someone else,’ ” Cook says. “She was experimenting herself with light hitting paper and creating images. It was liberating.”
Cook transferred to the Rhode Island School of Design before, for financial reasons, transferring to SUNY Empire State. After graduating, Cook moved to New York City, where she assisted commercial photographers, including two who specialized in cosmetics and fragrances.
“I learned so much about the business of photography: how to estimate an invoice, figure out actual costs, and how not to lose money while budgeting,” Cook says. After five years, she ventured out on her own.
She began shooting fashion and finding work when stylists recommended her to designers. “I discovered I was most interested in bringing out the fabric and drapes of the clothing, making compositions,” she says. She began working for Hearst magazines, including Elle Décor, which proved to be a catalyst.
“The design director, editor-in-chief and art director reached out saying they loved my lighting,” Cook recalls. “I was intimidated, but they pushed my career along.”
Cook’s range expanded more recently following a Marie Claire shoot when editors asked if she would be interested in shooting models. Cook says that surprised her, “because I like a calm and quiet set. My style is slower than most fashion shoots.”
Explaining her work, Cook says her focus is “to create beautiful light and shadows and surround the viewer with that. In my still-life work, I’m constantly trying new techniques. I take these when I shoot on location and translate them to natural light. Without it I feel like my work would become stagnant.”
Although Cook works mostly with repeat clients, she says she still feels “like I’m in a constant state of readjusting and recalibrating.” At the same time, “I feel more comfortable with my style and the way I work. I’m comfortable with the process.”
In her personal work, Cook has lately become more interested in the historic processes of photography. Along with the use of hand-built, antique and altered cameras, she loves wet plate collodion.
“Now everything is digital, but when composing an image with tintypes you take your time, think about it, come up with surprises,” she says. “It’s a way of slowing down. Life and photography these days is so fast.”
Seven years ago, Cook and her husband, Erik Brown, an industrial designer, slowed their lives down considerably, moving from Brooklyn to Cold Spring with their 2-year-old son. “The landscape and the light up here are absolutely incredible,” Cook says. “The trails that the light comes streaming through make you feel grateful.” The move also brought more work shooting landscapes. “It’s a magical experience seeing the landscapes before dawn and watching how the exterior of the home changes as the sun comes up and the light changes.”
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