Writing a bio is difficult. I suppose one is supposed to say things like Chris Ocken grew up in League City, just outside of Houston, TX , and went to college at a small school in southwest Arkansas. But that just doesn’t seem like me.
How about this instead:
When I was younger I liked to draw pictures, so I was always sketching, doodling, and making marks on just about everything. In high school I would create cartoon characters of my teachers, and my college notebooks have more scratches than actual notes.
Then I discovered my camera. It seemed a perfect fit, because I never really had the patience to be an accomplished draftsman. The camera became an additional tool with which to doodle. I photographed things so I could draw them — and then eventually, I didn’t do the drawing anymore.
Looking back at the film I took when I was working for the Associated Press covering the 1992 presidential election in Arkansas, it’s interesting to see the images I took not of the candidates, but the surroundings. The trees, and the cracks in the ground; the way the flags flowed and how the cuffs of the candidates’ pants wrinkled against their shoes.
When I started my masters degree it was back to doodling on paper, but this time it was of larger images. I was learning how to construct pictures by drawing them before I shot them. I found myself thinking about a new and strange way to “make” pictures instead of simply reacting to what was happening around me. I was, through the notes I took at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, learning to control my pictures and beginning to create the very types of images that had for so long eluded me.
I am now living in Chicago and I continue to practice the photographic approach that my sketches have brought me. I like to create scenes and be patient with those scenes — soon the subject will arrive. I have also learned to watch a subject and sketch in the scene around them to add context and depth to the photographs.