Matt Eich: The Good Struggle

Matt Eich: The Good Struggle

You’re 20 years old. You’ve just won the College Photographer of the Year award, and then your girlfriend becomes pregnant. Is this the beginning or the end? Matt Eich picked up his camera and precociously declared, “Nothing good comes without some sort of struggle.”

Not only is Matt an Eddie Adams Workshop alumnus, but he won the top prize in 2006 — a $10,000 grant from Nikon, the primary sponsor of the workshop to follow his own vision and shoot what he wanted. If Matt is representative of the new guard of photojournalists, we’re in good shape.

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Photo by Matt Eich

Ok Matt. Let’s cut to the chase. I’m 36 and don’t have a girlfriend.
You’re 21 and your relationship with your wife is
captured beautifully  for the world to see in “Love in the First
Person.
” How did you conceive of this project and at what point did you
hook up with Brian Storm to produce it?

“Love In The First Person” came out of a compulsion to document my life
(and pretty much everything else around me), but it didn’t start off
with any purpose. Chad Stevens,
who now works at MediaStorm was a grad student at Ohio University last
year and one of the first people I showed the images to after Melissa
and I found out we were expecting. At the time he was helping to put
together a team of folks for the first Soul of Athens, an annual
student multimedia collaborative project at OU. A couple weeks later he
called me up and said, “Hey, I’ve got an idea…” Brian Storm was
overseeing the production of the first Soul of Athens so he was
familiar with the story from the get-go. He expressed some interest in
it early on, but it wasn’t until the middle of the summer while Melissa
and I were living in Portland, OR that the ball really got rolling. So,
I really can’t take credit for the concept at all. If it weren’t for
Chad and Brian, I would’ve kept shooting the whole thing but the images
probably would have been filed away somewhere on a hard drive gathering
dust.

PS: You photographed some of your own wedding, didn’t ya! What’s the wife
think of all of that?

The wedding was pretty well-covered by friends, though I snuck a few
frames in before the pastor officiating the ceremony put his foot down.
I think Melissa sort of expected it. We set up a laptop and hard drive
at the reception and people dumped their cards over the course of the
evening. There was more than 10,000 frames when all was said and done.
Looking back it was a bit excessive, but we wouldn’t change a thing
about the wedding. Except for the DJ…he was terrible.  

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Photo by Matt Eich

We hear about the decline of the photo industry practically every day.
What’s it like to be a newly minted professional, and worrying about
making a living from photography?

I’m no different than any other student about to be thrust out into
this changing world, feeling extremely green and largely unprepared for
a life of freelance. For the longest time newspapers have been looked
at as a safe-haven for those who want job security. So many of my
friends have been laid off from their newspaper jobs in recent months,
it is really discouraging. I’m very grateful to be surrounded by a
group of folks who have managed to make ends meet as photographers and
are willing to share their knowledge of how to make it all work.
Hopefully if we all pool our knowledge and are willing to help one
another out we can all make it through these rough patches in the
industry. 

You’ve had a heck of a lot of success with contests. Do you find them
validating?

Contests can be a double-edged sword and more often than not are a pain
in the ass, but they have helped me get my foot in the door with a few
places. As someone who wanted to do editorial work but wasn’t getting
much, applying for a lot of scholarships, grants and competitions was a
way to put my work out there and potentially put some money in the
bank. Applying for grants has been a great learning experience for me
because it makes me really research the topics I am pitching and get to
know the subject better. Last year I was able to use contest money to
equip myself so that I had most of the gear necessary to freelance.
These are the positives. The flip side is that if your only validation
comes from contests and you get severely bent out of shape when you
don’t win or you feel that you are shooting for
contests, that can be problematic. Entering is always a crap shoot, but
if you don’t put your work out there, no one is going to see it.

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Photo by Matt Eich


Your work is primarily editorial in nature. Have you considered any commercial work?

Though my heart is in editorial work and projects, I’ve had to start thinking recently about putting food on the table with this passion, so I’d certainly love the chance to take a crack at a commercial gig. Weddings aren’t really a viable market in a college town like Athens, but when we move elsewhere my guess is I’ll be shooting more of them. 

 
Are all your projects self-conceived and self-financed?

The projects I have shot thus far are primarily self-conceived and self-financed. Because I’m not traveling far and I’m using digital for 95% of these projects my expenses involved in shooting are fairly low (at least until the price of gas went up). The majority of the work has been tied to school projects or during internships. The work I’ve been doing on rural Ohio has been generously funded in part by The Alexia Foundation, Ohio University, the Editorial Photographers Education Grant and a couple other places.

What’s the photo scene like in Ohio nowadays?

The photo scene in Ohio, at school, is constantly evolving as people come and go, but it is still strong. Its amazing to me how many good people there are in this industry and we’ve really been blessed with an amazing crew in Athens. I can’t really speak to the photo scene in Ohio as a whole, but there’s definitely some great folks that I get to cross paths with from time-to-time like Greg Ruffing up in Cleveland.

You’re represented by Aurora. Founder Jose Azel is a big Celtics fan. What about you?

I didn’t know that Jose was a Celtics fan. That is valuable information. My personal take on sports is if people cared as much about pertinent social issues as they do about sports or celebrities we’d all be in better shape. (This is not in any way a knock on Jose – he’s a great guy). 

Will you shoot my wedding?

Sure, I’d love to shoot your wedding (girlfriend pending).

Ok, you might be a grandfather by the time that happens.

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