On a particularly sweltering Fourth of July in Miami, Brussels-based aerial photographer Antoine Rose is getting ready to go up in the air. In a corner office at the Miami Executive Airport, Rose is analyzing incoming weather patterns off the Miami Beach coastline with HMC Helicopters pilot Jorge Gomes. The two are concerned about some stormy rain clouds that appear to be moving in, and time is of the essence: for Rose, conditions must be clear and sunny; the optimal beach day to ensure the greatest number of beachgoers invade the shore with their colorful umbrellas and beach gear. Though the weather conditions are a gamble, Rose and Gomez make the decision to take flight.
Within minutes, Rose is hauling his carry-on suitcase to a bright red Bell 206B helicopter, and preparing to take flight. Dressed in a light blue Superdry polo shirt and jeans, Rose is perspiring in the humid Miami heat. He begins unloading his equipment for the day’s excursion: a medium format camera and stabilizing equipment that costs nearly $50,000; a variety of harnesses and straps and a helmet; and his Macbook. He puts on his helmet, and straps himself into the harness and attaches two straps to the helicopter door, then crosses both straps across his body, double and triple checking to make sure they’re securely fastened.
Finally, Rose and Gomez are ready to launch. The helicopter careens across Miami-Dade County, past the verdant greenery of Coral Gables and Coconut Grove and the sleek skyscrapers of Downtown Miami and the Brickell Financial District. As they hover 600 feet high over Miami Beach, Rose leans out of the helicopter with his camera, snapping shots of the scene below. Over the next two hours, Rose and Gomez will inch slowly up the coastline, with Rose often directing Gomez to adjust their altitude or hover over a particular cluster of umbrellas and beachgoers for a few minutes longer. Every 20 minutes or so, Rose will pop back into the helicopter to rest and take a look at the day’s shots, making sure to adjust the focus or his angle for the perfect shot. Out of the hundreds of shots taken that day, Rose will be happy if he gets three or four worth showing.
Producing work is arduous, expensive and often challenging for Rose, a fine art aerial photographer that’s shot aerial images of some of the world’s most bustling landscapes, including the Italian Riviera, the South African coast and the Alpine slopes. Rose’s work is decidedly anthropological in nature – a careful study in human behavior and how it differs in varying geographical locations, the resulting images are reflective yet visually alluring, and compelling enough to hang in some of the world’s most high-end recreation destinations, like Tiffany’s and Louis Vuitton.
Though Rose’s work is collected by some of the world’s most luxurious fashion and hospitality brands, these aerial photography series can often be cost-prohibitive for the artist; he spends an exorbitant amount of time, money, and frequent flier miles to get the perfect image. Here, he goes into detail about how he finances each project, and why it’s important to find the right partners to disseminate his work.
From Commercial Work to Aerial Photographer
NM: When did you first develop an interest in photography?
Antoine Rose: When I was eight years old, I found an old enlarger my father had in the garage, and I just was amazed by this machine. I also found some books, something like three volumes of The Theory of Photography, and I started reading that and trying to learn on my own. So, I just built the enlarger and I received a camera when I was eight and I started playing with it. And it all started there, by accident. But I really enjoyed doing it and I continued to further develop my creativity, shooting different subjects and so on.
NM: When did you turn to aerial photography as a medium and shift your work to become an aerial photographer?
Antoine Rose: I was photographing the kiteboarding World Cup, this was back in 2000. It was a tour around the world; we’d been into New Caledonia, France, Turkey, and Brazil. And it was in Brazil that we had helicopters for the film crew and the photographers. So, we flew over the beaches of Copacabana, Panama, heading to the spot where the kiteboarding competition was a little bit further, and then I saw all those umbrellas. It was so interesting because at a distance when you have some altitude, it’s like human beings are tiny dots on a huge pattern of fabric. I just grabbed my film camera and started shooting. So, the idea comes from there. But the artistic part of my work came a little bit later. I had my first show as a fine art aerial photographer in New York in 2012. I quit everything a few years ago just to focus on my art.
NM: How did you develop your skills and portfolio as an aerial photographer? Did you find this work challenging?
Antoine Rose: It took a little while to get the results I had in mind because doing that kind of photography is expensive. If you want to do something good quality, you need to have a good camera, a good pilot, good weather. It’s a very difficult thing, you have a lot of factors that need to be combined together to make it happen and to have great shots. Between hit or miss, the margin is very narrow.
Self-Funding Drives New Work
NM: How do you fund the cost of producing this work? Do your galleries front the costs?
Antoine Rose: Unfortunately, nobody is paying for my travel expenses, including airfare and helicopter arrangements, which unfortunately, is very expensive. So that’s what’s really difficult about my work and my kind of series. Sometimes, I’ll work on a project and the focus won’t be good and I’ll lose an entire day’s work and all of the costs that went along with it. And then you also need to fund your inventory, your artwork. So, printing, framing, shipping, crating, everything. When you do a show, it costs a lot of money.
When I get a few photos that are great and earn a bit of money, I use it to fund my other projects. And when you build up a network of galleries that are selling your artwork on a regular basis, it lets you save a little bit to fund your next projects. But the more you advance and the more you want to achieve that the level of quality. As a perfectionist, it might take me four years to get maybe 6 pictures. And each year it means two hours of helicopter flight time and those are quite expensive machines. For me, it’s a question of taking measured risks. If I’m supported positively by the galleries, and they’re telling me, ‘That’s okay, it’s going to work, I’m going to support you in selling this,’ then I just do it.”
NM: I’m curious about how you price your work. Do you build the cost of your photo expeditions into the price?
Antoine Rose: For me, it doesn’t really work like that, although it could make sense. It’s more that you’re working on the series and doing some shows and you continue maybe for a year to sell that body of work that lets you fund your new projects. And with that revenue stream, you determine what you’re able to do in order to fund new projects. You know, based on what you’ve earned, that you can fund this and not that, and that you can go up to a certain cost.
Ultimately, pricing work is always a collaboration between the photographer and the gallery. It’s a question of offer and demand, and in many ways the market dictates the price.
Selling Work Allows More Creative Freedom for New Projects
NM: It seems then that having gallery support is essential for you. How did you go about finding someone who wanted to represent you?
Antoine Rose: I was actually doing an exhibition in New York, and I sent Emmanuel Fremin a message on a social network because I was following his galleries. And so, he was participating at the same fair that I was. I asked him, “Can you check out my work while you’re at the fair? Do you think you might be interested? And then when I woke up the morning after, I received a message from him saying ‘You have a solo show in two months.’ It was really exciting and I couldn’t really believe it. So, we did it in November 2012.
NM: Do you and Emmanuel Fremin Gallery have an exclusive partnership, or do you work with galleries elsewhere?
Antoine Rose: There are around 10 to 15 galleries that I work with. I also work Samuel Owen Gallery in Greenwich, Connecticut and in Massachusetts, they’re opening a new space on Nantucket Island. And then I have a gallery in San Francisco, I have an agent in Los Angeles. I also work with galleries in London, Belgium, France, Switzerland, and Italy.
I think that it’s really important not to have too many galleries. It’s very important just to focus and not to have too many galleries in the same area. I want to work closely with the galleries to work together on projects and to progress together. And above all, it’s really important to have the same vision. And to have some fun as well. With some galleries, they do not have the same vision.
NM: How has working with galleries allowed you to continue to self-fund these high-cost projects as an aerial photographer? What types of commissions or clients have made the experience worth it?
Antoine Rose: Most of the time it’s thanks to my galleries being in contact with the collectors, the curators, and eventually some institution or museums. So, for example, Emmanuel Fremin has facilitated the acquisition of my work in the Museum of Arts and Design and Tiffany & Co., who commissioned 20 of my photographs over a period of about two years. They’ll swap those photos out of store locations across the world.
Thanks to my French gallery, I also have a commission with Louis Vuitton. They have a branch, which is called Louis Vuitton Brand Hotel Management, which manages a chain of high-end hotels. My work will appear in several of their hotels.
NM: What’s the single most important piece of advice you’d share with an aspiring aerial photographer?
Antoine Rose: From a business perspective, getting commissioned by the brand or getting inquires by galleries will be very important. Your galleries will be the ones making contact with curators, with collectors, with other institutions, because that’s what they do. But when you are in a place where your work starts being collected, you should also keep in contact with brands and continue the relationship with them, so you can be fresh in their heads when they’re looking for new work.
Otherwise, I would say to focus on developing new series and to work hard. There are many challenges, many drawbacks, many issues, and many disappointments, but gradually you will learn from your mistakes, and when you fall, you stand up and you try again.
To learn more about Antoine Rose, visit his Orangenius profile.