Casey Butler Harwood

Why Images Matter with Trask Bedortha

Trask Bedortha is Drawn’s uber talented photographer and senior designer. His work for clients, like Siete, is defiantly individualized, conveying fathoms of personality, and yet drips with mass-market appeal. An unlikely pairing, to be sure, and one that is difficult to realize.

Trask has always been drawn to art and has been creating images in one form or another since he was a kid sitting at his dad’s desk after work, drawing terrible battle scenes and reproducing them with an antiquated copy machine. He can still remember the way the paper felt, the smell of the ink. “I spent a lot of my free time drawing,” he says.

In high school, he inherited his great grandmother’s old Pentax and a full kit of lenses. He began taking photos and developing them. “It was just sort of an experiment and I think that that’s kind of when I got hooked on the process of freezing the real world and being able to do something with it,” he says.

At the same time, he was experimenting with graphic design. It was when he digitally added himself to the Ramones that he knew that this thing called design had potential. Well, then, and when he realized that not all artists were starving. “I [hadn’t] realized that literally everything we see in the world is designed on some level,” Trask says. “That just exposed me to the reality that this was an option as a career path.”

He studied design at a community college and was told by a photography instructor to give up on taking photos. “I sort of did,” he admits. After he finished school, he searched for design-related jobs and came up short, briefly ending up as a crestfallen rent-a-cop before being hired as a photo tech/in-house designer by a local commercial photographer. James McCormick put a digital SLR in his hands and asked him to second shoot, inadvertently rekindling his love for photography.

“It was just sort of an experiment and I think that that’s kind of when I got hooked on the process of freezing the real world and being able to do something with it."

“I started buying old cameras and shooting film on my own time,” Trask says. “I got really into Polaroid, spent thousands of dollars on cameras and film, and just shot constantly.”

Trask spent five or six years focused almost exclusively on photography before he remembered how much he loved design. “I just knew that I had to do both of those things somehow,” he says.

Fast forward to the present and any given day will see Trask effortlessly switch-hitting, shooting photos in the morning, crafting stop-motion GIFs and designing kickass packaging after lunch. (Or the other way around.) Since the guy’s perpetually immersed in imagery, we figured he’d be just the person to ask about why image matter. Read on for some insight.

All photos by Trask Bedortha

How would you describe your photographic style?

I guess in industry-standard terms, most of my work is lifestyle [photography]. My ideal style is more photojournalistic and narrative. I like to tell stories without words. There’s not a lot of room for that in the commercial world, so I mean, lifestyle can be an adaptation of that — especially at Drawn. There are these times when we craft an event that then becomes the thing that I’m telling the story about through photographs. It’s not a ton of posing and manicured photography because that stuff doesn’t come naturally to me — and I don’t do that stuff well, from my perspective. I’m good at hanging back and just capturing images of people and things being more natural.

In your words, how would you describe the power of imagery?

I think its real power is communication. It’s an open form of communication that allows for interpretation, and because of that, I think it’s really powerful. And you can sort of guide people’s interpretation and suggest things to them, from behind the scenes, which can be used nefariously, like to sell them more shit they don’t want, or it can be used in other [more positive] ways, as well.

“I [hadn’t] realized that literally everything we see in the world is designed on some level."

We often specifically want people to feel or do a certain thing in response to the image that we are showing them. When imagery is a form of communication that’s open to interpretation, is there any way to ensure that it will have the effect that you want it to have?

I think that you fall back on cultural norms and tropes, and depending on what we’re talking about, editing. [If] it’s a photograph, how you compose it; what you choose to show and not show. With design, color and shape and proportion — all of those things will lead people to things like hierarchy and mood, and finally, to what will be a general feeling. It’s not going to apply to every individual, but I think that’s why it is so powerful. Because it’s not black and white Helvetica saying, “BUY THIS THING.”

Right, but it still makes you feel a certain way. Do you consciously think about things like color theory?

I do it more consciously with [design], but I don’t literally think, in the moment, ‘Red makes people feel anxious,’ or ‘Blue makes people feel sad.’ But there are just certain colors that harmonize in a frame. I think that I am cognizant of color in that respect [with] photography. Mostly, I just base it on my reaction to [the image], which is probably not the best way to go about things, but I don’t have a lot of time for the psychology of it all. [Laughs]

Well, I think that’s part of what makes your job so cool. Part of it is based on your instinct and I think that, in a weird way, that’s part of the skill involved — even though it’s more of an intuitive thing. Does that seem right to you?

Yeah, I think it can be both. I think that those forms of communicating visually have always come a little easier to me than other forms of communication. I think that it is intuitive, but it’s [also] definitely a skill that I’ve focused on honing and crafting. I think that it’s a skill that anybody can access if they want to.

That’s what people say about marathon running, too, but I’m not so sure. 

Well, yeah, I’m not going to [run a marathon], but I believe that I could. [Laughs] I don’t think that it’s an impossibility.

"It’s an open form of communication that allows for interpretation, and because of that, I think it’s really powerful."

What are your main goals in your photography? If you can, narrow it down to one to three words.

Tell a story. That’s the photography that I love. I love portraiture and I love telling a story, mostly about people. I make money doing basically commercial photography, and that’s fine because I love the act of photographing and taking the picture. I like being in the studio and setting up lights, and seeing how lights react to objects. I could spend all day just changing lights around. [Laughs] I love that stuff, too, but as far as what the image does after I’m done with it, ideally, it would tell a story.

How have images impacted your life?

Not so much images, but the act of photographing things or communicating visually has just helped me navigate the world so much because as an introverted person, I’m prone to some level of social anxiety. A camera is a great tool — in instances where I’m uncomfortable — to focus on my work and interpreting the world, and separating my initial, visceral reaction [to things] from reality. It gives me a different perspective on my emotional reactions to things in social environments and stuff, [which] has been very helpful to me.