Don’t worry about creating a unique, artistic ‘style.’ Just make things that you like… – interview with John Helmke

John Helmke

John Helmke is a collaborative visual artist based in central Connecticut. He finds beauty in the sublime and the ridiculous of everyday life. His generative process starts with an idea and germinates in collaboration and interaction with teams of creatives. His work has been published a lot and some people seem to like his stuff.

What made you choose the creative path in your life?

I kind of believe that if I could do something else and be satisfied, I would. I’ve tried and I keep coming back to art in some form or another. My first career was in music and that lasted for about 15 years until my wife and I became parents. After that, steady income and health insurance became a priority and I started a corporate job. 15 years later, that job ended and I’m back in the arts and couldn’t be happier!

What is your most memorable project or photo? Or the most successful project?

This summer I created a series of nine photos for exhibition and sale to raise money to buy medical supplies for Ukraine. We photographed liquid paint on a model. Said another way, we had a model in the studio, poured paint all over her and took pictures. The theme of the exhibition was blue and yellow, the colors of the Ukrainian flag so those were the colors of paint. Wonderful messy fun and I’m still finding blue and yellow paint, but this was, for me, a meaningful bit of work.

What drives you? What’s your favorite type of photography?

I take pictures of people. Mostly portraits, fashion and nudes. I love capturing that moment when a human shows their uniquely human self. Sometimes that’s in a studio setting with lights and a plan and sometimes it’s just a meaningful moment on the street. I adore the challenge of working with human subjects. It requires me to be at my peak not just as a photographer but as a communicator, influencer and creative leader.

John Helmke Photography

Whose work has influenced you most?

Tough question. I guess the photographers whose work I am most influenced by are; Helmut Newton, Peter Hurley, and Suze Randall. Helmut Newton’s edgy fashion black and white photos are absolutely mesmerizing to me. In fact, one of his prints hangs in my workspace and is the only print by another photographer that I display. Of the three, Peter Hurley is the only one that I’ve had the chance to meet and actually learn from in person. How he works micro expressions in headshots is beyond anything I imagined possible and those skills are ones that I used daily. And Suze Randall’s work with Playboy and other men’s magazines in the 1970’s and 1980’s I believe absolutely paved the way for the current boudoir industry. She was magical in how she posed women so they looked elegant and sexy but still felt natural, relaxed, and playful.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

A few years back when I was really trying to learn Peter Hurley’s headshot systems, I was worried that I was just going to become just a second rate Peter Hurley imitation rather than uniquely John Helmke. When I was moaning about not feeling like I had any sense of my own unique style, a wonderful, more experience photographer told me, “Don’t worry about creating a unique, artistic ‘style.’ Just make things that you like and your style will emerge over time as a natural result of the accumulated artistic decisions that you’ve made.”

John Helmke Photography

Is there any place in the world that you wish to be tomorrow with your camera?

I’m delighted to be shooting tomorrow right here in my studio. For me is so much more about the subject and the concept than the location. I do like shooting on location, but I’m not about chasing the exotic holiday spot. However, I would like to shoot the big fashion weeks, so if you want to fly me to Milan, Paris and London, I’ll make the time!

What’s your opinion on the NFT and how will it impact the art industry?

I think NFTs are incredibly powerful for collectors of digital art and for creators who are focused on driving revenue. I’m not sure that the growth in NFTs will in any real way enhance the quantity or quality of art created, but it is a strong next step for the business side of digital art.

What’s in store for you for the next projects / years?

Not really sure. I do know that I’m always looking for projects with collaborators. Project that either grow my heart, my soul or my bank account. I love working with teams of people who enjoy the creative process and who are not afraid to contribute their own ideas. I suspect that I’ll still be shooting a lot of headshots and portraits, boudoirs and nudes, and fashion.

Where can we find you and your work?

Check out my Instagram page for samples of my work. I post whatever I like there so it’s a mishmash of styles and genre that I shoot. If you want to hear me talk about fashion photography and share some examples on video, check out my TikTok. I update both at least a few times a week and both are under the name popphotostudio.