Inner portrait of the artist

Ah, life in the fast lane. You’ve got two choices–push ahead or get the hell out of the way. Well-known photographer Barnaby Draper knows the fast lane better than most. And recently, he made his choice: He got the hell out of the way.

Between 1995 and 2000, Draper poured himself into his career as an assistant photographer in New York City, serving such clients as Tiffany’s, Martha Stewart Living, French and German Vogue, Elle and Victoria’s Secret. He was also the personal photographer for Dave Matthews and Sean “P. Diddy/ “Puffy”/”Puff Daddy” Combs. He witnessed modern photography masters at work while hob-knobbing with the biggest and the sparkliest. But there came a point, Draper says, when he no longer craved making the perfect picture of the perfect person.

“After a while in the world of the beautiful people, you want to take pictures of something more than a person who’s been through five hours of make-up,” he says.

Further, Draper wanted to work on the unique photographic ideas growing inside him. He wanted time to have a life again, too. And most of all, he wanted to go home.

Although he was raised in Charlottesville and has been back for a full year, Draper, who is 32, is still readjusting to the slower pace of life he used to know. Even so, he declares that breaking out of the Gotham photography scene has opened up a whole new world of creative experiments for him. His most recent exhibit at Higher Grounds, which was on display last month, was a perfect example.

Draper worked with a collection of Tintypes, a once popular photographic format that had laid dormant for more than 100 years. He resurrected the process of suspending silver bromide emulsions in gelatin and then coating cardboard, wood or tin with the solutions.

Turning negatives into positives (that’s “slides” in photog lingo), Draper then enlarges his chosen images and makes photography sculptures by driving screws through each edge. As if that process were not labor-intensive enough, Draper, who swears off digital technology as too clear and sterile, makes all his plates by hand. “When prints are made by hand,” he says, “they are more imperfect. That’s what people connect to.”

Still, Draper hasn’t completely given up on photographing sexy people in the limelight. He recently returned from Birmingham, Alabama, for instance, where he was shooting the new CD for rising pop superstar John Mayer.

Mostly, however, Draper’s current interests run to shooting timeless and lyrical images. And for once he has the time to do just that. “There are moments when I miss the intensity of New York,” he says, “but I wouldn’t ever trade it for the balance I have in my life now.”

Draper’s next stop is daguerreotype, a rather unusual print process for medium- and large-format cameras. He’s also busy preparing for his November show at Feast in the Main Street Market.

Although Draper’s creative life is much healthier now, his opinions of the world of fashion will always remain the same. “Being fabulous becomes the norm instead of being decent,” he says, “I would rather live the norm and go to the fight than vice versa.”

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