Gage Skidmore on Photography, Creative Commons, and Rand Paul

Recently I had the opportunity to interview Gage Skidmore, a semi-professional photographer from Arizona. —Ari Armstrong

Armstrong: According to your Facebook bio, you started out as a photographer in 2009, when you documented Rand Paul’s Senate run. Your work has also appeared in numerous publications, including Forbes, Wired, and Reason. Do you work as a full-time photographer now, or is that a part-time occupation? Do you mean to make photography your long-term career? What is the scope of your photographic work presently?

Skidmore: I started doing political photography with Paul when I was sixteen years old. I had been involved in the liberty movement since the end of 2007 when his father ran for the 2008 presidency, but I didn’t get involved with his campaign as a photographer until 2011 when he ran for President again.

I’ve never seen photography as a job; I have always seen it as a hobby, something that I do on the side for personal enjoyment or just to make a little money. Recently I’ve done some freelance work for various candidates for office in Arizona, where I live now, and for other organizations like the Western Center for Journalism, as well as Reason magazine, which ran a cover image of mine of Gary Johnson for its 2012 election issue.

I really am not sure where my photography will take me, but I’m always looking to continue my photography adventure as long as I find it to be something that is worthwhile to share with people, and is still fun for me as well.

Armstrong: Every time I need an image of a libertarian or conservative politician or intellectual, I find that the best image is almost always one of yours. Then I discovered that you’ve also photographed celebrities such as Tom Cruise at ComicCon. What prompted you to start releasing so many of your photographs through Flickr under the Creative Commons license?

Skidmore: The scope of my work involves for the most part two things that I enjoy the most—politics and pop culture conventions.

I originally bought my first professional camera for the purpose of going to the San Diego ComicCon in 2009, because I wanted to take somewhat professional photos for the purpose of releasing them under the Creative Commons license, and also because I wanted to see my photos used to illustrate celebrities on Wikipedia on pages where photos didn’t exist.

I’ve always enjoyed seeing my work used in a positive way, and especially enjoy when I’m actually credited for taking the photo. And as far as Flickr goes, I think that is just the most mainstream photography website at the moment, besides Facebook (which isn’t known for its photo quality). But I would really hope for Flickr to make some changes to its business model that would allow its content creators to gain the ability to make money by selling prints, or something of that nature, in the same way that YouTube rewards its content creators for providing content there.

Armstrong: I’ve released a few CC images (my best is of Christopher Hitchens), but nowhere near as many as you’ve released. I find the CC community interesting; I feel grateful, as a blogger, that I have access to so many great images, and I feel a sense of responsibility to contribute my own CC images when I can. What are your thoughts on the Creative Commons?

Skidmore: I can understand people’s reasoning about wanting to tightly control their content, especially if that is how they make their living, primarily by selling photos. I’ve never gotten that serious about it, to the point where I need to sell a photo to eat the next day. I’m not pursuing photography as a college student, either, so I basically see the Creative Commons as a way to release my photos for public consumption, and have them used in the most wide ranging way possible. I have gotten some criticism for this, but I think with the expansion of literally everyone having a cell phone camera, and the fact that someone can easily go to the store and buy a semi-professional camera, the world of photography is constantly changing. These changes will likely have a detrimental effect on the professional photography business as a whole. Depending on one’s perspective, this may be a good thing, or it may be a bad thing, but I tend not to consume myself with that type of stuff.

Armstrong: Which shot or shots of yours do you find particularly interesting, or which have a fun backstory?

Skidmore: I had a hard time thinking about a good photo back story, but I thought about when I first started doing political photography and documenting some of the early campaign events with Rand Paul. One of the first events I went to was a Tea Party event in Hawesville, Kentucky. I can vividly remember arriving at the event, and standing out in the cold November or December climate in front of this towering court house. Back then, the Tea Party was really at its peak, but standing among the crowd was Dr. Paul himself, then just a small town ophthalmologist. There was no other media, no other person taking any photos, at least semi-professionally, and hardly anyone even bothered to introduce themselves to Rand except every now and then between speakers at the event. This was actually also the first time I got to shake Rand’s hand, and his campaign handler at the time introduced us to each other.

Since then, I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing a true grassroots movement of liberty-minded individuals who have come to embrace this one time small town doctor as one of the serious contenders for President of the United States. I am so glad to have been able to participate in some way when he first came on the scene, and am especially grateful for the kindness he has shown to me over the years, especially in the beginning when I was just some teenage fan following him around and taking photos.

Armstrong: If someone wanted to hire you to photograph an event, would you be open to that? If so, what’s the best way to reach you, and what sort of processes and costs should a client expect?

Skidmore: If someone would like to hire me for an event, I absolutely would be open to doing so, and the best way to reach me is through email, which I’ve made publicly available on pretty much all my personal websites. I like to make things as easy as possible for potential clients, so they name a price, and I’ll usually accept it, as long as it’s within reason.