Photographing the North and South Forks of Long Island should be second nature for renowned photographer EJ Camp. After all, she’s been photographing the waters off the East End for over 30 years.
“I used to summer in Bellport, then I visited a client in Beixedon Estates in Southold and decided that day I was moving to the North Fork,” said Camp, who now lives in Orient in a house overlooking the water.
If you don’t know her name, you know her work.
Camp has photographed the famous and infamous in a career that has covered American fashion, celebrity and film for close to 40 years. She started out in the fashion industry in the 1970s, shooting for magazines like Vogue, GQ and Glamour. She came up at the same time as Vanity Fair photographer Annie Leibovitz. The two photographers at one time even opened studios in the same building. Early on, Camp seemed to have a knack for knowing just when to make the move to her next project.
“At the time I was doing fashion, there wasn’t anyone really doing menswear other than Bruce Weber, so I saw that opening and began shooting a lot of menswear,” she said. “But when you’re shooting fashion you’re looking at clothes, you’re not really looking at faces and invariably I’d always turn it into a portrait. I love faces; I like people and their personalities.”
Camp’s eye for faces eventually brought her to Rolling Stone Magazine. Her first cover of Christie Brinkley bridged the distance between fashion and rock ’n’ roll, opening that door.
“I told Laurie Kratochvil, Rolling Stone’s photo editor at the time, that I wanted to shoot music and she said, ‘No, you don’t! The hours and temperaments are crazy!’ ”
Persistence paid off, though, and Camp was soon shooting artists like Annie Lennox, Billy Idol, Motley Crue and Jon Bon Jovi.
“It was fun. I was meeting interesting people, but it was grueling,” she said.
She also found herself running up against classic rock star stereotypes. A photo shoot scheduled for 11 a.m. invariably wouldn’t start until 5 p.m.
And the stars always wanted to order champagne, she said.
“Then it turns into an all-night party,” she said.
But Camp was doing what she wanted, shooting people, despite the personalities.
Soon Camp’s work with Rolling Stone opened the door to the next phase of her professional life. A cover shoot with Tom Cruise — an unusual assignment at the time since she focused on rock icons — landed her the unique opportunity to shoot the movie poster for “Top Gun.”
She and Mr. Cruise both hailed from Louisville, Ky., and the two quickly bonded. In 1986, she flew to San Diego and shot the poster photo on the runway at the Naval Air Station North Island base.
“Remember, this was before Photoshop,” she said laughing. “I was on the runway, like a housewife on moving day having the furniture moved, saying, ‘OK, move that F-14 there.’ ”
The “Top Gun” shoot opened the door for more film-related work, including posters for well known films like “Austin Powers” and “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” Perhaps her most famous was for the film “Forrest Gump.”
The assignment was simple: Tom Hanks, a bench and a suitcase.
“They didn’t say you have to shoot him close up, so it was really a composition with a lot of negative space around him,” she said. “I turned his back to the camera, which nowadays you would never do. I think they’ve
learned it’s really the face that sells the movie. Eventually everything got really tight, even to the point where we just shot the faces and on the second day we would shoot body doubles. That’s what it is now.”
While shooting for the film industry, Camp moved to California, but kept her house in Orient for the summer. When the film industry became less centralized on the West Coast, she moved back to New York, shooting for both fashion and Madison Avenue. She has photographed covers for Elle, Esquire, Harper’s Bazaar, Men’s Health, New York Magazine and Sports Illustrated, among others. Camp also began spending more time shooting on the twin forks, focusing on the water. She is now becoming as well known for her seascapes as for her magazine work and celebrity portraits.
“Five years ago I hung some of my seascapes at the Orient Yacht Club and people wanted to buy them!” she said. “I thought, ‘Wow! I could make a living out of this.’ ”
Camp’s seascapes are selling so well she is considering compiling them in a book.
“I love looking at the water and photographs of water; the appreciation of it is universal,” she said.
Camp’s seascapes are currently on display until spring 2017 at the Ralph Pucci Gallery at 44 W. 18th St. in New York City. When she’s not at the beach, Camp teaches photography workshops at the International Center for Photography in Manhattan. For more information visit ejcamp.com.