Before Rick Wenner was photographing celebrities like Christopher Walken, Denis Leary and Katie Couric, or shooting for The New York Observer, Sports Illustrated, Hamptons Magazine, and The Wall Street Journal his foray into professional photography began as the art director of his family’s wholesale bread manufacturing company on Long Island. Rick had become the art director at the company, photographing products for the website or designing advertising campaigns, and creating the packaging for the brand. Although he enjoyed his work, his passion was in creating portraits, which he continued in his personal time.
The family sold the company about 6 years ago and Rick saw this as a unique opportunity to dive head first into full time professional photography. But, as one would expect, the beginning of a career doesn’t just naturally take off like a jet, as Rick puts it. This is especially true when it comes to photography, as you don’t get Christopher Walken to sit for a portrait right out of the gate. Rick hustled non-stop to get where he is today, and the work he is assigned now goes to show how that hard work truly does pay off.
Rick has attended portfolio reviews for about as long as he’s been shooting, as he knew how important it was to get feedback from the people he wanted to work for, and those he respected the opinions of. He frequently attends our NYCFotoWorks event, where he has met many photo editors, agents, and art buyers who he’s kept in touch with over the years. He’s also formed strong relationships with clients. One strong relationship he’s formed through his direct mailing promos was with New York Observer’s photo editor Emily Assiran. He’s been shooting for the Observer for about 3 years, and the assignments just keep getting more interesting.
His latest project for the Observer was a portfolio called “Out of the Ashes”, where Rick photographed 6 people in their homes, talking about their experiences on and after 9/11. With genuine empathy, Rick spoke with those who were there during or after the attacks asking simple questions that allowed them to open up and talk about whatever they felt most comfortable. With a subject such as this already chalked full of so much emotion, he knew he didn’t need to push his subjects to get an authentic reaction. He simply photographed them as they shared their own stories.
Rick was extremely honored to have been given this assignment by the Observer, as it is such an important topic for anyone to be asked to cover. He had shot Christopher Walken for the Observer, and they had been so happy with the outcome of those images, that they wanted to replicate that same aesthetic for their Out of the Ashes story.
Assignments like “Out of the Ashes” has taught Rick that he enjoys focusing his personal work on these types of stories— ripe with emotion and unique in their nature. One of his personal projects includes the documentation of the Patriot Guard Riders, which is “an organization based in the U.S. whose members welcome home our soldiers and attend the funerals of members of the U.S. military”. He is currently working on a project where he photographs people with limb differences and their unique overcoming of this disability. Working with these people has inspired him to create more work— better work— and pursue the kind of work that resonates with him. His subjects have taught him that all you need is the heart to do it.