Behind the lens D.j. Wysocki

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Photo :  Andy Buscemi Photography

D.j. Wysocki, born and raised in Western New York, mainly the Buffalo region, my interest in photography first came to light the Christmas morning I received my first camera. I was about 8, I think. It was a Polaroid Instant. I photographed everything from house plants to the sky. I used up so many cartridges that my parents couldn’t keep up. Without the money to buy more myself, I stopped using it. Years later, I got another camera for Christmas. A digital. A Mustek MDC-800. What a terrible camera. Sucks up battery power like you wouldn’t believe, the zoom totally frags your photos, and they don’t take memory cards. The memory can only store 12 photos at a time. Still, I took some halfway decent photos with it. Nothing flashy, but enough to develop a beginners portfolio. My first subject was a model from Syracuse named Jaime Juul. I don’t have the photos anymore, but I’ll never forget her. She was a blast. I did my first photo manipulations on her photos. Simple stuff. Color alterations and such. This one shoot, it was Winter and outdoors in the snow. She wore a white sweater and a bright red scarf. I made the entire photo black and white except for her scarf, which made it really pop. There were only about 5 photos in the set and they were pretty much all the same. A few years later, I came across deviantART. That was while Scott “Jark” Jarkoff was still in charge and they hadn’t sold out yet. I was amazed with all the realistic looking artwork. I found it hard to believe that someone could create art like that from scratch. The faces were just too realistic. Then I came to realize that they were digitally manipulated photos. I wanted to do that. So, I started locating the best free stock photographers I could, using all their work. Among them was my favorite, Marcus Ranum. At first, I was terrible. I was only just learning how to use Photoshop, which was only version 5 or 6 at the time. But like with all things, when I really love something, I learn it fast. Before I knew it, I was teaching others photo manipulation tricks who are now exceptionally skilled. Some have even surpassed my own abilities in many ways, one of which I was actually kind’a engaged to, but that’s a whole other story. My best student is now a pretty famous fitness photographer. Chris Zimmerman is his name. He co-owns Violate the Dress Code.  He learned very quickly. I’m so proud. Since then, I’ve created lots of really cool things, most of which has been published in print. As the years went by, I’ve bought far better cameras and lenses, and learned to use them properly.

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Forbidden Lovers (Mikey Bauer & Star Leigh)

I have 2 main weaknesses where photography is involved. Firstly, I’m terrible with lighting. I’m getting a lot better, but as I don’t make much money doing what I do, I can’t afford good lighting. My “studio”, which is basically just a clean, spacious basement has 2 white umbrella lights and the bulbs aren’t as strong as most would assume. Thankfully, my photo editing skills usually make up for it. Secondly, I’m an art photographer. I shoot from what I see. I don’t have the patience for settings. I know the basics. Mode, ISO, etc. The rest, I learn only when I must. I am very good where it comes to adapting to what resources I have at my disposal. I can do great things with natural light and cheap dollar store clothing items. You’d be surprised how many vintage items have made it into some of the best fashion based shoots I’ve done.

What I’m best known for are my artistic photo manipulations, which are often confused with retouching by those who don’t know better, but they’re not the same thing. Most photo manipulations include basic to high-end retouching. You could call photo manipulation, photo retouching+. Retouching a photo means getting rid of any imperfections. Dry, patchy, or discolored skin, flyaway hairs, fuzz and wrinkles on the clothes, enhancing color and definition, etc. Photo manipulation takes it further. Replacing the background, adding color effects and digital props… that’s a manipulation. It’s a modern form of art used for everything from portfolios to product marketing. Movie posters, album covers, billboards… it’s everywhere.

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I tend to charge far less than most at my skill level and that’s mainly because I suck at marketing myself. Sure, I can design great ads, but there’s more to it than that. You have to project a certain “professional” version of yourself, but I’m prone to word vomit. If I charged anymore than I do, I wouldn’t make any sales. Yes, there are those who can do what I can and charge far more, but they’re either better at marketing or are represented by those who can afford major advertising. There are photo manipulators who are paid thousands of dollars to design a single piss-poor movie poster for a major film or series while I refuse to charge anymore than $200 per project. In recent years, many film and television promo photos have become highly manipulated and not well, I might add. In most cases, they’ll shoot each member of the cast separately in front of a green or blue screen and then digitally merge them into a single image, adding artificial light and shadow so they look as if they belong in the scene, but often are those effects poorly done. They don’t always line up or they conflict with elements in the scene. For example, there was a cast photo for Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, where there were bits of fire on the ground, which didn’t effect the shadows at all. Being that fire is bright and it was close to the shadows, it should have weakened the nearby shadows, but didn’t. In my personal and professional opinion, that pretty choppy work.

Through time, remembering to credit everyone I work with, and keeping activity up, I have developed quite the following on social media, even if they don’t result in actual service sales. My Facebook page alone has over 11,400 legit likes, which has actually earned me a verified status. No small potatoes for a small business. Page verification is normally reserved for celebrities, politicians, and large companies, which I am not. I’m just a freelancer who has managed to go semi-viral through time and hard work. I started out with 1 like (mine) like everyone else does. Then I sent like requests to all my friends and then they did the same. After that, I just shared my work, interesting articles, and posts about photography and art. The likes really piled on after I started my first magazine, Strange Beauty. It was a new name, but far from the lame old overdone concept and everyone wanted to be involved. Through me was their shortest route. Little did they knew, submitting great content was the only way they’d get in. I’m getting quite a few followers on Instagram too despite the fact that I’ve only been active for a few months. I give credit to good hash tags. Many still think they’re just a fad, but they’re not. When you do business online, they are a necessary marketing tool.

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Darth Dread: Model Chellss Richardson, photo of Chellss by Mike Yurkovic
Shadow Agents: Model was Mosh, photographer of Mosh by Marcus Ranum

On my downtime, I don’t really do much. Sure, I’d love to travel the world and stuff, but that’s expensive and I’m usually just getting by. For the most part, I binge watch movies and TV shows, listen to music, and I love to cook. There was a period where I could have been a certified chef. I won a big regional culinary award when I was in school and nearly won myself a grant to Le Cordon Bleu in Pittsburgh, PA, which closed in 2012, but I came to realize that I hate cooking for strangers and I’m too much of a perfectionist, which makes me too slow for public food service (restaurants, etc.). Instead, I prefer to cook for private events. This is something only a few people know about me.

I have developed the reputation for being quite the drama queen and that has caused some friction between myself and other members of the creative community. I say what’s on my mind and tend to take things literally. I’m pretty sure it’s the Aspie in me. I was diagnosed when I was in high school. An Aspie is someone who has been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. It’s a neurological difference in programming. We don’t like to call it a disability or disorder because it comes with a number of positive traits normal people don’t typically have. In fact, the majority of people with AS tend to have higher than average IQ’s. Mine was rated 180 the last time I took the test. It’s more like a different operating system or a side-step in evolution. Anyway, AS makes us more honest than the typical person. We prefer to live a no bullshit lifestyle. While it may cause short-term drama, in the long-run, it’s better for everyone to be honest. There is a lot more to it, but that goes off-topic. If you’d like to know more about AS, go to www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism/asperger-syndrome. Anyway… if people don’t articulate their thoughts well, I tend to misunderstand what they mean. That always causes problems. I also tend to publicly react when people are less than courteous toward me. For example, there was a situation a few years ago where a certain popular circle within Buffalo, NY’s alternative community decided that it would be best if my reputation was completely eviscerated after “I got too big for my britches” and dove into the event promotion game. I made some very big contacts my first year and was about to put on a huge music/art show, featuring names such as Superstar DJ Keoki and Mixtress Krikett. Hideous rumors were pushed and I found myself completely ousted in a matter of days. People who I thought were my friends had turned their backs on me and I lost all my professional contacts within the local community as well as a few nationwide. Before this, I never had to pay to get into clubs, rarely ever had to pay for drinks, I was invited to private parties, and was asked to cover concerts with my camera, usually getting paid quite well for it. It was during this time that I got to meet Jennifer Parkin/Ayria, Peter Spilles of Project Pitchfork, VNV Nation, and many others. I was in. Then I was out. I was a part of the scene for maybe 2 years. That was about maybe 5 years ago. It has taken that long for most of my old contacts to realize that the rumors were just that. Rumors. Many have apologized. Many, I believe, are too embarrassed to bring it up. However, there are those who still keep up their ugliness, usually more aggressively when I’m at my best. I try not to let it bother me, but I just can’t comprehend why people have to behave that way.

Last year, I suffered a major loss. I was living in Glendale, AZ with a friend… former friend. Unable to find a job, my photography and artwork were my primary sources of income. For the first few months, I was struggling and my health was failing due to not being able to afford decent food. I wound up in the hospital once with excruciating kidney stones and my insurance almost didn’t cover it. The temperature in the area jumped between 90° and 112° and I couldn’t afford air conditioning. The apartment was on a prepay power system and we only had enough money to keep the lights on, and our computers and refrigerator running. We had no TV, so I streamed stuff online to keep from going insane. I had to download a WiFi booster for my phone because our home connection kept going out. To make matters worse, my roommate and I had to swap between a roach infested floor and a bedbug infested bed for sleeping. It was a terrible complex, mainly populated by criminals and other shady characters. My roommate had a major debt with another apartment complex due to no fault of his own (his old roommate screwed him out of rent), which he couldn’t pay off. This kept us from being accepted anywhere else after their required background checks, so we were stuck there. We moved out for a month and stayed at a hotel only to move into a different apartment in the same complex. No bugs, but still surrounded by creeps. In return for cooking, cleaning, and providing free design services, I got to stay rent free, which was a good deal, but the heat and lack of healthy food was still a major issue. If it wasn’t for being on food stamps (which didn’t last since our third occupant was a stoner with a perpetual case of the munchies who didn’t pay rent) and the generosity of a few new friends I had made, it would’ve been far worse. The best friends I had out there were Alexis King, Devon Nicole, and Anthony Kamarata. They always kept checking up on me and made sure I was okay. I hung out with them in their air conditioned apartments as often as possible, eating decent food, watching movies, and making each other laugh. Alexis was a model I had worked with and Devon was her best friend and roommate. Such an amazing pair of stunning ladies. One evening, we went for top quality sushi and then to see Lindsey Stirling in Phoenix. The perfect evening. The price was some photo manipulation work. As for Anthony, he’s a fellow geek. We have a lot in common. One day, we binged on half of Marvel’s Daredevil over Panda Express and homemade mudslides. And, he gave me a bed. He had just moved in with his fiance and he didn’t need it anymore. It was the most comfy bed I’ve ever had. Between these amazing people, a recent boost in sales, and the growing success of my magazine, Strange Beauty, I was on top of the world. Paid work was piling on. And then, one of the worst things that could have happened, happened. I was robbed. My Nikon D60 and Alienware M17x were gone, as well as my external hard drive, which had years of irreplaceable work on it, including the unpublished pages of the magazine’s next issue, which was scheduled to be published in less than a week. I was in the process of backing up all my files to OneDrive, but the transfer was canceled and nothing saved. Over a terabyte of files were gone. RAW and stock photos, HD movies, music, stock, unpublished stories, etc. Once the shock wore off and I could move, my fist found its way into the nearest wall. I don’t even remember doing it. I didn’t even feel it. I called the police, but the criminals in the area were smart. They sell things across state lines. They’ll never find me property. That being that, and being between paid gigs, I had to break the news to those who had photos yet to be processed and then I had no choice but to sell the rights to Strange Beauty. A few weeks later, I returned to Buffalo and started over again. Now, here I am. I have new clients, have reclaimed some of my older ones, and now, I’ve started a new magazine. Beautivation. The first issue will be published by late April.