Christopher Voelker is likely the most recognized photographer with a disability. He has a great career highlighted by an incredible body of work.
Voelker has a way with the camera that transforms a still photo into a portrait with a voice. With an eye for inventive visual aspects, his creative work is reaching a new level of recognition in Hollywood and internationally. His eye magically enhances a single photo to create a story while challenging stereotypes.
Voelker's work shows intricate design that reaches far beyond a traditional headshot. Rose petals draped across a beautiful naked woman, as her wheelchair sits nearby. Mick Fleetwood tips his hat in a playful way. Robert David Hall's shadow is bigger than life. A painted woman seems to be dancing in her wheelchair. The list goes on, as each shot in the collection is new and inventive.
In his 20 years of experience, he has photographed celebrities including Mick Fleetwood, Billy Zane, Beyonce, Robert David Hall, Brandy, Dennis Haysbert, Christina Applegate, Bow Wow, Rhianna, Holly Robinson Peete, Mo'Nique and many more.
To reinforce his ability to deliver a product that speaks, Voelker has received praise from a variety of stars.
"Chris Voelker's work is filled with emotion, beauty and thought. He shadows the light and lights the dark that speaks with image, like the eye of poetry to the soul," noted actress, choreographer, and director Debbie Allen.
"Never in my life have people responded so enthusiastically to photos of me as they have with Christopher's. He knows how to capture a man's mojo with the lens," added award winning poet, playwright, and actor Lynn Manning.
Voelker has also shot national and international covers for magazines along with movie posters.
"I'm in negotiation right now to shoot a movie poster for a well-known director," Voelker said.
Voelker fell in love with photography after a motorcycle accident resulted in quadriplegia at the young age of 16.
"Six months after the accident, I saw the Rolling Stone's issue "Portraits of Power" by Richard Avedon and immediately became interested in photography. My father was into photography as well, but that moment galvanized things in a way," Voelker explained. "I bought a camera, saved coins and went back to school to take photography courses. At first, I turned my parents' garage into a studio. I started shooting friends and then expanded into actors' headshots. We'd shoot all hours of the night."
Without the accident, Voelker admits life may have been different. "I doubt I would have found my passion for photography. It opened a door as I became more interested in being an artist, the visual concepts, and I became pretty consumed with the art. When a friend of mine was doing an apprenticeship at a studio, I became smitten with being in the studio. I could see the possibilities. To me it was a canvas to fill up," Voelker said. "I had a desire to show people in certain ways using my love and fascination for photography. I was immediately enamored with the possibilities of making unique images using light as a real paintbrush."
Voelker has an extraordinary eye for the artistic depths seen in his photographs. He is now part of Hollywood, often called on for photo shoots by studios, filmmakers and high-profile actors. He is also the requested photographer for performers with disabilities because he takes the photo far beyond the wheelchair, far beyond the disability. In essence, he makes everyone shine on film in a unique way.
"I bring something else to the studio. Going through different experiences physically gives you empathy and insight into things that other people don't see. People trust me, they let their guard down, and we create something more meaningful," Voelker said. "I use movie lights as my first choice as the drama that can be created is endless as your imagination is. It brings out highlights, shadows and different textures not seen with the typical umbrella strobe approach. I really believe that you can say just as much with shadows as you can with light, one does not exist without the other. An actor called me 'Shadowman,' which was a real compliment."
Voelker's greatest influences are George Hurrell, Bill Brant, Richard Avedon and Irving Penn. Movie studios often call Voelker after they see his work.
"I did a shoot yesterday for a Universal DVD box cover. They saw my work given to them by an agent. They had no idea I was in a wheelchair," Voelker explained. "It happens a lot. I get calls saying, 'We'd love to meet you in person.' I show up in a chair and immediately it's like, 'We didn't know.' I once had a big campaign shoot planned but when they found out I was in a chair, the job mysteriously went away. It happens so many times. When people see a chair, they wonder, 'How can we trust him to create an image for us?' It's prejudicial and a lack of education."
When Voelker attended a Symposium by the Performers With Disabilities Committee sponsored by the Screen Actors Guild last year, he was impressed with the event but shocked at the response.
"The studios were all invited to attend, but none of the networks showed up to the event. It's weird that people with disabilities are not included in Hollywood. Being a disabled photographer, I know it would be the last suggestion for any photographer who was a quadriplegic to work in the entertainment industry. But, why?" Voelker said. "I photograph a lot of African Americans because I understand the lighting and the dynamics of photographing black skin. I finally have come to the conclusion that there's something synonymous about being disabled and being a minority because the prejudicial aspects are the same."
Voelker's cutting-edge magazine layouts, like nothing you have ever seen before, have caught attention internationally because they offer beauty rather than focusing on the disability.
"I'm grateful for my magazine work. I did a year of covers for the Italian magazine Mobilita and it was a great experience. My style of photography is accepted in Europe because it's different. I just want to be viewed artistically and to be in a place where I can be recognized for my work. Great work will always be great work," Voelker reminded. "I work with digital format, but I also have my own dark room and use film. There's something organic to holding film in your hand and knowing your pictures will last 200 years."
Voelker is working on two books. One is titled Portraits of Ability showing people who have done something extraordinary, but happen to be disabled. The second book project will be focused on abstract nudes.
"I did a shot of a woman who is a painter and writer. They wanted a picture of Spring. My wife is a makeup artist and she painted the woman´s body as Spring. I shot her nude in her wheelchair and it's a beautiful shot. It was a great opportunity," Voelker noted. "Working with me, people know they're not going to be exploited or made to feel peculiar. My book of nudes will be inclusive of all shapes and sizes filled with images that are beyond the typical."
Voelker is willing to reach out and help others achieve their dreams. Currently, he is helping a Canadian gentleman with multiple sclerosis that has an interest in photography.
"It's cool to infuse the disabled community with my approach to photography. A lot of disabled people want to get into photography and I've become a mentor, helping them to find what kind of equipment would be advantageous for them. I'm willing to help," Voelker added. "I have a really cool life, I go places, I have a great occupation, and I work with my wife Melanie Manson, when she is not booked on other gigs, as she is a very accomplished and in demand makeup artist. I know that I have to compete with the best photographers in the world. As a freelance photographer, it's like applying for a new job every day. But, I love my work, so no sad violin music for me!"
To see Christopher Voelker's photography visit www.VoelkerStudio.com.
Pictured: A self-portrait of Christopher Voelker.
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