James Quantz, Jr., makes people look like superheroes. The Columbia-based photographer works to achieve the art of hyperreality, using advanced techniques to tell a story through images. Thus, he endeavors “to recreate something that could be real but in a visually heightened manner using several visual tools such as light, color, movement, and selective focus,” he says.
“Quantz” readily answers to his surname from many, but Stephanie, his wife, calls him Jay as do many friends and family. He attended Hammond Academy for nine years, then Woodberry Forest School in Virginia before earning a dual degree in business and history from Presbyterian College. “My mom was a big Carolina fan,” he says, “so she inflicted that passion on me as well.”
Quantz is more than just a fan. He has become somewhat of a secret weapon for the University of South Carolina Gamecocks. He knows many players well, having worked with them throughout their college careers, sometimes beginning with recruiting visits. Basketball players A’ja Wilson, Sindarius Thornwell, P. J. Dozier, Justin McKie, and Duane Notice all posed for Quantz either before or after signing with Carolina.
Various athletic teams frequently enlist his help to create images for posters and video boards and larger-than-life banners. Enlarged action shots of the USC men’s basketball team were even displayed on buildings in Times Square during the NCAA tournament in March. Yet, for Quantz, the wow factor of seeing his photos supersized, even in New York, has to be kept in perspective. “If I focused on how and where all of these images will be used the pressure would be immense!”
Dawn Staley, coach of the 2017 national champion USC women’s basketball team, was the first coach to invite Quantz to photograph a recruiting visit. Coach Staley personally supervises her team’s publicity photos and has a collegial relationship with Quantz. For that shoot, the players had hair and makeup done in the studio. The extra attention to detail, along with Quantz’s expert lighting, helped to capture both the athletes’ femininity and athleticism.
Now that photo shoots for recruits are becoming more common at universities across the country, Quantz’s goal is to help Carolina do it better than everyone else. For football recruiting visits, Quantz takes a trip to the Gamecocks’ locker room.
When Quantz shot the “Forever Loyal” poster for the Gamecock men’s basketball team, BP Skinner Clothiers was enlisted to style the players.
“It was fun working with these guys with briefcases and watches and stuff,” Quantz recalls.
Canadian Duane Notice, who had never worn such a nice suit, FaceTimed via iPhone his mother from the studio so she could see what he looked like. She cried and told him how proud she was.
“We had already photographed him in his uniform, so I flipped through some of the pictures of him dribbling and what not. So, that was a powerful moment for sure.”
Some college athletes have even considered putting together modeling portfolios with Quantz’s help. Though he often works out of town — Quantz has clients in New York, Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, Charlotte, and Atlanta — he would love to spend more time in his own studio. He says, “Who knows, I might even do some family portraits this fall, so I have different projects rotating through here.”
As a child, Quantz took snapshots of the animals at Riverbanks Zoo with a one touch camera. He still takes pictures at Riverbanks and at the Atlanta Zoo; his early-developed enjoyment of animal photography has translated into commercial projects like the cover of comedian Chelsea Handler’s book, Uganda Be Kidding Me.
Quantz remembers, “I went just like any other person to the zoo, and I hung out by the elephants a lot because I needed to photograph their trunks in different positions so that I could show them in an entertaining manner for the book’s cover.” Though he photographed Chelsea Handler herself in Hollywood, Quantz took background shots for her book cover in Columbia Metropolitan Airport’s baggage claim area.
“What was funny is that I had the camera on a tripod and a self-timer because I wanted these doors to kind of open, so I would set it on a self-timer and then run to make the doors open. Whoever was watching me on the security feed was like, ‘What is this fool doing?’”
Quantz remembers going with his father to the old Kmart on Fort Jackson Boulevard to buy his first 35mm camera. At Woodberry Forest, after he suffered an injury playing football, he decided to use that camera to shoot images of the games.
“The guys who were putting together the newspaper and the yearbook were using the same darkroom, so they saw my pictures in there and asked if they could use them for the sports’ section. That was my first semblance of working the camera and crossing into the sports world.”
Currently, Quantz works with athletes like NASCAR’s Danica Patrick, and pro-football players Rob Gronkowski of the New England Patriots, Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons, and Giancarlo Stanton of the Miami Marlins. He admits that working with well-known athletes can be intimidating, particularly when high-profile shoots go awry. “You’ve got to figure out how to work around it without showing any panic or loss of confidence, especially when you’ve got a pro-athlete in front of your camera. I’ve had cameras break; but, I always have a back-up. You always account for that kind of stuff. That’s the pressure, but at the same time, you can’t dwell on that while you’re doing it, or you freak out.”
Quantz cultivates a relaxed environment in the hope of earning the trust of his clients. “You get those kind of unstaged moments, and that’s big in commercial photography,” he says.
He is always looking for those shots that tell a story or provide a glimpse into someone’s personality. “When I work with the pro teams, they’ll hook a big monitor up to my computer so NFL and NBA guys can see. Once they realize that you’re there to make them look good, usually it’s just a cakewalk from that point on.”
At a typical photo shoot in Quantz’s local studio, clients awaiting their turn in front of the camera might lounge on a sofa while playing video games or relax at the kitchen counter with a bottle of water. They can listen to music of their choice on the studio’s sound system, and during their photo session they will hear encouraging comments, dappled with good-natured laughter, from the photographer.
“If someone’s uncomfortable in front of your camera, that’s the worst,” he maintains. “I mean, a lot of people, including me, when I have to have my photo taken, it’s like going to the dentist or something, you know?”
Quantz immensely enjoys working with both college and professional athletes. “It’s just fun to watch these guys who have all this natural talent,” he says. “What’s fun about working with them, too, is that they’re open to creative suggestion.”
He strives to depict those moments when the crowd is going crazy or a great receiver returns the ball for an extra yard. Demonstrating how he re-creates a football move on the set, Quantz rushes back and forth in front of the camera, like his football player subject would, to create a sense of motion. For the shot, he uses a red color gel instead of white light, to visually record the player’s movements. Red was chosen, he says, because it was the closest to Carolina garnet.
“I’ve got the camera open, and I’ll say, ‘go,’ and basically it’s a second from here to here. It’s a flash, and it freezes the action. Modern-day cameras are pretty incredible.”
Athletes and celebrities are not the only ones who benefit from Quantz’s creativity. Chad Henderson, the artistic director for Trustus Theatre, has worked with Quantz for several years, most recently on a publicity poster for the play “Rock of Ages.”
Chad says, “You may walk into his studio on Millwood with expectations of what the final product will be, but it’ll always wind up being something much more exciting than you ever imagined. His photos are absolutely amazing, and he constantly works to get the focus and lighting perfect. While he’s willing to make adjustments post production, he always wants a strong photograph in the can first.”
Making adjustments often means using Photoshop to drop a studio image into a background photo from his vast, digital files. Whenever Quantz travels, he takes background shots, not knowing when he might need them. He photographed ballerina Sara Mearns at the Koger Center and inserted it into a shot of the Brooklyn Bridge that he had taken earlier, making it look as though she were dancing on a beam, high above traffic.
Quantz’s portfolio also includes portraits of actress Andie McDowell, artist Blue Sky, and musician Drink Small; however, he is most passionate about a personal project, “Revolution: Rise of the Swamp Fox,” a series of photographs illustrating the Revolutionary War stories of Francis Marion. The series received a gold ADDY award from the American Advertising Federation in 2015.
“You try to do more than just snap a picture,” Quantz says. Looking at one of his Gamecock sports photos, which looks better than reality, he acknowledges, “Yeah, it’s kind of hyperreal, like a re-creation of an epic moment.”