David Friedman has successfully caught our attention with his intelligent and educational videos series called the Inventor Portrait, in which a intimate and personable look at an inventors life is revealed. Now we ask that you turn your attention towards, the inventor of the Inventor Portrait himself – David Friedman.
What was a device or method you found essential to getting your Inventor Portrait video series to be received as well as it was? I don’t speak about the series in past tense because I’m still working on it as a long-term project. But I’m teasing out bits and pieces as I go because I’m terrible at keeping a secret and I think it’s a pretty cool project. My main device in getting recognition has been word of mouth online (word of keyboard?). I have a blog called Ironic Sans that started as a place to post my thoughts and ideas unrelated to my work, and over the years it grew a reasonable-sized and media-savvy audience and was featured in several national print and online publications for one reason or another. So when I have something I think may be of more general interest, I cross-post it there from my business blog and it automatically gets a wider audience. I may also shoot off a few emails to people I know who link to these sorts of things so they don’t miss it. If it’s good enough, it will take off from there.
How did you go about picking which inventors you wanted to feature? I’m mainly interested in people whose stories inspire, either because of their success, creativity, or even lessons they learned in failure. I’m also of course looking for visual interest in the person, their invention, and/or location, so a guy who’s fantastic on camera but has a dull invention might still make the cut. Now that I’ve shot more than 40 inventors, I also think in terms of the overall project and how a person would fit in. For example, I would like to have more women inventors in the project; but I find that many women invent things that are domestically focused, and I don’t want to create the impression that women only invent products for the kitchen or bedroom. So I may pass over someone simply because I feel I’ve covered their ground too much already. And I may reach out to other inventors who I think fill a niche I haven’t explored yet.
Of all the inventors you have interviewed who was your favorite or most interesting? On a personal level, I was excited to talk with people like Dean Kamen (the Segway), Douglas Engelbart (the computer mouse), and Art Fry (Post-it Notes). Getting to pick the brains of such smart people is one of the reasons I do this project. But one of the most interesting inventors I’ve profiled is a man who has had no success at all. His name is Brent Farley and his mind is overflowing with ideas. It’s not a stretch to say that he’s obsessed with inventing. But he’s an awful businessman who doesn’t have the skills or luck necessary to bring any of them to market. While some people might give up, he keeps trying, and this obsession has adversely affected his life. To top it all off, he’s just an interesting character, coming across like an aging rock star dreamer who never quite made it. His story is equal parts admirable and tragic. He’s a bit like the Ed Wood Jr. of invention (without the cross-dressing).
What has been the most challenging project you have had to work on in your career? Why? I spent most of my career as a staff photographer, first for Christie’s auction house and then for Polo Ralph Lauren. Once I quit to freelance and work on personal projects, I lost the comforts that go along with a staff position and began facing the biggest challenges in my career: time management and getting new work. That may not be what you mean by “the most challenging project,” but in truth it’s an ongoing project I work on every day. Interestingly, there’s a parallel with my experience and what I see in my inventors: those who invent for large companies have the benefit of financial backing and infrastructure support, which goes a long way. The independent inventors have a much harder struggle in getting their inventions financed and seen.
Where did you grow up? And how did where you grew up or your family influence where you are today? I grew up in Phoenix, but I’m not sure my location influenced me very much. I generally felt it was a pretty boring city. Perhaps because I grew up in the desert, I became jaded by it. Only after I moved to New York and realized some people have never seen a saguaro cactus in person did I think about it as something special.
What/who is on your radar right now? Tim Schafer, the creator of many classic computer adventure games, who just broke records raising $3.3 million on Kickstarter to create a new game. It really makes me think about the potential for creatives to work directly for consumers, and how this is going to keep changing in the years to come. Also, I’m a fan of his games and look forward to seeing what he does with all that money.
Watch 8 videos from the Inventor Potrait series on David Friedman’s Vimeo page here. Here is the most recent release from the Inventor Portrait: Ralph Baer – most commonly known as the father of video games.