If you’ve spent any time in the audiophile world, the name Grado Labs is probably a familiar one. A Brooklyn-based, family-owned business since 1953, Grado is best known today as a maker of high-end headphones, though it began as a maker of phono cartridges for record players, which it still makes today. After recently discovering via Twitter that Jonathan Grado (the company’s head of marketing) is a devoted Union Street owner, we met up for coffee with him near our Soho offices. We learned that Jonathan is actually the third generation of Grados to be involved in the family business and that he is an avid photographer, both personally as well as in his capacity as VP of Marketing.
Jonathan carries the Union Street messenger in smoke.
ONA: How did you get into photography?
JG: My grandfather was a painter and art professor, my brother and mom are both great at drawing and painting, and my dad builds headphones. For me, my creative outlet was always photography. The first photo I can remember taking was of my dad when he shaved his mustache for the first time in years, but I was only around seven years old, so it was just me running around the house taking a million photos more than anything else. (I’m pretty sure it was a disposable camera too.) It’s been a passionate hobby up until recently, when it became an important part of Grado’s narrative.
ONA: What camera do you shoot with? What is your “go to” lens of choice?
JG: I currently use the Fuji XT-1 and love it. It’s nimble, compact, and pretty versatile. In the past fifteen years I went from a Canon point-and-shoot, to the first Olympus PEN, to the Nikon D7000, and now the Fuji. I still own and use the Nikon, but mostly for macro photography. I bring my Fuji everywhere, and the XF 23mm f/1.4 is always on it.
ONA: What type of projects drive your creativity? And what is your dream project?
JG: At first it was always documenting my travels — San Juan, Trinidad, Seattle, a few blocks from my house, etc. Recently, though, my company, has ahd a new focus on great photography. We haven’t advertised since 1964, so it’s always been about word-of-mouth. If someone finds out about us, it’s most likely because a friend told them about us, they read an article on us, or they see a photo of us. We make the best headphones we can make, so why not take the best photos we can take? Honestly, since I started focusing on Grado’s photography, I haven’t had as much time for my own. It’s a sacrifice I’m happy to make — it’s always exciting to see your product come out in a really nice photo. When I am able to do a personal photo project though, I feel even better about it now. It’s kind of like a vacation.
ONA: What is the hardest thing about being a photographer?
JG: The hardest thing about being a photographer is having confidence in your work. At least for me it is. My favorite parts of the whole process are the scouting, setup, framing, shooting, and editing. I know, that’s basically everything. Posting though. Posting your work and putting your name on something. Pressing that one button to send your photo out there can be the most exhilarating and scariest part of the whole process. There are a lot of times I doubt my work right before I post it. It’s still something I’m working on — it’s something to overcome.
ONA: Describe your style of shooting.
JG: Most of the time it’s off the cuff. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve said, “I wish I had my tripod with me” (spoiler: I literally never have it on me). The most planning I’ll do is bringing my camera knowing that I’m leaving my house. Some people think that Grado has a photography department and they’ll email us asking to be a part of it somehow. What really happens, though, is I’ll bring a pair of headphones and a camera out, and hope that a friend is free to wear or hold them in some photos. I have made some new found friends since we started Grado’s Instagram and they’ve been a blast to work with. Some have actually become very good friends.
ONA: In one sentence, what advice would you give to a photographer just starting out?
JG: Don’t be afraid to make mistakes; keep in mind that you can shoot as much as you want and practice editing to your heart’s content. (With two exceptions: if you’re shooting with film or if you’re getting paid…you’d probably want some experience before you jump into that space).
ONA: How did you hear about us?
JG: About four years ago I came across ONA while researching camera bags online. I had brought it up a few times that spring, and come my birthday it turns out my brother had gotten me one. Four years later, it just so happens Grado and ONA have become friends. It’s nice when things work out!