An in-depth interview with multiple award-winning fine-art photographer and architect Julia Anna Gospodarou. We don’t talk gear or techniques only art and photography.
This new series in which I will feature a photographer who has contributed to art in general and photography in particular, will start with a photographer who has largely influenced my style of photography and my vision on it: Award winning photographer Michael Levin who has won major International prizes for his outstanding art and who will soon be among the most imitated and influential photographers of this decade and the decades to come.
A SPECIAL INTERVIEW WITH JOEL TJINTJELAAR BY NATHAN WIRTH.
I’ve done many interviews in the past for magazines, e-magazines, blogs and so on but if someone would ask me which interview I’m most content with then I would always refer to this interview B&W fine-art photographer Nathan Wirth did with me on his excellent blog Slices of Silence,
It’s not just an interview with Q and A’s in the normal format in a normal time-frame but one that grew over time, over a time of 9 months to be more exact. I think it contains all I have to say about art and photography and my own work and why I do what I do.
You can read this interview here but here are a few quotes from the interview to get an impression:
Nathan: Yes — and it is that attention to light that has always drawn me to your work– especially how deftly you handle its relationship to shadow through the contrasts you yield so beautifully. I can guess for myself that you carefully calculate how you capture light, but I’d like to hear your thoughts on how your process works– from the choices you make before you press the shutter to the choices you make in the digital darkroom.
Joel: First and foremost: I want to create a thing of beauty. Beauty comes first– all the rest is just filler. Unlike many other artists, I am not trying to convey a particular message. Beauty in all its forms, physical or metaphysical, is everywhere and it lights a fire within me, one that makes me want to create things that move both myself and others.
I always try to move one or more steps away from reality. The more you move away from reality, the more you get to the essence of the artist. As an artist moves away from reality, he leaves a representation of things that are not based on the reality of the subject, but, rather, what the artist wants us to see and that only exists in his mind.
When one uses black and white, one already has deliberately moved a single step or more away from reality– and when one leaves that shutter open for as long as a few seconds to many minutes (or hours), one moves away from reality at least one more step, thus getting closer to a more personal vision of reality. I try to step even further away from reality by also molding the light and modifying the tonal relationships: it’s one of the fundamental characteristics of my work … light can be dark and dark can belight. Finally, time, when it comes down to it, is not something visual; rather, it’s both a continuous cumulative experience and a singular one-off experience. Such things are hard to grasp and they intrigue me.
Jeff Gaydash is an international award-winning Black and White Fine-art artist who has won some of the most coveted prizes in international photography competitions like the IPA and PX3 awards. Jeff lives in Troy, Michigan close to Detroit where he also runs his print studio for exhibition quality digital black and white photographic reproductions. His monochrome fine-art prints are custom made and of the highest exhibition quality and that’s what makes Jeff stand out from the rest of the international top photographers and print makers: Jeff knows what a fine-art artist thinks, sees and wants from a fine-art print since he’s an award-winning photographer himself. There are many fine-art photographers who use his printing services, including yours truly.
I’ve had the honor to interview Jeff about his photography and his fine-art printing studio. Please visit Jeff’s website www.jeffgaydash.com if you want to know more about him or use his monochrome printing services.
Interview with Jeff Gaydash
|JT:||Jeff, first of all I want to congratulate you on your recent double silver win at the prestigious PX3 Prix de la Photographie Paris awards for your Refinery and Solitude fine art photos and your 2nd place at the 2011 IPA with Along the Rouge River: Detroit’s Industrial Mecca. After having won the IPA One Shot award with ‘Yes’ I think it’s a confirmation of the true fine art artist that you are. Three international prizes in one year, that’s incredible. How do you feel about this and is this a preview of what we can expect from you in the future?|
|JG:||Thanks Joel, I am really excited about all the recent success I have had in the past year. Over the past 15 years or so, establishing a career and family became my highest priorities and creating art was something I just didn’t have time for. Commercial assignments took me even further from what I preferred to be doing with photography. About 2 ½ years ago I made a conscious decision to return to photography on my own terms. I decided to start making the kind of images that I wanted to make, which led me back to my first love of black and white photography. I set a goal of creating one image a month that I truly was happy with. I figured that would give me twelve images in a year’s time that I could be proud of. The PX3 and IPA awards have really helped solidify the notion that others are appreciating what I am doing with a camera. I can’t be certain what the future will bring but I have some big ideas that I am interested in pursuing.|
|JT:|| What kind of photographic equipment do you use and what is your favorite and why?
|JG:||Uh, the equipment question! Today’s digital cameras just don’t excite me very much. I really miss working with the view camera. It is a much more intimate process. Previewing an image on an LCD screen does not compare to the experience of viewing the scene before you on a ground glass. Working with large format you quickly realize that the camera is nothing more than a light-tight box holding a lens on one end and a piece of film on the other. It’s incredibly basic. You experience the physics of the light as the lens projects your subject onto the ground glass.Things are different with digital SLR’s. The camera is everything. It determines image quality in terms of resolution, sensitivity, dynamic range, etc. Today’s DSLR’s are truly amazing and they make photography very easy, but as powerful and convenient as DSLR’s are the experience of making photographs with them is not as rewarding to me as it is working with large format. However, I do love the convenience and increasingly good quality of digital capture. I am currently researching a number of view camera systems that will accommodate both film and digital backs.In my quest of converting to a completely digital workflow, I sold my favorite film cameras including a Rolleiflex TLR, Sinar 4X5, and a Zone VI 8X10. In regards to my current equipment, I love my tilt/shift lenses, mostly because they give me control similar to that of a view camera. The majority of my lenses are prime and manual focus. I also love my Really Right Stuff Ballhead. RRS makes some of the most beautifully designed and engineered photographic equipment I have ever seen.|
|JT:|| If I may characterize your work: your work is monochrome work of the highest quality with a great eye for subtle details. It’s work with the intention to be printed on paper, not just for online viewing. It shows in the subtle contrasts, the darker and warm tones and in the sensitive and subtle use of highlights in your seascapes. Just a few bits of whites but it creates such a fantastic atmosphere. It’s that subtlety that makes your work stand out from the rest. Do you spend a lot of time post processing your images? I feel there’s so much effort involved, as if you dodge and burn every single inch within that square frame. And is it your main objective to create work that should be printed on paper?
JG:When I approach a subject, I am definitely previsualizing a final print in my head. It’s just how I have learned to see things since I learned photography when the print was the end result. I would think someone who learned photography in the digital age will previsualize how an image looks on screen but I can’t personally speak to that.
I am passionate about the print. It’s something that is difficult for me to put into words. I see a fine print as a physical object of beauty. The physical qualities of the print become an extension of the photographic image itself. The tones and textures in the surface of a fine print begs the viewer to get in close and examine every nuance and detail. Many people don’t look at photographs at this level but for me it can be quite intoxicating.
I wouldn’t say I spend an excessive amount of time post-processing but it is very important, possibly more so than the capture itself. Post-processing is where the ordinary can become extraordinary. Ten photographer’s standing in the same spot will capture a very similar exposure but their processing techniques will most likely vary dramatically. For me it’s a process that can take a few days, sometimes even longer.
I use Lightroom for cataloging and rough editing but all my fine art image processing is done in Photoshop. I have been using Photoshop for over fifteen years so that’s where I naturally feel most comfortable. I work as non-destructive as possible and use mostly adjustment layers, layer masks, and gradient layers which allow me to continually make very minor adjustments until I have obtained my desired results.
|JT:|| There seems to be a consensus among fine art artists that there’s a difference between being a photographer and being a fine art photographer – an artist. The photographer mainly being someone recording the world as it is through his viewfinder and as his camera records it, and the artist being the one recording the world as it is through his mind’s eyes and the camera merely using as a tool to help him visualize the world he saw in his mind. That often involves necessary and heavily post processing of an image. How do you look at this – do you consider yourself an artist or a photographer?
|JG:||Photographer, artist or fine artist. It’s just a matter of semantics for me. Many artists put themselves on a pedestal claiming what they are doing is art and everything else is something of lower value. I think that is a fairly pretentious viewpoint.In its early history, photography wasn’t readily accepted as a form of fine art. Painter and sculptors viewpoints were that true fine art could not be made with a mechanical device. Alfred Stieglitz was instrumental in promoting photography as an accepted art form. Stieglitz however, did not believe a photograph was a finished piece of artwork until it was formally mounted. If you agree with Stieglitz then all this “fine art” photography being viewed online isn’t really fine art is it? I could take the point-of-view that I don’t believe a fine art photograph can exist in digital form and be viewed online, and that only true fine art photography exists as physical photographic prints that are exhibited in galleries and museums. My point is that we must first better define what fine art is and what it means to be a fine artist.My view is that if you have a camera and are taking photographs with it you are a photographer. If the photographer’s intent is to say something more with their camera than simply recording what they see in front of them, then I would most likely call this photographer an artist. The resulting image is insignificant; it’s the intent that matters. In other words, the visual content of a photograph does not determine whether or not it is art, it is the photographer’s reasoning in taking it.The term fine art is more specific, referring to the creation of works that are subject to aesthetic criteria and are most often displayed in galleries and museums. I tend to agree with Steiglitz in this respect and don’t really regard the digital files I post online as fine art. I especially don’t think that the amount of post processing done to an image has any bearing on it’s legitimacy as a piece of fine art.To sum this up, I believe that whether a photograph is art depends on the photographer’s intent, not on the photograph itself. Fine art to me is determined by the creation of a physical object with specific aesthetic properties that are usually viewed in galleries and museums and are often purchased and collected by art collectors.My intent is to show my photographic prints in exhibitions and ultimately be purchased for display in homes, offices or collected in private collections. By this definition I consider myself a fine art photographer.|
|JT:|| Personally when I’m working on an image I always try to stick to my highly subjective artistic rules when it comes down to post processing an image and when post processing becomes manipulation. I don’t have any problems to remove sensor dust, some leaves on the ground or even a part of a building disturbing the composition. But I have problems replacing an entire sky for instance – I feel the basics should be there, but that’s my own subjective opinion. When post processing an image, are there any limits for you? In other words how do you personally decide when an image is post processed to align it with your artistic vision or is manipulated?
|JG:||I believe this is one of the biggest debates between digital photographers today. How far should we go with our post-processing? It definitely is subjective and everyone seems to have his or her own opinion on the matter. I will give you my view on this and fully expect that many may disagree with me.There are inherent limits in traditional analog photography that define the aesthetic and essence of the medium. Throughout the history of photography, advancements in optics, chemistry and techniques slowly expanded the boundaries of what was possible in making a photograph. These relatively minor advancements over 175 years or so gradually altered the aesthetic of photography, yet the photograph remained unmistakably photographic in nature.Advancements in digital imaging have successfully expanded the photographic aesthetic with new techniques such as HDR, panoramic stitching and focus stacking. It is now possible to mimic just about any other visual medium such as a painting or a charcoal sketch. It has become popular to digitally simulate the look of analog photography, and there are applications that can automatically simulate film grain, dust and scratches, lens defects, fading colors and print borders. The rise of digital technology has effectively torn down the boundaries that defined analog photography. Digital photography, in essence is a completely new medium with a virtually limitless aesthetic.I often hear digital photographers state that they limit themselves to post-processing techniques that are only possible in the traditional darkroom, such as contrast and burning and dodging. I personally find it quite odd that someone would choose to severely limit his or her technique based upon an arbitrary point of technological advancement. If someone wants to work within those boundaries, why not just use a darkroom?Photographer Jerry Uelsmann is a master of analog darkroom printing. He uses multiple negatives and up to a dozen enlargers to produce spectacular surrealistic composite photographs. He can do more in a darkroom than most can accomplish using Photoshop. Uelsmann is a perfect example of someone who pushes the limits of what is possible within his medium. Ansel Adams also pushed the limits of photographic sensitometry to achieve the results he is now famous for.I personally don’t subscribe to the idea of limiting oneself but believe it is important for any artist to master their medium. This means pushing the limits of what is possible to achieve their creative vision. At the same time I believe we are obligated to maintain a high level of integrity in our work. It’s not my intention to deceive viewers into thinking my images are an accurate record of reality as they certainly are not! When I am exhibiting prints and am asked about my work I am very open about the processes and techniques I used to attain the final image.|
|JT:|| What are your objectives when creating fine art, is it your objective to convey a message, a mood, or to just simply produce a thing of beauty?
|JG:||I would like to think I am trying for all three. First and foremost, it is important that I stay true to my own vision and create images that I am personally proud of and capture images that interest me. Fine art is very personal, the end result being a reflection of the artist’s inner self.Personally, aesthetics are paramount. The challenge of creating a physical object of beauty is what drives me to continue making photographs. This is why I enjoy working in black and white and print using the highest quality materials and processes available.All art aspires to generate an emotional response from the viewer. Trying to convey a mood is one way of doing this and I certainly strive for this in my work.Conceptually, I am intrigued by the concept of time and it’s effects on things made by man. I find it interesting to juxtapose these ‘artifakts’ with nature. Using long exposure techniques helps emphasize the passage of time and nature’s inherent power, ultimately prevailing over these ‘artifakts’ and eventually returning them to their natural state.|
|JT:|| Do you have any favorite artists or favorite photographic works and of course we also want to know why you love them!
|JG:||One of my earliest influences was Frederick Evans, a photographic purist whose primary subjects were European Gothic cathedrals. He exclusively printed using the platinotype process. In the early 1900’s the price of platinum skyrocketed. Over 90% of the precious metal came from Russia and with the onset of WWI platinum was reserved strictly for war efforts. Evans retired from photography because he was no longer able to get platinum paper and refused to work with any other “lesser” printing methods. Frederick Evan’s work heavily influenced my college thesis project in which I documented Detroit’s historic churches and cathedrals, making platinum contact prints from digital 8X10 negatives.Photographer and painter Charles Sheeler has been a big influence on my interest in industrial photography. In the 1920’s Sheeler was commissioned by Ford Motor Company to photograph The River Rouge Plant. His photograph ‘Criss-Crossed Conveyors’ photographed at The Rouge is one of my all time favorite photographs. Michael Kenna also photographed The Rouge in the mid 90’s and his images have also been highly inspirational. I am hoping that my recent second place in the 2011 International Photo Awards for my series “Along The Rouge” helps me gain access to the facility myself.I am also influenced by the work of Joel-Peter Witkin. On a field trip to New York City we visited the Pace/MacGill Gallery. Knowing that Witkin was represented by the gallery, a few of us requested to see his prints. When the gallery curator brought them out, my life changed forever. Witkin’s subject matter aside, the stunning quality of his large prints was something that will stick with me for the rest of my life. Witkin uses various darkroom techniques such as toning, bleaching and negative scratching. While this look is easily and often mimicked digitally today, his prints are all hand crafted with unbelievable skill and beauty.Probably my favorite artists are Mike and Doug Starn. They are identical twins that continually push photography beyond its traditional boundaries. Their work is experimental, often very large and sculptural in nature. Seeing a Starn Twins exhibit in person is quite inspirational. I am starting to ‘think outside the mat’ and am currently experimenting with various alternative printing and display techniques. This is the direction I see myself going with my own work.|
|JT:|| In all interviews I do with artists I always bring up this digital era we live in and how it influences our lives in a very drastic way and also the (photographic) art we produce. Sometimes it looks to me like the real world we live in is becoming more and more an extension of the virtual world instead of the other way around. A digital and virtual world that sometimes defines the norms. Looking at photography and photo-sharing sites and other social media the norm is starting to be that a photo should only look good on your LCD screen with many artists just creating their art for online viewing. Print it on paper, for what? Maybe they’re right about that, the same is happening to books, newspapers and magazines: you just read them on your laptop or iPad or other mobile device, no need to go the newsstands to buy a real copy. Besides being an award-winning photographer you also print photographic art using high-end techniques and you offer that as a service to others as well. Can you tell us why we should print the art we all love on paper? What are the benefits of having your art printed on museum quality Hahnemühle paper with selenium Piezography inks for instance?
|JG:||I fell in love with photography prior to the digital era. The chemical process intrigued me. Exposing a sheet of paper in a darkroom and then watching it come up in the developer tray was a magical experience. Making photographic prints was what you did before digital; it was the very essence of photography.I am sure it is a very different experience for people who learned photography in the digital realm. The attraction to photography is very different. It’s no longer about strange smelling chemicals and fiddling around in the dark with light sensitive materials. It’s about megapixels, memory, computers and image editing software.I have always viewed photography as having three parts: the exposure, processing and the printing. When I first got into digital imaging, I saw Photoshop as the digital replacement for the processing, but there was still the issue of input and output. Image capture devices were still very expensive so I would shoot film and then use a lab for drum scanning. The missing link was the output.I was always looking for ways of getting my digital images back into the darkroom. I used LVT film output to create digital negatives and made contact prints on platinum paper using high-resolution halftone negatives. It wasn’t until I came across Piezography that I truly felt that a digital workflow could match (and exceed) the quality of traditional darkroom printing. I now print exclusively using Piezography and have recently started offering my printing as a service to other photographers interested in the highest quality digital black and white printing available.So why would a digital photographer be interested in making museum quality prints? My answer is that it is not for everyone. I think most hobbyists are perfectly happy with sharing their photos online or using an online service for prints. Fine art printing is for discerning photographers that want the absolute best digital output available. Fine art printing is for photographs that are intended to be exhibited and/or sold and collected. Using museum quality materials also addresses issues related to archival stability, yielding prints that can last hundreds of years.Another thing to think about is the fact that every monitor out there is different and the people viewing your images online all see it slightly differently than what the photographer originally saw on his or her screen. Exhibiting prints guarantees that your work is viewed exactly as it was intended.|
|JT:|| In the days of Ansel Adams it was assumed that a photographer not only captures the photo but also did the development of film, the post-processing including creating the final print in the darkroom. Creating the final print these days is now considered a separate skill not a skill or activity needed for a photographer to call himself a photographer but an activity that can be done by any printing lab. I think that printing is an art form that requires technical but also artistic skills to get the best out of any work of art. Do you agree on that and why do you love creating prints so much and what separates you from the average printing lab?
|JG:||Contrary to popular belief, many photographers did not print their own work but hired darkroom technicians to handle their printing. In some ways Adams was more the exception than the norm. Adams embraced the darkroom. Henri Cartier-Bresson was famous for hating it while John Sexton believes that 51% of an images success takes place in the darkroom.Things are quite different now with a digital workflow. Photoshop, Lightroom and other software have become today’s digital darkroom and fortunately most photographers today do their own post-processing. I see this as a step forward as a digital workflow allows much more control over the creative process than ever before.The big difference is that for most photographers today this is where the creative process ends. Most digital photographs never go beyond the hard drive. The ones that do are usually printed by some high-volume lab or on a home printer with an overabundance of confusing options and dialog boxes. Even more rare is a print that looks as good or better than how the image looked on screen.I don’t think digital printing today requires creative vision as much as it demands technical knowledge and experience in understanding what makes a technically good print. A bad print can look pretty good to someone who doesn’t know what a good print looks like. All it takes is a side-by-side comparison with a technically superior print and the differences suddenly become glaringly apparent.|
|JT:|| Suppose an artist decides to contact you and wants you to create some prints of his art for an exhibition. How can the artist be sure that you create a print that matches the artist’s ideas on the photo? Can you tell us how this process looks like?
|JG:||Well first and foremost I am a photographer and not just a technician. I try and take a symbiotic approach to working with other photographers. I get familiar with their work as a whole and will offer suggestions as to what ink and paper combinations I believe will work best with their images. Many clients I work with are very new to printing. I provide information to them on how to best prepare their files for printing and answer their questions as best as I can. I like to think that with all my years of printing experience, traditional and digital, that I know what a good print looks like. As an artist I know that leaving this interpretation up to someone else can be unsettling and I try my best to develop a level of trust with the photographers I work with.|
|JT:|| Since I consider creating prints an art form, who or what are your major inspirations?
|JG:||There are the traditional photography masters such as Minor White, Edward Weston, Imogen Cunningham, Alfred Steiglitz, Ansel Adams, and John Sexton that will always be a source of inspiration for me. These early masters of photography were instrumental in defining photography as a true art form and set the stage for today’s fine art photographers.From a digital standpoint, Jon Cone has been highly inspirational. Cone is founder of the world’s first digital printmaking studio, Cone Editions Press. He is a pioneer in digital printmaking, first developing software and inks for fine art output using IRIS printers and later developing what is now known as Piezography, the first commercially available system of producing fine art black and white digital prints. Jon Cone continues to push the limits of digital fine art printing and has some very promising new innovations coming out in the very near future.|
|JT:||Finally, any new projects you want to share with us?|
|JG:||I plan on continuing with my ongoing ‘Artifakts’ series and industrial work. I would like to tighten each series up a bit from a conceptual standpoint so that each body of work is a bit more cohesive than it currently is. For my next exhibition I would like to show larger prints than I have in the past. I have always liked the intimacy of a smaller print but lately feel that my subject matter would be more powerful shown in a larger scale.Most importantly I want to just keep creating, moving forward and not looking back at what I have done in the past. That’s the approach I have been taking lately and it seems to be working out pretty well.|
Susan Burnstine is an award winning fine art and commercial photographer originally from Chicago now based in Los Angeles. Susan is represented in galleries across the world, widely published throughout the globe and has also written for several photography magazines, including a monthly column for Black & White Photography (UK). Nominated for the 2009 Santa Fe Prize for Photography and winner of B&W Magazine’s 2008 Portfolio Spotlight Award.
Susan’s first monograph, Within Shadows, has been published by CHARTA EDITIONS was recently released in Europe at the The Venice Biennale in June 2011 and will be released the U.S. in September 2011. Books are now available for sale in the books section at her site. Additionally, Within Shadows earned the Gold award for PX3 Prix De La Photographie Paris in the Professional Fine Art Books category and a Bronze overall.
Please visit Susan Burnstine on www.susanburnstine.com to see her wonderful work yourself.
Interview with Susan Burnstine
|JT:||Your first book, a monograph, ‘Within Shadows’ has just been released. The book has received many great reviews and was also awarded the prestigious 2011 PX3 Gold Award in the professional fine art books category. Can you tell us more about your monograph? Why the title and what is it about?|
|SB:||Within Shadows is a body of work that explores the fleeting moments between dreaming and waking—the blurred seconds in which imagination and reality collide. Since the age of five, I’ve suffered from debilitating night terrors. Often, I’d walk around not knowing if I was dreaming of awake. My mother taught me to deal with the traumatic effects by drawing and painting elements of my nightmares and the practice helped me cope in my conscious world. But in my thirties, my mother died tragically and the night terrors returned. I sought a way to deal with my nightmares and loss by photographing my dreams. For sometime, I tried to photograph the dreams with every conventional camera I could get my hands on, but nothing communicated how I see my unconscious world. This led me to creating my own handmade cameras and lenses in 2005. These rudimentary cameras are frequently unpredictable and technically challenging. Thus, they required me to rely on instinct and intuition—the same toold that are key when attempting to interpret dreams.This body of work was conceived as a trilogy and is presented in three successive chapters, On Waking Dreams, Between and Flight, which explore three states of mind: dreaming (subconscious), sleeping (unconscious) and waking (conscious).The title Within Shadows has a dual meaning. One meaning refers to Carl Jung’s shadow world aspect, which may appear in dreams and can define elements within an individual’s state of mind. The title also refers to my own personal state of mind when photographing these images and also refers to use of shadow in the creation of these images.|
|JT:||Are there specific reasons why a fine-art photographer shouldn’t only try to get representation by art-galleries and get published in magazines, but also try to publish their work in a book? Any tips on getting a book published?|
|SB:||That’s a very broad question and there’s a multitude of ways to answer that for various individuals. What is right for one photographer is probably not right for another photographer. I can say that the progression into emerging and subsequently established status is a cumulative effect. But what is most important is making great work first and then worrying about marketing second. I think too many photographers worry about the end result before creating a fully realized body of work. Afterwards, the magazines, galleries and books fall into place regardless of the order.|
|JT:||Within Shadows is covering the three series On Waking Dreams, Between and Flight. You also have the State of Mind and Instinct series and I find especially Instinct is very different from your other work. Are these also about dreams or do they cover an entirely different matter?|
|SB:||Instinct is not based on dreams per se, but represented animals in dreams and the Native American belief of animal guides in the spirit world.|
|JT:||When I first stumbled upon your work a few years ago I was struck by the dreamy and surreal look and feel of your images and when I read about it learned that these were a result of artistically coping with your dreams and nightmares you’ve been having ever since you were a child. Now I’ve been having nightmares all my life as well, sometimes even on a daily basis and ever since I started picking up photography as a more serious pastime several years ago I’ve started to notice that the frequency of my nightmares has decreased significantly for the first time in my life. It is as if it worked therapeutically for me and I’m glad I don’t have those frightening nightmares anymore but at the same time I have to admit I’m missing my dreams, even the bad ones – I miss my daily escape to the subconscious world. I wonder if this also has been the case for you and if so did it change your approach to your themes in photography?|
|SB:||No, I’m afraid that’s not the case for me. My dreams are consistent and I tend to retain them on a regular basis. But my night terrors occur mostly after times of tragedy and loss.|
|JT:||One of the first things that came to mind when looking at your work was that your images must have been heavily edited in Photoshop to produce the dreamlike and surreal effect. Then, to my amazement I learned that these photos were all shot in-camera with home made analog cameras and lenses that were partially made from vintage camera parts or random household objects. Why do you prefer to do that instead of buying ready for use quality cameras and lenses? And wouldn’t it be easier and less time expensive using Photoshop or other digital tools to get the dreamlike effects?|
|SB:||An artist’s process is never about what’s easiest, but what communicates the message best. As mentioned above, I tried conventional cameras, but none of them communicated how I see my unconscious world. My father was quite the inventive spirit and he is the one that suggested I make my own cameras and lenses after I told him I was frustrated by not being able to create images that specified how my inner world appeared. I spent a good year teaching myself how to make cameras and lenses. Why do it? For a few reasons. First, I grew up in the darkroom and am a purist at heart. Also, authenticity of the image is important to me. Photoshop is a great tool and I am not judging it. I actually use it for my commercial work and for scanning my negatives… but I never use anything beyond curves, cloning dust and a bit of dodging and burning in photoshop, since those are tools I’d use in the darkroom anyway. This is just my personal process. Additionally, a significant element in my work involves being forthcoming about my conscious and unconscious world and essentially every image is a self-portrait of my inner world. It’s incredibly personal and honest work and using a post process technique that manipulates does not speak to me for this work.|
|JT:||You also print your work yourself. Printing high quality prints is a specific skill, an art that many great photographers don’t master or simply don’t have the time for. Can you tell us something about the printing process and why you choose to do it yourself?|
|SB:||It wouldn’t make sense for someone else to print my work if I am going so far to make my own cameras. The print is one of the most important aspects of the image for many artists, myself included. My process of hand varnishing prints is meticulous and time consuming. A large portion of my prints tend to become flawed in the process and only the perfect ones are sold in the galleries. So it’s also a very expensive process. The bottom line is that I think my prints are the best representation of my images and that’s why I put so much extra effort into the process.|
|JT:||Your work has been included in George Barr’s book ‘Why photographs work’. What defines a good fine art photograph in your view and why do you think your photograph ‘works’?|
|SB:||That is an incredibly broad question, which would be different for every image viewed. The only way I can summarize what I feel defines a good photograph for me… is how it speaks to me personally and if there is high level of thought and artistry involved in the work. Why do my photographs work? I can only answer that in a personal manner, rather than a critical one. For me, my images are honest, personal representations of my inner life, my feelings and the biggest questions that haunt me. And when others view the work and experience personal emotions, I feel as if I’ve achieved what I’ve set out to accomplish.|
|JT:||And what defines a good fine art photographer in your view? Does he/she need particular skills to succeed as a fine art photographer?|
|SB:||“Good” is a relative term. Again, I’ll go back to my previous statement. The work of an artist has to speak to me personally. Whether that is in the emotional content or technical achievements, there has to be a memorable element that communicates to me on some level.Skills that it takes.? Mostly, personal vision and persistence trump all other skills.|
|JT:||With the arrival of digital tools, the Internet, photo-sharing sites and social media like Twitter and Facebook, photography has changed in many ways: not only in the way we shoot, and post-process them but also in the way we share them with the outside world and in the way we try to get exposure as an artist and try to promote ourselves. In what way are you using these opportunities as an artist and in what way did it influence your way of working?|
|SB:||I have a facebook fan page, a newsletter that people can sign up for on my website and I recently launched a blog, http://blog.susanburnstine.com. I think social media has really changed the landscape of marketing in the business of photography and it makes it easier to communicate with others who like the work. It also has opened a number of doors for me in terms of exhibitions and important friendships.|
|JT:||And do you think that publishing work on the likes of Facebook can harm an artist since anyone can leave any comment on it?|
|SB:||That depends on the photographer and what they are looking for in comments. As an artist it’s your responsibility to learn how to filter criticism and what people’s intentions are. Essentially, only you can harm yourself. Everyone has an opinion and the more people you ask the more opinions you will get. This can be good and bad so you need to know how to filter these comments. Having a few trusted friends you can ask honestly is essential. But when it comes down to it, you have to trust your own instinct and intention. No one can tell you what you are trying to say, do or what you should have said or done. It’s up to you to attempt to convey your vision and message as effective as possible.|
|JT:||Who are your most important artistic influences and do you have any favorite work of (photographic) art?|
|SB:||My favorite work of art is Christina’s World by Andrew Wyeth and it’s been my favorite since I’ve been six years old. My first influences were the impressionists, then the pictorialists once I began immersing myself in photography.|
|JT:||What can we expect from you in the future, any new projects you’re working on?|
|SB:||I am currently working on my series, Absence of Being. What can you expect in the future? Stay tuned to find out. I never plan anything in advance including images I create that same day, so your guess is as good as mine.|
|JT:||Finally, do you have any tips for the aspiring fine art photographer?|
|SB:||Every image we create is essentially a self-portrait. What makes one photographer stand out? It is my belief that they have worked extensively on a vision or style that matches their own personal message or life theme. And that vision carries through in every image they make regardless of the type of camera or print.|
If you are new to this series of Spotlight interviews: my aim is to interview renowned and established fine art photographers who have made their mark in the world of photography and share their vision on fine art photography with our readers. As some of the regular visitors of www.bwvision.com may have noticed, I see fine art photography, just like Cole Thompson who has been featured in the previous Spotlight interview, as 1/3 the shot (camera technique), 1/3 the editing (B&W post processing techniques) and 1/3 the vision. The shot – basic camera techniques – and the editing are both explained in the various tutorials on this website. The vision however is something that just can’t be explained in tutorials only, although www.bwvision.com will attempt so in future tutorials. By doing interviews like the Spotlight interviews we will try to reveal a glimpse of the vision that constitutes the style of the art of those extraordinary photographers so this can be used as an inspiration to form your own style.
The third photographer in this series is Vancouver based and international award winning fine art photographer Marc Koegel. His work has been published in various leading photography magazines, his work represented by renowned art galleries worldwide. And on top of that he’s also the director of Vancouver Photo Workshop where Marc, together with internationally acclaimed artists like Joe McNally and Ralph Gibson share their experience, skills and their vision with aspiring photographers from all over the world. Truly one of the best and most renowned workshops in the world. It’s my pleasure to announce that Marc Koegel will share his thoughts on various aspects of fine art photography in this exclusive Spotlight interview.
– Joel Tjintjelaar
Note that there’s a workshop coming up in Calgary, Alberta. As of June 25, 2011 there are only 2 seats left available, so you have to react fast! Here’s more info on the workshop: http://www.vancouverphotoworkshops.com/workshops/long_exposure_calgary.php
Interview with Marc Koegel
|JT:||There’s something that struck me lately: many of the exceptionally gifted long exposure fine art photographers I admire come from Vancouver. Michael Levin, David Burdeny, you, and a few other outstanding photographers that are less known but have won international awards and I’m sure the world will get to know them sooner or later. Is there something in the air in Vancouver that inspire people to create such beautiful art or is it just simply coincidence?|
|MK:||Haha – Thanks for the compliment! Not sure if there’s something in the air, but I am convinced that it’s more than coincidence that so much photography is being done around here. I feel blessed to live in a place that offers such a variety of landscape – from the ocean to the mountains and everything in-between, there’s a lot for photographers to get excited about. Best of all, most of this pristine, seemingly endless scenery is very easily accessible; there are thousands of miles of coastal roads. I belief it’s the sum of all these elements that has made long exposure photography (of seascapes in particular) so popular in this area.|
|JT:||There’s a long time discussion going on that there’s a difference between a fine art photographer and ‘just’ a photographer. It’s also the difference between an artist and a photographer, a documenter and a creator. How do you look at this? Do you think there’s a difference and if so how would you define yourself and why?|
|MK:||I am very careful and hesitant with assigning labels to anything or anyone. I do photography because I simply love to take pictures! Photography is a medium that lets me express myself. It let’s me act out my creativity. And it challenges me, everyday again and again. I consider myself only to be as good as my next photograph. And this should be the measure. Labels fail to achieve this.I do speak of myself as a fine-art photographer, but the extend of this definition is limited to the fact that I want people to understand that I do not get paid for my photography in the same way commercial photographers do. I head out to shoot because I simply feel compelled to, not because a client has handed over a cheque…Of course it’s nice to sell a photograph, but this will never become a major driving force behind my photography.|
|JT:||When I first stumbled upon your work a few years ago I was struck by your architectural images because I thought it was different from the architectural work I saw up till then. In fact I’ve been using your work for quite a long time as a reference for all other architectural images I saw or created myself. They inspired me to a large extent. Do you love architecture in particular or was it just a nice object that was useful for your photography?|
|MK:||I thought long and hard about this while reflecting back on my own work and development as a photographer over the years. I do love architecture, in fact this was the initial direction of my photography after I graduated from photography school and launched my commercial career. I am inspired by lines, shapes, textures, and even the incredible variety of (building) materials. A great Photographer once told me: ‘ Photographers must know how to take pictures of two subjects: The Nude, and Architecture. Everything else will be easy once those two subject matters have been mastered.’ As a ‘young’ architectural photographer working for commercial clients, I often had to create images with perfectly straight lines and angles. Today, I approach each architectural photograph by first thinking about what features the architect would be most proud of. I let the camera move and perspective flow freely, which is often the direct opposite of what I would have been able to do working for commercial clients. In many ways, the lines and shapes found in architecture mimic those found in natural landscapes. When I started taking long exposure photographs of urban environments and architecture, I think it was my history and early fascination with the subject that made me ‘slip back’ into it rather easily.|
|JT:||Can you tell us something about the Tattoo project? What did you try to convey here or is it simply a matter of beauty?|
|MK:||The Tattoo Project was a huge but also very exciting challenge for me. Prior to starting working on it, I had very, very little knowledge of this community and of tattooing in general. After completing it, I am still no closer to getting a tattoo myself, but I have gained enormous respect for the people I met. And I learned a lot about the tattoo industry.The basic premise behind the ‘Tattoo Project’ was to celebrate tattoo culture through photography. We had 12 photographers occupying virtually every square inch of my 7500 square foot studio facility. So much so that I ended up shooting in the underground parkade (as all space upstairs was spoken for by the time I was ready to setup myself).We had about 100 ‘models’ come in over a 3 day period. Each ‘model’ was photographed by the majority, if not by all, of the 12 photographers working on the ‘Tattoo Project’. To view the resulting images, including interviews with each photographer, you can visit: http://www.vanishingtattoo.com/pg/tattoo_project_photographers.htmWhen photographing, my intention was to convey a sense of personality and individuality. I wanted to highlight the tattoos, but without loosing sense of the person who choose to get them done. I kept my setup very simply. My location was an underground garage, bare concrete floors and walls. I had 2 fluorescent lights, and shot using Polaroid ‘Chocolate’ film. This yielded instant images, without the opportunity to do any post production at all. The best part was that I could share these images with my subjects instantly, which helped built rapport and got them excited to work with me. While the ‘digital shooters’ took dozens of frames, I limited myself to only 2 images each (mostly due to film costs). Every resulting image is a truly unique original, just like each of my subjects.On my website you can see images that I have scanned, but the gallery exhibition I actually showcased the original 3.5” x4.5” inch original chocolate Polaroid prints.|
|JT:||What defines a good fine art photograph in your view and what prevails: aesthetics or mood/a deeper message?|
|MK:||All depends on the photographer’s intention. It is challenging to do either one, and most difficult to do both. I don’t think there is something like a ‘standard’ definition as to which to hold and judge a photograph. The same image may evoke a variety of conflicting feelings in people it is shown to.Ultimately, it is the photographer himself who has to judge. It is crucial to examine your own photographs in great detail, keeping in mind that a great one is a mere ego stroke but a poor or bad images teaches you valuable lesson(s). I have learned tremendously from my mistakes, and I am glad that I continue to make them because otherwise my photography would become stagnant, predictable, and boring very quickly.A good photograph to me is the one that closely follows my intention. This is true whether I want to create something simply aesthetically pleasing, or full of a deeper meaning/message.|
|JT:||And what defines a good fine art photographer in your view? Does he/she need particular skills to succeed as a fine art photographer?|
|MK:||Again, it all depends on your intentions. If you aim to get your work into lots of galleries and sell prints to collectors then your business skills are likely more important than your photographic knowledge. On the other had, if your intention is to find joy and fulfillment in your photography, then you ought to keep shooting until you feel that way about your work. The concept of ‘it takes 10.000 hours to become an expert in anything’ comes to mind. I have been shooting seriously for just over 10 years. That’s really a rather short period of time, and consequently I know that I still have to learn a lot more.|
|JT:||With the arrival of digital tools, the Internet, photo-sharing sites and social media like Twitter and Facebook, photography has changed in many ways: not only in the way we shoot, the way we post-process them but also in the way we share them with the outside world and in the way we try to get exposure as an artist. I feel that there are still many outstanding photographers who continue to follow the traditional path and not using the increasing (marketing) opportunities that this digital era is providing us. In what way are you using these opportunities as an artist and in what way did it influence your way of working?|
|MK:||Very good question! I do agree that the opportunities to share our photography have never been greater. I am only getting started with it all as far as my personal photography is concerned, but I have been following these trends for the past few years and have taken advantage of it when it comes to my photo workshop business (www.VancouverPhotoWorkshops.com). I am now looking to take this knowledge and apply it to getting my personal photography out there.As far as influencing my workflow I have been taking ‘behind the scenes’ footage (both stills and video) when I am out photographing for the past several years, and now I am looking into getting things sorted and into shape so that it can be shared effectively.|
|JT:||I think most readers are always interested in the equipment, so I have to ask you: what do you use? Digital, film, both and what do you prefer? Large format, Medium format? Filters or any other equipment?|
|MK:||I use both film and digital capture. I think it’s a big mistake to see digital as simply a ‘replacement’ for film. They are both distinct processes with a distinct set of limitations and creative opportunities. To name just one example as it applies to my workflow, film lets me capture very long exposures of several hours without any concerns of quality loss, while digital let’s me capture panoramic images without the need for a separate camera. I routinely bring both, film and digital cameras to my shoots and decide which to use depending on what creative vision I want to act out. Sometimes I shoot both so I can decide later.I am happy to report that I continue to get film shooters in my workshops, and I think it’s a great opportunity for everyone to learn from each other. Digital shooters are always amazed at the ‘quality’ of film when reviewing the contact sheets. Straight out of camera, I belief film can look much ‘better’; Raw files are in color and most need work and post-production before the final look and impact is realized.For film, I most often use either my Toyo 4×5 (for architecture) or a Mamiya 7 (for portability). When shooting digital, I use a Phase One almost exclusively now, but many images on my website have been shot with a Nikon D3s, Canon 1ds Mark III or 5D Mark II. The Canon and Nikon cameras are more portable, and allow the use of tilt/shift lenses, which I prefer to use for my architectural images.|
|JT:||There are many photographers who claim that a photo should be straight out of the camera and others, mainly fine art photographers, who claim that post processing is essential to align their vision with the actual result. How does your workflow look like after you’ve shot the photo and what are your thoughts on post-processing?|
|MK:||I clearly remember my first ever photography course I took. My instructor was a big believer of ‘getting it right in camera’. With film, there was a huge argument for this, especially when shooting slide film, which left very little to no room for any post production. When you think about, choosing a certain film stock and emulsion is almost like choosing your post-production (but do so before you ever take your first frame).When I look back at my photography, I used to shoot film exclusively until about 5 years ago, when digital camera finally became ‘worthy’ of taking a serious look at. When I shot film, I used very little post-production, if any. I did scan my images, but the reason was to share those images on my website not so that I could do extensive work in Photoshop.In recent years, as I have moved more into using digital capture, I find myself doing a lot more post-production. It has given me incredible freedom and ability to achieve my artistic and creative goals. I have spoken already about the fact that film and digital should be treated not as replacement but really as distinct processes. I strongly belief that In order to achieve the full potential of digital, one cannot ignore post production workflows. I am not saying to rely on post production to fix mistakes, I still try to ‘get it right in camera’ even now shooting digital. But the meaning of his concept has changed. If you are confident and aware of what can be achieved in the digital darkroom then this knowledge will influence the way you shoot with your digital camera.If I am given 10 hours to spend on my photography, I aim to use as much as possible of it on actual shooting out in the field. But I know that I can only achieve my artistic vision by working in Photoshop. I consider Photoshop is part of the picture taking (or making) process now. Ansel Adams was a true master of the traditional wet darkroom, and for those who ever had the privilege to view his original negatives this fact becomes very, very obvious. He couldn’t have achieved the quality, look and feel of his images with ‘in-camera’ techniques alone.Looking back at my own work, I definitely see a trend to increased use of post production. Many people have asked if I would ever consider ‘re-opening’ old images and do more, or better, post production to them. My answer to this is ‘no’. Not only have I sold such images, I also feel that my work should be kept authentic. I’d like to think that I have grown as a photographer, and my process has evolved. As I have embraced more digital capture technologies, I have acquired more skills in using post production at the same time.|
|JT:||Who are your most important artistic influences and do you have any favorite work of (photographic) art?|
|MK:||Where should I start here? There are so many incredible photographers out there, and the internet makes it easier than ever to discover their work. A few influences that stand out to me are Ralph Gibson, Edward Burtynsky, Michael Kenna and Alexey Titarenko but the list goes on much furher…|
|JT:||When I shoot or post process an image I always try to be inspired by another photo or by music. Especially when post processing an image I like to put up some music that evokes a deep emotion in me and seems to affect the way I edit my image and the end result. Who/what is your muse? Or don’t you need one?|
|MK:||When opening an image for the first time, I try to recall what prompted me to press the shutter in the first place. I do my best to re-connect with my initial inspiration, and let the image itself be the inspiration. I keep a notebook with me when I am out shooting, and I use it to help me remember what first attracted me to photograph a certain scene. I usually have a strong sense of what I want to accomplish right from the start. Pre-visualization, how I like to call it, is very important and a skill that needs years of experience to accomplish. It’s a great challenge to teach this to my students, but I belief that a successful photographer should have the final photograph in mind already at the time of pressing the shutter in the field.I think it’s virtually impossible to not be inspired by others. In my opinion, photographic style is discovered ‘after the fact’, meaning after taking a good look at your work after years of practice you should be able to identify certain ‘trends’, visual elements, even techniques you see yourself using again and again.I do put music on while I am editing, and I try to be as comfortable as possible. The goal is to make editing as enjoyable as possible, but ultimately I am inspired by the single image and whether I am able to create what I say in my minds eye at the moment I originally pressed the shutter.|
|JT:||Not only are you a fine art photographer but you’re also the director of Vancouver photo workshops. What type of workshops do you provide and what can people expect from you when attending a workshop?|
|MK:||When I started teaching I thought I would be committing one, maybe two, nights a week doing so. I love meeting, and learning from, my students and fellow instructors. Photography has enriched my life in countless ways, and teaching it has lead to many experiences I will cherish for the rest of my life.I started Vancouver Photo Workshops in late 2004, with the aim to bring unique photographic education to Vancouver. Though the company has grown beyond my wildest dreams, we continue to operate like a small and intimate family business. I’m at the studio 7 days a week, and my wife and daughter are usually with me. When we moved to our current studio facility, my then 1-year-old daughter was excited to have so much space to run around. Everyone working here I consider to be a personal friend, and I feel the same about many of my students. I am careful not to grow so big that I couldn’t be involved in the day-to-day activities any longer. I don’t want to be stuck behind the desk doing administrative work. I want to sit in on courses and workshops, and know my students by name when they come in. One of the most unique ‘features’ about VPW has been our Master Series Workshops. We have had more internationally acclaimed photographers come and do workshops for us than any other photography school or workshop facility in Canada. As the Director, I got to meet and sit in on workshops by greats like Mary Ellen Mark, Jay Maisel, Joe McNally, Ralph Gibson, Greg Gorman, Arthur Meyerson and many more.In early 2007, I started teaching long exposure photography workshops, and I am happy to report that to this day, it has been one of our most popular workshop offerings. Students have come literally from all over the world, from as far as Norway, Spain, New Zealand, Africa, Mexico and Australia. I feel blessed having had the opportunity to meet all those people, and I am aware of my ‘responsibility’ of making their long trip worthwhile. I recall one student sitting and shaking his head in one of my earlier workshops. The workshop had only just started, and I stopped my lecture to ask whether there was something wrong. The student, Michael, replied: “I am just so blown away and in disbelief that you really are sharing everything. All of your tricks and techniques that may have taken you years to build. I asked another photographer once, and he wouldn’t share anything, in fear of me copying and taking away from his business.’I belief that if you’re confident in your abilities as a photographer, then you should have no reservations whatsoever about sharing it with the world. This is what you can expect if you come to one of my workshops. No question or subject is taboo. And the atmosphere is very intimate and personal. I even pick you up from your hotel in the morning…|
|JT:||What can we expect from you in the future, any new projects you’re working on?|
|MK:||Currently I am working on finishing up work on my ‘Canadian Prairies’ Series. It’ll take me another trip out there and a few more months and it should be ready for exhibition. I am very excited about this series, it’s one of the longest and deeply satisfying set of images I have ever worked on. This developing series has received much positive feedback from galleries and independent collectors alike, so I am looking forward to having a finished product.I also have a new blog and DVD project in the works, both of which will be ready for release later this summer! Last but not least, we are expecting our first son on July 2nd, so life will surely be hectic but also very exciting around here. Since our daughter was born 2.5 years ago I must have taken over 15k images of her. So here comes another photographic opportunity!|
|JT:||Do you have any tips for the aspiring fine art photographer?|
|MK:||Bring your camera with you wherever you go. It’s much easier to take pictures that way! This advice was given to me by photographic legend Jay Maisel. It’s similar to the 10.000 hours rule, but stretches further by making you aware that for many masters of the medium, photography is not a mere ‘job’ but a lifestyle. I don’t know many mechanics who take their tools out to walks and social gatherings, but I know a lot of photographers who leave their camera at home despite the fact that they’re heading out to where lots of photographic opportunities exists. Practice truly is king.Another word of advice is to look at and examine lots and lots of (good) photography. I continue to be surprised when students who claim to be ‘very’ excited about photography cannot name a single photographer they get inspired by. I’m not talking about trying to copy anything or anyone, but I think it is not only OK to let yourself be inspired, it is actually necessary to keep you going and growing as a photographer. We don’t exist in isolation! It’s great to try new things, especially if you fail the first time which in turn creates opportunities to learn and improve your craft overall.Finally, I like to pass on another word of advice I was given by Ralph Gibson, who continues to be one of my greatest inspirations. When asked what to do to get better as a photographer, Ralph replied: ‘find a comfortable chair, take what you think is your best image, sit down, and examine that image for at least 3 hours. Don’t take your eyes of the image the entire time. I guarantee you will be a better photographer afterwards.’I couldn’t agree more. If you’re serious about your photography you got to take responsibility for every square inch of your frame. You got to raise questions, think about how to improve an image if given a second chance. This awareness will have you avoid mistakes and give you better pictures next time around.|
Finally, below are 2 photos of the same subject in the same location that shows how by just altering the camera position you can get a completely different look and feel of the same wooden pilings in Point Roberts.