Archive for August, 2010

Artist Interview: Guillermo Martin

Monday, August 30th, 2010

The fifth winner in the 2010 Portfolio Project is Guillermo Martin. Guillermo was born in Buenos Aires, grew up in Madrid, and now lives and works in Dallas. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, his art is also cosmopolitan in its concentrations, presenting beautifully composed images of lands remote and exotic from what most of us are used to. Fishermen of Hue is a wonderfully dramatic, densely detailed document of the daily life of fishermen in the Vietnamese town of Hue.
Fishermen of Hue, by Guillermo Martin

  • Can you please tell me about the winning image you submitted, Fishermen of Hue? What’s the story behind it?
  • This image was taken on one of my trips to Southeast Asia; in Hue, Vietnam. I was taking pictures of a fishing market in the village, and walked towards the back of the market, close to the water. I observed how there was a constant activity of fishermen coming and going bringing their fish in their baskets and it caught my attention. Vietnam is one of those places where you see beauty everywhere you look. It is an incredible place for black-and-white photography!
  • What brought you to Vietnam? Was it specifically a photo-hunting trip, or were you there for other reasons?
  • It was a photo-hunting trip. For the last few years I’ve been totally mesmerized by Southeast Asia, and have traveled to Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, India, etc. It’s been several years and I just can’t get enough of that part of the world; the people, the culture and the places are just incredible… In fact, I am planning another Vietnam trip in early 2011 as, in my last one, I was unable to reach the Sapa region due to landslides affecting the trains.
  • Travel seems a constant in your work. How do you conceive of “place” in your work? Is it something that you think of as paramount, or are these simply the locations where the best photos “leap” to your eye?
  • I don’t think of places first, rather the pictures jump to me in these particular places. Travel is in fact a constant in my work, because these remote places and remote cultures are fascinating to me. I am always trying to find a way to embed in my photos the feelings I am experiencing when in a particular place or scene. I almost never plan the “place” or “scene” in advance. In fact, most of my trips lack a planned itinerary or schedule the day I arrive.
  • One of the things that struck me about this image was the density of detail, the amount of interesting visual data that is packed into the scene. In a way, it reminds me of the old nineteenth-century European etchings which captured whole spreads of intricate scenes in iconic black-and-white. Can you talk a little about any artists or art styles that you think are particularly influential on your own? Do you consciously adapt things you learn from other work?
  • I think mostly I adapt from other work I see in a subconscious way. When it comes to black-and-white, my favorite images have been all taken with a Rolleiflex. Nothing beats the Rollei…there is a feel to those images that is unique, and they transmit an air of nostalgia and romanticism that I have not seen replicated exactly in any other way… I like using medium format because I see a square as a much better area to compose on. I like to focus on grain, dodge & burn style (William Eugene Smith comes to mind) and composition. But most importantly, the photo needs to transmit what I am feeling and experiencing… If it does, then that’s a good image.
  • On your website, you mention that you shoot in both film and digital. Can you talk about the differences between the two and how it affects your work?
  • I love both film and digital, and while I shoot a lot more digital than film now, film will always be there, because nothing beats it in rough conditions. I started years ago with pinhole cameras made out of small boxes, and that’s how I plan to explain and teach photography to my kids.

    There is also the matter of ruggedness. In Thailand, my digital Nikon died from extensive exposure to humidity, but my F5 kept going without a problem, even in heavy rain.

    With that said, the immediacy of seeing results in digital can’t be beat, and it allows you to be somewhat certain you are getting the results you want, rather than waiting days to see. I started in photography by doing underwater photography with film, and there were good days and bad days, but you never knew until you developed. I think we are all more used to seeing immediate results today. With that said, Medium format digital is a fantastic experience, with unbeatable qualities; especially now that digital backs are getting cheaper and better (it’s my format of choice today). Still, nothing beats an old Rollei.

  • Especially given your interest in travel, your work sometimes straddles that line between composition and documentary. Can you comment on this? Do you have a “mission” when you take photos, a sort of compelling urge or purpose to be fulfilled?
  • I absolutely have a “mission”. I love understanding and being exposed to different cultures, different ways of thinking, different ways of understanding the world we live in. Something that is constantly in my thoughts is how the Western world is exporting its culture everywhere and how key cultural aspects of different places in the world are disappearing rapidly. McDonald’s, Starbucks, etc. are everywhere now, and that happens at the expense of local cultures.>

    One image that stuck in my head was what I saw a few years ago when I spent a few days with a Thai tribe in the jungle, with little or no electricity, one shower for the village, house fire for cooking, etc. yet the kids played soccer and some even had t-shirts with the colors and emblems of the Brazilian national team. I couldn’t help but think that, in a few years, they might all be skateboarding, and I don’t necessarily consider that a good thing. I want to see as much of the world as possible before it all turns into “the same everywhere,” and I want to show people how beautiful it is, how incredible the people that inhabit this planet really are.

  • Thanks, Guillermo. We really appreciate your time.
  • Thank you Alex, and thank you for noticing my work!

Artist Interview: Vivienne Maricevic

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

The fourth winner in the 2010 Portfolio Project is Vivienne Maricevic. Vivienne is a New York-based artist who has been shooting for over thirty years. Her work takes on reignant double-standard regarding male and female nudes in fine-art photography. Carlos stood out for its deployment of a graceful humor in this pursuit.

Carlos, by Vivienne Maricevic

  • Alright, well firstly let me thank you for taking the time to chat with me. We really appreciate it. And I’d like to start by just asking you about the story behind the picture we’ve chosen. Can you tell me about how it came to be?
  • “Carlos” is from my Naked Men series and he anwered an ad that I had placed in the back of the Village Voice. So, I called him told him what I was doing and made set up a day/time for me to arrive at his apartment to do his shoot. I prefer to photograph the guy in his home environment, where he is most comfortable and where the setting is always different for me. I like that challenge and for me to make it work as a photograph.
  • Comparing this particular photo to the others in the series, I see a bit more levity, and I think it succeeds in giving voice to a real sense of humor. Was this intentional, or does it reflect his personality in any particular way?
  • I recall that photographing him, inside his apartment wasn’t working for me, so, I saw his deck, asked him to step outside and on my way outside, too, I saw a bunch of bananas that were on a table and brought them outside with me and immediately placed them on the table, in front of him and it immediately made him smile. I remember that we both joked about it afterwards and I knew that I had captured the photograph that I knew would be good.
  • Now, backing out a step, can you tell me about what started you on the project of photographing naked men in the first place?
  • Back in 1976, I was working at a photographic magazine in the city, reviewing portfolios and very rarely seeing photographs of male nudes that were published or submitted to us. So, I decided to do them myself.
  • And this has passed through multiple series now. At this point, do you think your subject matter and your aesthetics are divorceable at all? Or do you conceive of your projects as continuations on this theme?
  • My lifetime mission is to continue to photograph the male nude and it is a continuation from my Naked Men series that began it all, with different named series as I go along. I keep photographing him different, so I am not jaded or bored by photographing him. If so, I would not be enthusiastic each time I photograph a guy. For instance I have a number of different series of male nudes that I work on, Me & Men is a series where there is a part of me in the photo with the male nude. Homage to Muybridge, is where I photographed the guy, first fully dressed, then strip him with my camera, while he takes off a piece of clothing, til fully nude. I am always photographing him differently and still have fun doing so.
  • The images that you’ve produced are very bold, and I assume that you mean them to be so. Was it difficult at first getting the hang of your process? I mean, from the point of finding models and then getting them comfortable with you and the camera, and then figuring out exactly which shots worked?
  • I am interested in photographing subject matter that offers many challenges and obstacles. I really did not find it difficult at all, I just went with it, it’s very natural. To begin with I am open-minded, non-judgmental, and I think that when I talk to a guy over the phone that is conveyed very quickly and they mention it to me. Even when they say they never had the experience of being photographed by a female. I size up the situation very quickly when I go to photograph a guy and see it immediately, no matter the size of the apt. or if I am photographing him outdoors.
  • Very interesting. Can you point to any specific artists that influenced your work when you were starting out? Any that do so now?
  • I have to be honest with you and can say that I was not influenced by any specific artist. I am self-taught and just went about my own way, creating my own style and learned as I went along. I like to look at other artists work, but am not influenced by any. I feel it is very important for me to be that way, so I keep being creative.
  • That’s very surprising, because your portraiture has a very polished feel. I am impressed that yours is a self-taught craft.
  • Thank you.
  • Did you have interests in photography in general prior to your Naked Men series, or did you have to learn all about film, developing, and shooting to tackle the project? As opposed to fine-art photography, I mean.
  • As a child, I was very artistic with painting, but never took a photograph until my brother gave me a camera, and then I just went with it. Taking it outdoors in the streets of NYC and started shooting the homeless men “On The Bowery”. I for some reason always veered towards the underbelly characters of our society and knew that they would have time for me to photograph them, while they slept on the street on the Bowery.

    I always loved photographing people. I basically read up about film, which ones to use and asked other photographer friends. The only course I took was a b/w darkroom course to learn printing and shooting, I just did. I was always very disciplined about always photographing. I have other series that I photographed while photographing male nudes, which is like a thread going through my different series. My specialization is exploring erotica, sexuality and gender, with the emphasis on the male nude, where it all began.

  • It’s interesting to hear that you got your start photographing homeless men, because I think that your photographs share an aesthetic with a lot of socially conscious artists, many of which focus on the homeless. Do you see your work as having a broader social “mission” like that, or do you see it as political at all?
  • I dislike the word political when it comes to art, I would prefer a social mission, meaning to enlighten others and challenge the social construction of the male nude image, to transform the imbalance that still exists with the pervasiveness of the double-standard in nude photography. Not much has changed with the acceptance of the male nude image since I have been photographing him.

    I see my continuation of photographing the male nude as an integral part of making changes in the recepton of the male nude. It’s been my motivation, from the beginning, to make my own little dent in breaking that double-standard and it’s still my motivation.

  • I like “social mission” better than “political” too. Alright, well that sums it up for me. Do you have anything else that you’d like to say?
  • Thank you, Alex.
  • Thank you very much, Vivienne. We really appreciate you taking the time for the talk.
  • It was my pleasure. Have a wonderful night.

Artist Interview: Lucas Cotterman

Monday, August 16th, 2010

The third winner in our 2010 Portfolio Project is Lucas Cotterman. Lucas’ winning shot was High Desert, a hazy, eery depiction of the Northern California desert.

  • Alright, so then thank you very much for taking the time. We really appreciate it. For the first question, I’d like to ask you about the story behind the photograph in question. Can you tell me about when it was taken?
  • Sure. It was taken in January of this year.
  • Can you tell me something about the situation? Where were you? Were you looking for photos? What drew you to this shot in particular?
  • I was in the north end of Joshua Tree Park. The incredible storm rolled in and it was just raining sideways. I was out to take photos, but was expecting it to be hot, as it’s the desert, but it was freezing. My dog refused to get out of the car, so I wandered around the park a bit. I got some really amazing, fogged over, spooky-looking photos that day.
  • I would say that that fogged over, eerie look is definitely a defining characteristic of this shot. Do concerns of mood, or theme, or feeling enter your mind when you’re out shooting, or do you just leave yourself open to whatever comes?
  • I suppose so. I like to take a pretty Zen approach to photography. Someone once taught me to stop and take several deep breaths before you photograph something. It somehow helps you connect to your subject in a different way. It sounded pretty new-agey at the time, but it really works for me. I like to wander when I take pictures instead of sitting around waiting for the right light. I figure the light will be right somewhere. I am pretty open, but I definitely am drawn to mood, and generally darker, more eerie scenes. I like to shoot black and white, and I think that lends itself to that.
  • Definitely. Another sort of constant in your photos is a very palpable sense of place. They all seem to evoke, not so much specific, highlighted subject-matter, but the feeling or overall environment. Do you find yourself to be a place-based individual, intellectually, habitually, emotionally, et cetera? That is, do you feel some important connection to the California settings you depict?
  • I certainly do. I am pretty bound to urban environments for work and social activities, but I feel pretty free out in the desert to take pictures of what I want, and how I want. The California desert has also always been a really incredible place for me. The mix of high versus low desert, where you get the heat and occasionally a freezing rain storm is unreal. I really admire people who are able to work with models, but I’m not at a place where I can relate my ideas to another person and have them be a good subject for me, so I guess I find landscapes to be more malleable in a sense. Somehow a photo means more to me to not have a person in it, or maybe it’s just less complicated to convey a mood.
  • Well, or maybe you’re just working with extra-human moods. Are you originally from California?
  • I like that. No, I grew up in Chapel Hill, NC, then spent a number of years in New York (Brooklyn specifically), then San Francisco. I’ve been in LA for six months or so now.
  • Ahh, ok. We’re in Brooklyn now, and I can see where a strong interest in extra-human nature after living here might come from. So, you say you like to wander when you shoot. Do you make determined ventures to do this? Or do you keep a camera with you while you go about daily life?
  • I do both. I traveled for work for about 10 years (internationally mostly) and I always have a camera with me. Usually a small digital. Recently though I’ve been using a beast of a film camera so I make an effort to set aside some time to go out and take pictures. It’s a bit of a meditation, I guess, and it often gets me out of the city.
  • What kind of film camera are you using?
  • I’ve got a Pentax 645. It feels like toting an ammo box full of cement around sometimes, but I love the feel of it.
  • Can you talk about the difference between shooting in film and shooting digital? Do you prefer one or the other overall, or is it a matter of context? Do you find you can get the same “feel” in photos on one or the other?
  • I have never been able to recreate the feeling of film with a digital camera. There are just too many variables involved in the process. I of course like the instant gratification of digital, and it’s nice to have something super small if you’re on the move, but film cameras always surprise me. The way that the film reacts to the light, and the texture is something that can’t be ‘faked’ with digital. There’s something really genuine about it. Not that digital is fake, per se, but film has a pretty distinct personality, and it always allows for happy accidents.
  • I like the way you put that, “happy accidents”. Now, looking at your résumé, I see that you’ve done a lot of lighting and stage work for various rock and roll bands. Do you think that your experience with lighting and ambiance in that domain transfers over into your art at all?
  • Absolutely….photography is pretty much just capturing light, so I’d say that it’s given me a better understanding of the medium. the two just sort of came together naturally….
  • Excellent. Well, that pretty much wraps things up from me. Do you have anything else you’d like to add?
  • No, that’s great. thanks for that.
  • My pleasure, thanks for taking the time.

Artist Interview: Craig Blankenhorn

Monday, August 9th, 2010

The second winner in our 2010 Portfolio Project is Craig Blankenhorn. Craig’s untitled winning shot is a beautifully composed summer scene from his Coney Island series.
Untitled, by Craig Blankenhorn

  • Could you please start by telling me about the picture selected for the Portfolio Project? What’s the story behind it?
  • The photo selected to the Portfolio Project is one image of a much larger portfolio shot over the course of a summer: Two Blocks, a Beach and A Boardwalk – Coney Island.
  • You have an extensive résumé of work in commercial photography. Being successful as a photographer, do you still “do amateur photography”? That is, do you go out and shoot other than when you have assignments or commissions?
  • Though I am actively working in the realm of commercial photography, I am consistently working on personal projects — at the moment I am working on a series involving the NYC subway system. I have never considered my personal work to be less important than my commercial work, so I wouldn’t call it my “amateur photography.”
  • You’ve done a lot of work with the television industry. How does this affect your other work, like what you submitted to the Project? I see a definite sense of dramatic composition, but I’m wondering if you draw a connection there as well.
  • Like I said, I don’t treat the process any differently when shooting personal work. My sense of composition is not something I can turn on or off, and it really is a second nature to me. The only real difference is the subject matter, but there’s no conscious effort to make my personal work formally different than my commercial photography. I am passionate about both.
  • Do you shoot on film or in digital? If you have experience in both, can you talk some about the difference between the two as you perceive it?
  • I shoot all of my commercial work digitally. For my personal work I shoot both film and digital, but I am more partial to film. I use an assortment of cameras — from 35mm to 4×5. Film definitely allows for more control over the shot and the final look of the image, whereas everything that’s shot in digital looks a bit too uniform.
  • You mentioned that you are working on a new series about the New York subways. Can you tell me more about that?
  • In some ways it’s a continuation of the Coney Island project in that it is still in and about New York City. It’s more of a new chapter than a new project in a sense, because I’m just constantly shooting what sparks my interest in transit.
  • Do you always work in series? Do the themes “come out” fully formed, or do you take a few pictures before seeing what the common thread you’re exploring is?
  • Like anything, it’s more of an expression of my interest at the time — I know when I reach the end of a project when my obsession with it fades. But I never stop working because I become transfixed with documenting something else, and I move on to the next phase. It has always been more about being aware and always looking for compositions, people, opportunities to capture a shot, rather than fulfilling a certain amount of images. There is no definite beginning or end to my work.

Artist Interview: Erin Goldberger

Monday, August 2nd, 2010

Today we have an interview with Erin Goldberger, the first of our 2010 Portfolio Project contest winners. Erin’s winning entry was a beautiful, meditative shot taken in the South of France. Erin is a freelance photographer and writer living in New York City.
South of France, by Erin Goldberger

  • So, firstly, thank you very much for taking the time to talk to me. Your entry into the contest was one of my favorites.
  • Thank you!
  • Could you tell me about the picture? It was taken, I believe, in southern France, right?
  • Yes it was taken in Collioure, France. I was on a trip with my two best friends from college to Barcelona, and we rented a car for the day and drove there. It was a great little local beach town with virtually no tourists in sight.

    I originally took the photo in color with my digital camera, and then realized I had to take a second copy with my 35mm in black and white.

    I think this photo perfectly represents the town itself. It had such an ominous feel to it, like it had hundreds of secrets.

  • It’s definitely very evocative. It feels sort of like a final outpost of the human soul.
  • Haha yea, like one of the edges of the earth.
  • When you see a scene like that, does it strike you right away as something you need to photograph? Or, did it take seeing it on your digital camera to recognize the aesthetic that you described?
  • I remember as soon as we climbed over some rocks, I saw that scene perfectly and knew I had to capture it. Sometimes, however, I like to experiment with both color and black and white to find out which would be the more successful photograph.
  • I see that in your website, which has lots of images both in color and black and white. It’s cool to see your ability to distill the quality of the scene and make it carry from one to the other.

    Can you talk about the differences, something like the “pros and cons”, you’ve found in working with digital versus working with film? And how does that affect your overall project?

  • I think film trumps digital 95% of the time, for me. Film gives off more of the emotion I felt when I took the photograph. Whether it’s the contrast or the slight graininess of the photograph, I think film is able to recreate the moment more realistically.

    With digital, I find myself looking at the photo and criticizing myself three minutes after I took it. You don’t have to trust yourself as much, you can just click and click. I don’t put in as much consideration or care for my subjects. I like picking my rolls up and having only 24 or 36 to choose from. Seems more romantic.

    I do appreciate digital for those head shots or concert photographs I take, however. That’s when it’s more realistic. I just don’t have the same relationship with my digital camera as I do with my film cameras. Like, they are small people or something, haha.

  • Yeah, and the 35mm is just a more authentic small person.
  • Oh and Polaroid is a whole other trip, I use that sometimes too.

    Yea the 35mm is like a good friend who you stay up late with. Digital is someone you go out to drinks with and bail early.

  • Ha, I like that.

    One thing I really like about your pictures is that they seem to all have interesting composition. That is, they don’t really partake in the standard, rule-of-thirds framing rituals that a lot of aesthetically pleasing photography uses. It’s almost like they’re offset in a strange way, but work really well that way. Can you talk about how you know a shot is a “good one” when you’re looking at them? How do you judge?

  • I guess I like to create my own sense of balance in a photograph. The photographs I like best are usually the ones that replicate what a scene looked like to me with my naked eye. I want to capture what exists, not what would be aesthetically pleasing. A lot of times there may just be one part of the photograph that initially caught my eye (like the color of something, or an expression). The most successful photos are when the thing I wanted to capture works well with everything else in the photograph, as if everything else had a purpose for being there as well.

    Does that make sense? It’s hard to verbalize honestly. Half of the reasons only my eye understands.

  • Yeah, makes sense to me. And we’re talking about something that probably pre-linguistic, so it makes sense that it’s tough to explain.
  • Exactly. I was taking these photographs long before I actually had a camera in my hand.
  • Do you take your camera with you in your day-to-day life, or do you go out on photo-hunts?
  • Sometimes I have specific objectives. Like right now I’m working on this series where I’m taking photographs of tourists. It’s coming out quite quirky and cool so far. So, for that, I plan out a place to go and have a mission. Most of the other days I just try to have it on me and if something catches my eye, I shoot it. The days I don’t have my camera are the ones when I see the greatest shots. I still remember a few photographs I wasn’t able to take and it drives me mad.
  • Ha, the one that got away.
  • Yea. These cows in some muck in Vermont. Ugh, I still think about them.
  • Awesome. You mentioned to me earlier that you are thinking about maybe pursuing photojournalism as a vocation. Do you think of this as continuous with your current work? Or how does it relate, generally, to your current concerns and projects?
  • Well, I think a lot of what I photograph could be used, in one way or another, in a journalistic way. I seem to have a story about most of my photographs, and when I look back at my older ones I still remember vivid details about that day and how I was feeling. I would love to be able to take what I photograph and extend it into more social commentary with written word.

    Some photographs of mine, if put into a different context, could create great stories I think. For example, taking the photograph you chose, putting the others I took that day in there with it, and making a photo essay on small European sea towns. Interesting stories people would want to read and look at.

  • That sounds like a good idea. Are there any photographers or photojournalists/writers that you consider especially important influences?
  • Mary Ellen Mark, Stephen Shore and Henry Horenstein are some of my favorites. They are all very different from each other, but there are things about each of them I aspire to.

    Mary Ellen Mark, especially. She has these great series that just pull you in. I remember spending hours reading about this one specific family she had followed around and photographed. She really cares about the story behind her photos. This is my favorite of all time.

  • Wow, that’s great. Is that girl smoking a cigarette?
  • Yea and she seems to be about twelve. Not only is the photograph great, but I could sit and think about the naivete of that girl and her chubby companion for a long time. I also wonder where they are now. It’s hard to imagine they aren’t just stuck in that photo.
  • Yeah, and what’s the story with the person taking it? That’s great.
  • Yea, like how did she find these people. What did she say in order to grab this photo. I think she’s just mastered it.
  • Well, I think I can see the influence of something like that in your work. Because you seem to capture these shots in which the viewer’s relation to the scene is ambiguous, and often leaves questions of context unanswered. And are thusly engaging.

    Does that make sense?

  • Yes!! I love the feeling of being intrigued by photographs or other types of art, but not knowing exactly why. So, if my photographs can evoke that type of feeling as well, I’d consider it a success.
  • Very cool.

    Alright, well I think that wraps it up nicely from my angle. Anything else you’d like to add?

  • Nope. Thanks for this great opportunity!
  • You’re welcome, and thanks again for taking the time.

    One more question I like to ask: when you look at the Duckrabbit logo, which do you see first, a duck or a rabbit?

  • A duck. But it also kind of looks like a chicken wing.