Nathan: If you had to describe your overall photographic vision in 25 words or less, what words would you choose?
Christopher: I attempt to make photographs that convey emotions by including simplistic elements and removing distraction.
Nathan: Describe your connection(s) to the subject matter(s) you photograph? For example, if you are drawn to landscapes, what about the landscape, or nature, draws you to photograph it?
Christopher: So much for me revolves around scale, the power of the power of nature and a sense of perseverance. The natural world has been marginalized by the buildup of cities, the advancement of technology and the ever growing list of comforts that people have grown accustomed. The natural elements are constant and without prejudice, and yet so many of us can block it out with a simple retreat to our homes. While I’m not making any political statements through my photographs, I think the slight unease I have with modern times makes me savor the access I have to more simplistic scenes of the ocean or rural locations. Maybe some of this began with the simple idea of making a pretty picture; it has now evolved to the importance to be more present in the elements. If you make long exposures of the ocean, you have a few moments to yourself to quietly take in the sound of the surf and immense force that comes with a gentle wave. I still like the idea of a pretty picture, but the places and being mentally present mean more to me with each visit.
Nathan: Why are you so drawn to long exposure photography?
Christopher: I don’t recall the photograph or photographer that was the first black and white long exposure seascape that I viewed, but I recall it eliciting an audible wow. I was taken by the calm and order of the water and the feeling of movement in the sky. The impact on me was immediate. I was drawn to the concept of slowly accumulating what was present in bits and pieces and combining it into one image. The concept of displaying what is there, but not really so. That concept of displaying what is there but not really so is one of the most significant aspects that draws me to photography and keeps me inspired. I suppose long exposures just add on top of that concept.
Nathan: Photography is many things … but one of its most important facets is the connection between what a photographer sees and how he or she chooses to capture it. This relationship typically changes over time— so much so, in fact, that many photographers feel it changes how they see. What are your thoughts about this?
Christopher: As photography became more important in my life, it has definitely changed how I see. And yet how I see is the single biggest area that I would want to improve. More specifically, how differently I see is only a small bi-product of how differently I think. I find that I am always subconsciously asking myself: How would this scene or this moment, look as a photograph? How would it be with different light and different weather? One of the more engaging aspects of photography is seeing a segment of a scene or a place that when removing the clutter can yield an interesting photograph, one that might convey a mood entirely different from what was obvious. I still have a long way to go in this area, one that will require a combination of an increased concerted effort, and, as Shunry? Suzuki alluded to, the openness of the beginner’s mind.
Nathan: Do you (a) previsualize what your photograph is going to look like, (b) discover what you wish to create as you create, or (c) engage a little of both?
Christopher: I engage in a little of both, but am leaning more towards (b) at this time. In my mind, I can see numerous places under certain conditions, but that is where the previsualization ends. Early on, I read many times about the importance of previsualizing your work, and I believe these efforts are quite valuable as it forced me to confront how I best work. I admire those who know exactly what outcome they want and consistently achieve it – as I have found that approach elusive, leading to varying levels of frustration. I’ve found that it gets me on the wrong side of expectations, that it narrows my thinking and what I’m willing to accept. When I’m too preoccupied with how I think something should be in the end, rather than accepting what’s presented, it precludes me from seeing other possibilities. Therefore, I try to reduce expectations in every step of the process, whether it is being in the field or processing.
Nathan: When you process your photos, do you listen to music? If yes, what music do you prefer to listen to and do you think that music influences how you process your images?
Christopher: Yes, I very much listen to music, and the type of music can vary greatly – anything from jazz, movie soundtracks, orchestral pieces, to alternative rock. I greatly enjoy associating music with my photographs, and in some cases they feel one and the same. There were few instances where the state of the music clearly impacted how I was processing, and more specifically, how I was evaluating my work. Let’s just say those instances resulted in rework, as, on occasion, you can get carried away. The best aspects of listening to music is the ability to remove myself just a bit from my surroundings, it allows me to concentrate almost effortlessly at times.
Nathan: Who are three of your favorite photographers, and, more importantly, how has your appreciation of their work affected how you approach your own photography?
- Ansel Adams – I almost cringe to mention him, as it feels cliché. But If I were to be honest with myself, it was his work that created a romanticized view of the West, one I still carry to this day. Seeing his prints first hand and the remarkable way the tonal range was displayed on paper solidified my interest in making black and white photographs for myself.
- Robert Adams – My brother gave me a book of his as a gift over 20 years ago. It might be embarrassing to admit, but at the time, I did not really understand the significance of his work. His style is quiet, understated, and was an introduction to seeing beyond the obvious composition and subject matter. There are a lot of subtle items in his photographs. I believe subtle qualities are what draws people to repeatedly view a photograph, and are the aspects that I enjoy most in my own work.
- Julius Shulman – I was introduced to his photographs via the documentary, Visual Acoustics. His work stemmed from commercially photographing new homes in LA and other parts of the west. The photographs documented modernism and are associated with a number of now historically significant architects. His compositions are pinpoint-accurate, and brilliant for the subject matter – that at the time, might not have been obvious of artistic consideration. For me, it’s one of the stronger examples of how almost anything can be created in a beautiful and moving manner, if it’s approached thoughtfully and open-mindedly.
Nathan: Select a single photograph by another artist that inspires you. Explain why you are drawn to it and how it has inspired you
Christopher: The photograph is by Fred Lyon, and is referred to as Foggy Night, Lands’ End. So many elements coming together at once and a piece that will only get better as time goes by. I am always drawn to simple elements and negative space, which the right half of the photograph essentially is. Then you have the fog which adds to the beam of light from his flashlight and diffuses the street light. The entire tonal range is represented without any important detail being missed. Nothing is overdone and no element competes too hard with each other. The overall mood is something I enjoy every time I view this photograph. If Edward Hopper painted in black and white I’d like to think that he would have done something similar. I live about a mile from this general area and I suppose that proximity adds to the pull that this photograph has for me.
Nathan: What artistic influences, outside of photography, have had a significant influence on how you approach your photography (for example, painters, filmmakers, musicians, poets, etc.)?
Christopher: There are bits and pieces of too many works and artists to mention, so I will point to just one. David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive is something that I always come back to. The combination of dramatic and moody music, and dark, mysterious, and, at times, flatly confusing scenes – it’s modern color noir or at least modern in 2001. I bought the soundtrack a long time ago and have listened to some pieces as much as anything I’ve ever owned. I would like to make photographs that feel like they emotionally belong in that movie, even if they aesthetically would not exactly fit.
Nathan: What are your thoughts about trying to find the best gear possible versus working on making the best possible image with the gear you already have?
Christopher: My photographic interests are not demanding on gear, which might be different if I was shooting high speed wildlife photography from a long distance. A new camera would be great, but I know for my work, that making the best possible images will have little to do with upgrading my equipment. I rarely spend time gear websites or do much to keep up on what’s current. I primarily use two cameras – a Sony digital and a medium format film camera, the latter might be as old as me.
Nathan: How would you define fine art? Is it just a label?
Christopher: The more time I spend making photographs, the more I lose interest in classification and how things are defined. Similar to appreciating wine, being able to discuss, compare and classify photography is part of the experience, and, for some, very important. I won’t argue against the importance of defining photographic work; however, it is of a lesser importance to me. I am eager to maintain the interest and experience in the act of doing, and, if anything, I want to spend even less time being concerned about how my photographs would be evaluated or classified in a larger context. I suppose the answer just for myself is that it’s more of a label, as I’m more interested in being satisfied with the experience than anything else.
Nathan: If you had to come up with one very important lesson that you think every photographer needs to learn, what would it be?
Christopher: In this age, it would be the importance of making prints, and putting effort into the print making process. Maybe it’s due to my age, but a photograph is not complete unless it is on paper. In the back of my mind, I always think about how the photograph will look as a print, far more than how it would display on a backlit device. Viewing a photograph created 50 years ago, printed on silver gelatin paper, with the full tonal range on display, and all of the subtleties in between, adds an entirely new perspective to what photography can be. This would be missed if the process ended at the digital display, especially a phone.
Nathan: What are your thoughts about the benefits of online sharing? Are there any particular social media or image sharing sites you prefer or do not prefer?
Christopher: My introduction to long exposure photography came via social media. I’m not sure how I would have come across artists and this type of photography without social media. The single biggest benefit (of social media) is the ability for someone to be exposed to a myriad of genres quickly and easily. Twenty-years ago, this could have required searching through stacks at book stores or visiting many galleries over a long period of time. The downside of social media, is using “likes” and “favs” as validation for the quality of your work. I’ve also questioned myself as to why I share photographs online at all, as it seems too easy to get caught up in numbers. Also so much photography is now consumed on a phone, and while that might be nice distraction when standing in line for your coffee, a small screen can be a terrible way to view some photographs. I started on Flickr and probably find that preferential due to time spent on the platform and the display on a larger screen. While I think Instagram is really poor at displaying some types of images, I have found more interesting artists and a higher level of interaction as of late on Instagram versus other platforms.
Nathan: What are our thoughts about photography contests? Do you think they are (a) a true measure of artistic success or value, (b) just an opportunity for a business to make money off photographers looking for exposure and validation, or (c) something in-between a and b?
Christopher: It’s hard for me to see how photo contests are a true measure of artistic success or value – they may be one small measure, but not a true measure. I’ve entered photo contests myself, and about once a year, I enter a juried exhibition – the latter is far more appealing to me. Either way, participation introduces a comparative mindset within myself and I recognize that I’ll get more out of the experience of photography by limiting my exposure to such things. I have little doubt that some photo contests are a pure money making venture; while appearing to generate exposure, they probably provide very little. I also believe that with a little bit of research, one can find juried events that are more meaningful to enter, either due to the subject matter or because of who the evaluators are.
Nathan: What photographic cliché or common photography question, if any, irritates you the most (e.g. did you use Photoshop or is it straight out of the camera)?
Christopher: I don’t think there are too many questions that irritate me about photography. At times, I am surprised that when viewing a photograph, an individual’s first question is to ask what lens or other gear was used. I suppose I get that when you’re viewing a photograph that is larger than any wall you have at home. But I would expect that there would be a deeper reaction beyond an inquiry of gear. I understand the curiosity of how, but it seems to detract from the why, and how a photograph might elicit feelings or thoughts on the subject matter.
Nathan: If you were stranded on an island, and you could have one camera, one lens, one filter, one tripod, two books, and ten CDs, what would they be and why?
- Books: Meditations by Marcus Aurelius and Letters from a Stoic – Seneca. If I’m stranded on an island I’m going for strong mental fortitude versus entertainment.
- Dave Brubeck – Time Out
- Mogwai – Young Team
- M83 – Oblivion
- Radiohead – OK Computer
- Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On
- Johnny Cash – It can be anything he recorded (editor note: At Folsom Prison is a classic!)
- Iron & Wine and Calexico – In the Reins
- Lord Huron – Strange Trails
- Ennio Morricone – Anything from the spaghetti westerns
- Neil Young – Decade
- Camera: Hasselblad 500cm – though I imagine buying film, let alone developing would be just a bit more challenging than normal.
- Tripod: My Aluminum Benro
- Filter: 10 stop
Nathan: Are there any specific directions that you would like to take your photography in the future or any specific goals that you wish to achieve?
Christopher: I am more interested in working a night and have been doing so more frequently in the past year. My goals are usually quite simple. I want to remain in the mind of a student, always looking to see how I can learn and do something better than before. Maybe that sounds too simplistic, but for me keeping in that zone is what has yielded the best results and more interesting photographs.
Nathan: Is there any specific place that you would like to visit to take photos? (I am, once again, most interested in the why.)
Christopher: I’ve never been to Japan and would like to at least visit Tokyo and see the Lake Biwa area if possible. Viewing images from Stephen Cairns and Rohan Reilly makes elicits the desire to experience what it feels like to be in those places. The place and images of these locations all feel so distinct and seem to lend themselves to the black and white medium. Regardless if it’s in Japanese cities or countryside, it all seems unique and very different from other places I have been.
Explore more of Christopher’s photography: Website
A Spotlight on a Few Images