Here at Micro Macro we are feeling Nostalgic. With recent trends toward Analog/ Film photography over Digital, we’re looking for artists who are pushing boundaries within this medium. Cue photographer Charlie Kitchen, a contemporary photographer hailing from San Antonio, Texas...
First up, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Hello! My name is Charlie Kitchen. I was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas.
Did you study Photography?
Yes, I received my Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography from Texas State University San Marcos in 2014.
What draws you to using Analog photography in particular? Is there a Nostalgic element?
There are a few reasons for my attraction to Analog photography. My first camera was a hand-me-down 35mm Pentax Spotmatic from my Grandpa when I was 14. As far back as I can remember he was constantly shooting photos of me and the rest of my family. His interest must have gotten passed down through some sort of heredity. So when I received the Pentax, I was immediately hooked, shooting photos of my friends skateboarding and lurking around skate spots. I think my nostalgia trigger lies in the memories of my grandpa and skateboarding, both of which shaped who I am today.
Regarding my current practice, I believe there is an infinite amount of potential that the large format process has to offer in terms of physical manipulation of the process.
I love the way you investigate shapes and geometry with natural elements. What was your inspiration behind the pieces of camera magic you have created? How did you get there?
I believe there is an infinite amount of potential that the large format process has to offer when you begin to dissect the process. I began the large format work after I graduated from Texas State. Thanks to my professors, I was turned on to artists working in similar fashions at that time (Hannah Whitaker, Jessica Eaton, Dan Boardman, etc). Upon seeing the in-camera collage work of Hannah Whitaker, I immediately recognised how the images were made and the door swung open. I began to experiment; one idea led to the next, and eventually became fixated on the concept of representing natural or organic imagery through this sort of geometric design. There were so many layers of ideas that became apparent once the negative was processed and scanned. The relationship between geometric and organic representation, the fidelity of the photograph interacting with the hand cut aesthetic of these forms, and the relationships between photographic space and geometric space. There’s also an interesting quality of this process that emphasises the geometric space through longer or shorter exposure times, creating the appearance of a sort of shading on the geometric form. There are so many different variables that introduce themselves when implementing a process involving multiple exposures. All of these presented avenues on which I was able to dig deeper into the medium.
Can you explain your creative process? As somebody who doesn’t know photography, what you do is really fascinating to me, how do you go about making these ‘in -camera collages’? (please explain in layman’s terms!)
I would say the first step of the process is creating the geometric forms (my process is constantly changing, hence my reluctance to establish that as the first step). Some forms are hand drawn, but the majority of the geometrics forms in the images are created using Sketchup, a basic 3D modeling program. This is to ensure realistic perspective and proportion. I was never very skilled in technical drawing, so I had to a way to bypass that aspect of the design process. The forms made in Sketchup are then used as templates to be cut from vinyl that is adhered to acetate, which acts as the mask. These masks usually consist of 2-5 different masks per set, and each one allows a different segment of the 4x5 film sheet to be exposed. Imagine a cube being represented two-dimensionally. Each mask would act as a face of the cube, and each mask is a separate exposure, meaning the camera must be moved, composed, and focused three times.
In the field, I tend to stick to the same area when shooting the whole set of masks. I’ll set up my view camera, focusing on whatever imagery I stumble upon, hold the mask to the ground glass on the back of the camera as an example of what the exposure will look like, and then go from there. I have a minimal idea of how the final image will turn out when this process is being enacted, and only know if the image turned out or not after processing and scanning. There’s a serendipity that I really enjoy that is inherent to the process itself.
“Accidents” happen with every photograph I make, such as light leaks and scratches on the acetate, but I quickly learned it was out of my control. I tend to embrace them now as artefacts of the process.
Do you enjoy the risk element of using analog photography?
Absolutely. There is always a chance of ruining your film when working with large format, and physically intervening in the process increases that chance. Because I’m making multiple exposures on one piece of film, that sheet of film is much more vulnerable than if it were exposed once. But the risk is exciting. It is also very easy to mix up which masks I have
already exposed on the film, so numbering systems and other ways of organising the masks must be created to prevent double exposures of the same mask. Sometimes the masks aren’t fabricated properly, so the don’t fit, or they get stuck, in the film holder. This leads to unwanted light leaks on the film, or sometimes burning the entire sheet of film. It’s quite
What has been your biggest discovery experimenting with the medium?
I think the biggest discovery was that of the initial in-camera collage method. It took a very long time for me to nail down what I had to do in order to produce a decent image, so ironing out the kinks was a series of small discoveries. One thing I have noticed is that the process has put me in tune with an alternative way of photographic seeing. I have to consider all the aspects of a photograph, but multiple times on a single sheet of film, and how they will all coalesce to form an image.
How does San Antonio inspire you in your work?
It actually hasn’t had as much influence as you would think, but it’s getting there. Most of my work in the past few years has been made on trips made outside of Texas. For instance, my series The Other Side of the Sky” was made on a road trip from San Antonio to Utah. And the previous series from 2016 was made on a trip to Colorado. I have always been drawn to
landscape imagery, and there’s not a whole lot of landscape possibilities in San Antonio.
With that being said, I am currently working on a new project titled Harlem Garden that has required me to spend a lot of time lurking through downtown searching for possible imagery. The project is actually a collaborative effort between Zak Anders, another local San Antonio artist, and myself. So as this progresses, I am hoping to inject San Antonio aesthetic into each image. It has a very unique visual appeal in that it offers a unique balance of the natural and man-made.
In an age when everyone is taking photos with their mobile phones….what defines photographic quality within this mass circulation of imagery?
Photographic quality is earned. It’s easy to tell the difference between someone posting a photo from their phone, and someone who has been shooting for years. Like any other skill, photography requires sharpening, and the way to do this is through experience. If you keep shooting, you tend to develop a sensibility, which then becomes your vision. So really, a single photo can be great if a person is in the right place at the right time, but a series of cohesive photographs speaks volumes and exhibits skill.
In my case, I try to “make” photographs rather than “take” photographs. Constructing the image inherently offers a different avenue than the traditional way of using photography. I think my point would be, the more work and thought you put into a photograph or series of photographs, the higher the quality of the image or series of images will be.
Where do you see the future of photography?
It’s difficult to speculate. Nobody in the 90s would have known that every person would soon have the ability to shoot a photo at any time with instant gratification. I think the democratization of photography is a good thing for the world, but not so much for photographers, who have to work harder to have their work stand out. Though, this is what leads to progress. We all know that the inundation of images is an issue to some degree, but an issue requires a solution, and humans (particularly artists) will find that solution soon enough.
Do you have advice for MM readers who are budding photographers?
Don’t ever stop shooting! You’ll find your vision eventually!
Thank you Charlie for giving us an insight into your creative practice!
Images courtesy of Charlie Kitchen