Oomska’s ‘Future of Photography’ Series continues…
We presented our interviewees with a set list of questions, and left the matter of in what format and at what length they should answer entirely up to them. Here are Carlein van der Beek’s responses.
1. How and when did you first become interested in photography? What was the trigger which led you to take a serious interest? How different would that trigger be now, with all the changes – technological and otherwise – in photography during the intervening years?
My background is in painting, abstracts, and mixed media. At the art academy where I studied, I was also able to take photography classes. I loved it. It was analogue, of course: black and white, developing your own film, working in the dark room. I have always been purely visual and photography gave me the chance to make images when it was not possible to paint.
The trigger wouldn’t be any different now. As I don’t have space to paint right now, photography is the only way of expressing myself at the moment.
2. Photography is often described as a mixture of art and science. It’s also a medium. How has digital technology altered the way these elements combine to produce what we think of as ‘photography’? Has technology altered that balance?
I switched to digital only 10 years ago. Though I loved working in analogue, I wouldn’t want to go back anymore, or only for a special project. To me, Photoshopping or apping, is – in a way – a kind of chemistry, science as well.
But instead of working with your hands, you have to “see” the process in your head. It did change my way of taking pictures. As my background is mixed media pieces, I am used to “building” images. I did so with painting and now I am able to do so with photography as well. In a way I am painting with photos. So to me digital together with the Photoshopping and apping is a gift that enables me to work the way I want.
3. Prior to the introduction of digital, how much did the equipment you used change over the years? How has digital changed the way you use equipment? How would today’s technology, if you could have used it earlier, have changed your relationship with photography?
I started with a simple camera (Vivitar) my father brought from one of his travels. Somewhere in between I owned a Leica, 35 mm lens only. With switching to digital I started to use zoom lenses as well, which I found very convenient when travelling. And now I work mostly with my iPhone.
With the arrival of Photoshop and apps on the iPhone, my way of working changed a lot, as I mentioned above.
4. How would photography’s great pioneers have embraced and utilised today’s technology? Might Ansel Adams be using software to stitch together panoramas of Yosemite? Would Garry Winogrand be using an iPhone? Would Eadweard Muybridge be experimenting with HDR?
I’d like to think they would at least give it a try!
5. In some ways, digital seems to have ‘won out’ over film. Digital photography is everywhere, while companies such as Nikon and Fuji are discontinuing some of their films and film cameras. Is this process irreversible? Should we care?
As far as I know analogue is making a comeback. From what I saw at exhibits of graduating candidates of the Photo Academies from Holland and Belgium, at least a quarter graduated with analogue work, either film or Polaroid.
Kodak went bankrupt recently, but Polaroid made a restart with the “Impossible Project”. There is still a growing number of Holga/Diana/Lomo photographers. Yes, film is definitely losing ground but will never disappear completely.
6. Are there some qualities or aspects of film photography which digital will never be able to replicate or replace? If so, will these aspects of photography die with film?
I saw the Polaroids made by Julian Schnabel (made with a Polaroid camera as big as a fridge!) and nothing beats the colours, the blur, the grain, the “feel”, the sloppy cut off paper of real film. Same with the work I saw of Sanne Sannes: gorgeous, grainy, moody black and white work. And no. Digital can’t do this. Yet. I really hope that one day grain will replace noise.
7. Will the ‘camera’, as we (still) think of it, even remain as a distinct device? Or will ‘camera’ become just one of a plethora of multimedia features people expect to find on any number of hybrid consumer appliances?
As long as humans will use their imagination and keep being curious and experimenting, cameras will evolve…. smaller, with apps included in DSLRs, iPhones with changeable lenses… and maybe we’ll end up with a chip in our heads with which we can make the pictures we have in our mind or print directly what we see with our eyes.
8. A few years back, Magnum photographer Eliott Erwitt was quoted as saying: “Digital manipulation kills photography. It’s enemy number one.” He also disdained digital in general, for its ability to produce “an image without effort”. To what extent would you agree or disagree with these sentiments?
With all new inventions there will always be people opposing. It is their good right. The world is big enough for all different tastes. I don’t agree with the “an image without effort” without feel for colour/b/w, mood, composition, and form you don’t get a good picture. Digital or not.
9. We’re all thoroughly weary of the ‘fix it in Photoshop’ approach. But defenders of digital post-processing often say, “Well, it only does what you used to do in the darkroom.” Is this a valid argument?
It does what you can do in the darkroom. And more. It is the “and more” where you have to be careful. But as with everything: too much is too much. And I still think that you can’t fix a picture that isn’t sound in the beginning (again, re. form, composition, tension).
10. For how much longer will the general conception of ‘photography’ refer exclusively to static, two-dimensional images? Imminently, 3D is looming, and ‘convergence’ – meaning not just the ability of modern DSLR’s to capture high-definition video, but the compulsion to make use of that functionality – is a current buzzword. Does this trend – photographers becoming film-makers, and vice versa – ignore the important divisions between static and moving images?
I’ll skip this one.
11. Cinema historian David Thomson, in his ‘Biographical Dictionary of Film’, wrote the following, regarding Marilyn Monroe: “She gave great still. She is funnier in stills, sexier, more mysterious, and protected against being. And still pictures may yet triumph over movies in the history of media. For stills are more available to the imagination.” How much more of a contentious statement does that seem today?
I love this statement. It is exactly how I feel it. To me one frame showing an entire movie beats any video. I love to be a one frame storyteller.
Born and raised in the Netherlands, Carlein’s background is in painting, abstracts, and mixed media. She started working with iPhoneography two years ago, and her work began to get noticed in 2011. She has exhibited in galleries in Santa Ana, Berkeley, and Los Angeles. Ten of her pieces were included in the Eyephoneography #2 exhibition in Madrid in May 2011.
In February 2012, Carlein’s work will be featured at the prestigious Latitudes international photography Festival in Huelva, Spain. She is currently working on an iPhone book that will be published in spring 2012 by National Geographic.