JASON KITTELBERGER
   
   
 

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Interview

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Interview

This interview asks more or less the same questions asked by British landscape photographer Eddie Ephraums in his book Creative Exposures: 23 Photographers Discuss Art and Technique. In his excellent book, Ephraums displays a sampling of work by twenty-three photographers from the Trevillion Picture Library and asks each one the same set of questions. The diversity of answers to the exact same questions is interesting, but at the same time not surprising considering the range of work represented in the book.

The point of the exercise, as Ephraums states, is to find out what’s missing in our photography, to better understand ourselves and our work, and to try and answer questions that open up possibilities rather than shut them. I find the work of Ephraums enlightening, as well as the work of the twenty-three photographers represented in the book. With that in mind I decided to answer the same set of questions to try and find out what’s missing in my photography.

Inspired to become a photographer by? I really don’t know. I tend to follow paths and see where they lead. Somehow I got turned down this path. I am inspired by art, by pictures, by words. Photography appeals to the creative side of my personality and to my meticulous nature as well. It also allows me to be solitary at times, which is something I definitely need.

Learned by? Books. The Internet. Experimenting. Doing. I’ve never had any formal training.

Who would I like to learn from? Anybody that can teach me anything, photographer or not.

Favorite Photographer? Ansel Adams for his mastery of the craft. Michael Kenna for showing me that there’s as much to what can’t be seen as there is to what can. Edward Weston for his vision. Robert Mapplethorpe for his sense of beauty and his fearlessness.

Best critic? Undoubtedly my wife. We argue, we disagree, and we get angry with one another, but I always respect her opinion.

Aspiration? To make pictures for others to look at, discuss, wonder, and question.

Techniques? I am a very technical person by nature and for a time I was fascinated by technique. I spent many, many hours performing test after test before I realized I wasn’t taking any actual photographs. I’ve since gotten over that but undoubtedly the time spent performing those tests was invaluable to my growth and understanding of photography. I still care about technique but now it seems to come without a lot of effort. But I don’t think that would necessarily be the case without first going through all the experiments that I did. I’m glad I took the long way around. It’s much simpler now and I’m not afraid to try things.

Camera Work? I’m very particular in nature. I tend to think about what I’m shooting and take the time to set-up and think about what I’m doing. Most of the time I tend to work this way. But photography is a great medium in that it allows the opportunity to work in many different ways. While I’m more apt to take my time and think about a shot, sometimes I do find it liberating to just pick up a camera and shoot.

Camera Equipment? Mainly a Hasselblad with an 80mm and 150mm lens, although I also own a 50mm lens as well. I also shoot some 35mm, but I find medium format fits my shooting style much better. I also have an excellent Bogen tripod, and an assortment of filters. Other than that I don’t have much. Ninety percent of the time now, I shoot Ilford HP5+ with Ilford FP4+ making up the remaining 10%.

Darkroom Work? I don’t work to any particular system. I choose negatives based on contact sheets and maybe an enlarged straight print. Once I’ve selected a negative to print I like to experiment and come at a print from a number of different ways and invariably I do a lot of dodging and burning. I think it’s important to see all the possibilities. Until you go over the edge you don’t know where that edge is. I know a print is done when I can’t stop looking at it. Making a print takes me anywhere from a couple of hours to a couple of days.

Do I ever laugh in the dark? No. I sing and dance and swear but never laugh. Occasionally I’ll bang my head against a wall.

Darkroom Equipment? A Saunders 4500-II enlarger, a great Schneider lens, and a timer. I also use an enlarging easel, tape, wire, cardboard, glass, Vaseline, scissors, and a number of other items to help dodge and burn and to get the look I’m after.

Post Darkroom Work? I rarely print on anything but Ilford Warmtone fiber-based paper as I like the richness of the tones and the ability to easily manipulate the color. I always tone with a medium strength dilution of selenium followed by a short time in a weak bleach solution. I find bleaching a print back adds some extra warmth as well as a bit of snap that a print sometimes lacks.

Do I use computers? Not to make prints. But I do use computers to keep records, send e-mail, and organize data.

Is photography about spontaneity or reflection? I like spontaneity and the idea of capturing a specific moment in time, but I think the most important thing is when you get a chance to reflect on that moment, whether it’s minutes, days, months, or years later.

What is the difference between seeing and looking? There’s really no difference. You can look at something and not really see it just as you can see something without really looking. Both are just words and looking or seeing in isolation won’t get you anywhere.

Apart from sight, what is my most important sense? Hearing. It’s the only other sense besides sight that allows you to communicate with other people in any real way.

What do people see of me in my work? I’m not sure what they see and I’m not sure I really want them to see anything. I remember seeing an interview with the filmmaker Quentin Tarantino where he admitted that his first movie, one that was never released publicly, was complete garbage, but he said that if you watched it you could tell he was the one who made it. I like that idea. I want people to be able to look at my photographs and know that they are mine regardless of what they think of them. I’m just not too wild about revealing much about me personally through my photographs. In a way though, I suppose seeing a person through their photographs in inevitable.

What is my favorite photograph? My favorite photograph changes with every new print I make. However, I do find myself looking at prints of my wife and my son and my dog more than I look at most other photographs I make. There’s just something about being able to look at a photograph and remember that specific moment in time that I find comforting. I remember showing somebody a photograph of my dog tied to a pole like a junkyard dog as she stared back at the camera. Their first reaction when they saw the photograph was to ask if she was going to lick any attackers into submission. That comment made me feel like I’d gotten something right, because that’s exactly what my dog would try and do. As far as my favorite photographs of other artists, I don’t know. That’s a hard question because there are so many. I will say that I am drawn to photographs with a sense of mystery or ambiguity, where not everything is blatantly obvious, either visually or emotionally. I like photographs that make you think.

What is my idea of photo heaven? An old loft somewhere in New York City with plenty of light streaming in through the windows, an unlimited supply of film and paper, and all the time in the world to do exactly what I wanted.

What role does imagination play in photography? Imagination plays a big role. But for me and the type of photography I have been doing imagination plays a bigger role in the darkroom than it does when actually making the exposure.

What rules do I adhere to? I don’t know that I adhere to any rules specifically. I do like to think about what I’m doing and at least consider all the accepted rules I do know, even if that’s done subconsciously . If I chose to ignore any rules, then at least then I am doing so because it’s an educated choice.

What’s the best advice I’ve ever been given? After seeing a photograph of mine where I had listed some technical information along with it, a person commented that photography is art and said I should give the picture another try when I was in a less technical mode. That comment definitely made me think about what I was doing and made me question myself. But then I realized photography is a process, and to be a photographer you have to have complete control over that process in order to achieve what you want. That’s true in painting, sculpture, writing, or any other creative endeavor. Yes photography is art, but luck, happenstance, and blind intuition don’t make you an artist. Anybody can take a snapshot and call it art. That’s not what I’m interested in.

Am I a perfectionist? Unfortunately yes, and even though I know imperfection is certainly more interesting than perfection, I still can’t get my mind to look past what I perceive as an imperfection. It’s a curse that has caused me to waste an inordinate amount of time, film, and paper. I think I need therapy.

What have I learned from mistakes? Everything. Mistakes are the way I learn. Mistakes can be very frustrating but without them I probably never would have learned anything of value. If it’s so easy that you can do it right the first time, you probably didn’t need to bother to learn it at all. A pet peeve of mine are people who never make mistakes, or at least never admit that they do.

A photographic wish? More time, better light, and instantaneous access to any kind of equipment or materials I want.

Do I take holiday photographs? Sure. If I didn’t photography would be like a job. I want photography to be fun. The day I stop taking casual photographs is the day that photography becomes a burden. When that happens I think I’d be better off to give it up altogether.

What determines whether I like an image or can relate to it in an emotional way? That’s a difficult question to answer. It’s an indefinable quality. I like photographs that draw me in for one reason or another, that make me think, remember, or question myself. What actually causes that type of reaction is difficult to say with any kind of precision.

What appeals to me about the solitude of being a still photographer? I like being alone. I always have. As a rule of thumb I’m not a social person. I’m definitely more comfortable alone than I am in a room full of people. I guess photography gives me an excuse to be alone. Other than the solitude, I like being directly responsible for my work. I hate having to rely on other people for anything or to have to change my way of thinking just to suit someone else. With photography I never have to do that.

Who are my photographs for? Me and anyone else who wants to look. I certainly enjoy the process of creating them. If I didn’t I wouldn’t make them, so primarily I would say my photographs are for me. Of course, I show them to other people as well, so to some degree they are for others too. After all, if they were really only for me I would just keep locked away in a closet. But I do want other people to see my work and to be able to discuss and criticize and think about it. Seeing other people look at and discuss my work is fulfilling in its own way.