Monday 20 July 2015

Jack Simon

Los Altos Hills, CA

When did you start getting ‘serious’ about photography? What triggered or sparked your interest?

About 10 years ago I got serious about photography as a hobby. I have always liked having a pursuit in my life that consumes me. I get a bit obsessive about my interests. Windsurfing had served that for me, but I was getting less excited about it after twenty years. I've always enjoyed viewing photography. After buying a digital point and shoot and finding I had some knack, I pursued learning about the technical aspects of photography while exploring different directions. Wandering urban environments to find scenes that interested me felt quite natural.

To you, is it more about documenting life or rather about a form of artistic expression?

It's certainly not about documenting life. Well, initially when I was taking photos during travel, some documentation was occurring. But early on I was attracted to the work of storytellers. The fashion photographers Guy Bourdin and Tim Walker  created fantastical and dreamy scenes; images that I loved as created by the American art photographers Peter Joel Witkin and Gregory Crewdson. Having neither the talent or resources for creating ideas for a shoot as they have and wanting to find unposed and unplanned images, I mostly enjoy finding images in the real world that hint to a greater story. I also value the artistry of photographers like Alex Webb and Constantine Manos whose work is more about the art of their photographs than the documentation.

You have worked as a psychiatrist for four decades. Are there moments you notice that you’re applying techniques or patterns of thought you used to work with then while engaging in photography?

Yes and no. I don't have any conscious awareness that I am applying my work as a psychiatrist to my photography, but I imagine my psychiatric work helps me pay attention to the nuances, and be quickly responsive to an emerging scene. I am more oriented to an intuitive direction both in my office and on the street photographing. I think about the work I am doing with my patients before and after the sessions, but tend to be in a fairly intuitively responsive state during the meetings. With photographing, too, my thinking is mainly before or after. If you think too much on the street, you may miss your opportunity.  Anyway, I'm either engaged with family or listening to music while shooting.

The major part of your work could be described as street photography, and you write that you seek for unplanned situations to capture everywhere. Do you ever feel like a determined ‘hunter' for specific motives, too?

No, not a hunter for anything specific. Part of the excitement is having no idea what I might find. The "hunt" is more of a receptivity to the occasions that occur. Someone wrote "photographs find me."  I may go somewhere with the hope of finding images, but I have little control about being successful. I spent two weeks in Japan seeing and photographing interesting scenes, but the image that found me was in the airport lounge prior to returning home. So as we often recommend in street photography, I carry a camera all the time.

How much of your work is shot on film or digital cameras? Which do you prefer for which occasions?

It's always digital. I learned photography on a digital camera and especially learned about composition by being able to see my results on the LCD screen.  Now it's more about my lack of patience. I prefer looking at my images right away on my computer rather than days later. My editing may result in returning months later to discover a photo but I need to see results immediately while working.

Looking back at your professional life, what did you love about being a psychiatrist? Were there any downsides whilst at it or any negative/positive effect you noticed in retrospect?

I hope any patients reading this can tolerate my saying that I don't love being a psychiatrist. I do like it, find it interesting; I enjoy working with patients and helping them. But my passions have been my pastimes and my family, while my profession is different. That being said, I hope to never retire. I'm now working very part time and look forward to going to my office. The downsides earlier in my practice was carrying around some emotional burden from what my patients were going through. I see far fewer patients, and the burden is much less.

If you were invited to make a commencement speech, what would you include in your speech in any case?

My favourite photographs. I'm not that verbal. And I would repeat what was said at my daughter's commencement: It's important in life to stay interested rather than be interesting. Perhaps to extend this further, I'd suggest remaining focused on your character and relationships more than on your achievements.

Do you engage in other forms of art, too?

Only observing. I'm a museum junky and love modern art. 

Would you say that ‘too much input’ could block our minds, and make it difficult to be and stay inspired?

I think that's very individual. I function more from my intuition and feelings. I can look through photography books and magazines, see work in museums etc., but my mind is fairly free of thinking when I am photographing. Those who operate more intellectually in their heads may find the influences becoming too much. Of course it's the type of influence, too, that can have a different impact. I find other people's creativity and excitement very stimulating. The input, though, of being down on yourself and your work can interfere. I don't know anyone who doesn't develop self-doubts about their work.  When I'm in that mode, I am usually blocked.

How will you spend your summer?

This summer has already been and will continue to be wonderfully busy with travels.  My wife and I just came back from a week in Nantucket attending a film festival and then spent a week traveling around Iceland with our son and daughter in law. In a few days we leave for Los Angeles where my children and grandchildren live. We will spend three weeks helping take care of the grandchildren while my daughter is busy producing a feature film being shot in Venice, California. Of course, I hope that some images will find me there.

Monday 13 July 2015

Häre Christian

Barcelona, Spain


















Where are you living right now? 

In Barcelona, Spain.

How would you describe your everyday life?

Waiting for the weekend, the next escape-trip and the annual holidays. Day-to-day life feels a lot like a continuous preparation or pause for what is to come. I work in front of a computer screen Monday-Friday, so in the evenings I need to get some exercise. I used to skateboard a lot, but now I run instead and do other stuff.

Are you traveling this summer? How do you choose your destinations?

Yes! We're going to Scandinavia again this year. Last year my girlfriend and I camped throughout Finland and travelled over to Sweden in the North, Lappland, and we were blown away. So this year we're going back in August for a hiking trip up there, around Kungsleden (King's Trail). After that we're going to Island for the first time. So another couple of weeks of sleeping in a tent this year!

In photography, do you think we capture the art in and of life, or rather produce art by highlighting things and situations? 

I don't know anything about art or photography. I guess art is what people try to produce and life and nature are just life, the world, whatever people and animals and nature do and whatever goes on, because it has no own intention of becoming art. It is just what it is and what goes on and it's all science or nature. If you capture that, then your photograph could most likely be considered art; probably at least by yourself or by whoever chooses to see it that way. It could also be nothing. But then again, I don't know anything about art. 

Which camera(s) are you using the most recently? Do you have a favourite camera?

I've been trying out a Nikon FM that I got recently, but I still prefer my Yashica T4; the lens and its convenience is just great.

Do you like/use Instagram?

Yes, I use it mostly as distraction from work: It can make time go faster sometimes and occasionally you see something interesting. As all of social media, it can be a good way of interacting with many of your friends that you don't get to see often. So, yes, in that sense I like it. In a bunch of other perspectives I don't like it. But, I mean, you can pretty much customize your deal so you can decide on your own experience and it's up to you. 

Do you organize your photographic work in a specific manner? Do you digitize everything?

Yes, I get my photos scanned and just keep them in chronological order, naming rolls after location. That way I know when and where they were taken. No big secrets. Maybe this reflects a need for self-documentation, which is quite a big issue these days.

If you think back, which is among your favourite life periods? Or do you prefer to not indulge into nostalgia?

One of the dearest memories I have is being on summer holidays with my family at my grandparents', on the island where my grandfather was from. We would go out fishing early in the morning, get a ride on his moped on these summer days, maybe have an ice cream later, and my grandmother would make redcurrant and strawberry cordial. I think that is the one, my most precious memory, just being on that island and around the house. It's still the place I keep dearest.
I think I get instant nostalgia these days, too, since time is going by so fast. The magical moments last a second or a few minutes, then they are gone, and just realizing this is heart breaking, really. Maybe we give too much importance to them, and now that we can, we feel we must document them all. I don't know what is best or what is right. It's beautiful to be able to look back on something, whether it's tangible or a memory. These feelings are all being augmented by companies and people, in order to make us buy more stuff, too, of course. That doesn't make them neither right or wrong, though, nor does it mean documenting is wrong or anything. But maybe it's good to reflect over what we are doing, why we're doing it, because of whom and for whom. This is of course related to the issue of Instagram and other forms of display and people like me, who take photos and put them on the internet.
I mean, why do I document things and apparently give them importance and share them with whoever sees them? What's important about who I am and what I do? Why are my photos different from anyone else's? Why is an analogue or digital or whatever camera and its level of complexity and difficulty any different from the next and why should that make anything more or less worthy of documentation, or display, or purchase? And time, frequency, consistency and intention of elaboration, do they matter? Why does the person behind the camera, her personality and her portrayal of herself matter? Can a photograph stand for itself or does it need a context, be it visual, conceptual, fabricated or by accident or authentic? What's of value here and why do we like a photograph or a series of pictures, is it because what's on display, or is it more about how it is displayed, or how the person and her life behind the camera are displayed or imagined?
Going back to favourite life periods; I also like the time period I'm in now, in the sense that my girlfriend and I both like to get away on weekends and do excursions and short trips all around. Even if it is simply going to her mother's, out of town. I like that a lot. 

Which dish is your specialty?

Salads. I make decent salads. :)

And is there anything you are positively obsessed with right now?

I don't know if it is completely positive only, but yes, I'm obsessed with the idea of going hiking and that we are actually going to Lappland to hike this year. Those five short days have been completely occupying my mind and my life for months on end now. It'll be great and it's a healthy and good thing to do in many respects. I'm also thinking about the training, and the beautiful places we've been going to until now. Then again - maybe it's not so positive if five days are to make up for a whole year of your life and the preparations and expectations for them are to substitute other stuff. One other good thing about it is that it's so beautiful up there, and so physically demanding that you are finally in a place where you simply are, without anything else. That's what I think anyway. I think that's what many seek for, or at least think they seek for. It appears to have a deeper meaning, even if nothing does: You anticipate the nothingness and the sense of simply 'being', or in this case, of walking. In any case -  and with all that I've said - I'm looking forward to it a lot! :)