JAN 2017 – FEATURED PHOTOGRAPHER
Photographer, Podcaster, Graphic Designer and Educator
Created by Dave Christensen, Director and Curator of the Harvey Milk Photo Center
Welcome to our newest addition of “Featured Photographer“. This will be an ongoing series of interviews, showcasing local and international photographers, by Dave Christensen, Director and Curator of the Harvey Milk Photo Center.
Today, we have one of our own, RE Casper. A local bay area photographer and faculty for the Harvey Milk Photo Center.
Interview with RE Casper
By Dave Christensen, Director & Curator of HMPC
How long have you been involved in photography?
Growing up in a small, rural, farming community. I had first began my path in traditional media. Painting photos of landscapes, surreal abstracts of my life, illustrating little comic books and using charcoals for portraits…
I have to say though, when it comes to photography, ever since I was gifted my first SLR (Minolta x370) by my parents, the camera sort of latch onto me and after that I found I always had one. I found it allows me an outlet to explore the world, while hiding behind the lens.
When it comes to switching gears to more serious work. I’d have to say it was in 2009, after moving to Chicago, that I picked up the camera with focused intention. Capturing the gothic architecture of the windy city, beautiful graffiti on dumpsters and yes… while I hate to admit it, even a few HDR photos here and there.
That next year, during global protest day, I ventured out and began to document the rise of the Occupy Chicago movement and from there found a love for photographing people. It was then and there I decided to change my path and direct my camera at the human condition.
What is going through your mind when you push the shutter?
It depends on the project. In my documentary work, I have time. I study the person, the scene, the moment and how it all relates to the ending narrative I wish to create. In street photography, one has a very little time to consciously think about the scene at hand. The world moves in warp speed and I find that it’s not until after the shutter is pressed, that I realize how many choices are actually made in that short amount of time.
I’d say with experience and practice, it can become more of an involuntary reflex. Being aware of the background, how it isolates the character, when to pull the shutter and freeze that facial expression, or action. With a thousand possibilities, truth be told, much of it comes down to luck and in the end, luck favors the prepared.
What tools are you using to assist in the creation of these images?
When it comes to camera gear, I am a simple guy. When in the street or on location, I favor a rangefinder camera, so I’m never without my Fuji XPro2 or my Leica M4. In bag, I keep it light and small. A single camera, one or two prime lenses (28mm/35mm), film/sd cards of course and a notebook and pen… New ideas come to us when we least expect it and sometimes it’s good to jot down something that worked that you want to record for later.
What are you trying to say in your work?
I simply want to capture how engaging, the seemingly mundane moments of life can really be. Life is amazing, people can be funny, scary and possibly a bit mad…. and that is what I wish to my images to show.
Some perform for self and others are looking for social commentary. Where you do you find yourself?
The bulk of my work is personal, with thousands of photos compiled. But this work expands beyond just the camera and focuses heavily on community. My podcast, StreetPX (which I co-host with fellow photographer Jim Watkins) is an example of that desire, as well as my workshops. My greatest interest is bringing photographers and appreciators together to share, discuss, get better and above all, be inspired to create.
What are you motivations in Street Photography?
Personally, I’ve always had a high degree of fascination with people. Its a subject that is forever in flux and completely unpredictable. I continue to shoot street because no two images are ever the same and few genres of photography can offer the opportunity to capture true honesty in a specific subject… or such a challenge.
What is your process in the field?
I don’t necessarily have a “field process”. But I can say, the first and most difficult step is getting out the door. We always find ourselves with excuses on why today is a good day to stay in. Whether it’s rainy, or we’re tired or whatever the self rationalization can be, we can often be our own worst enemies in this. But once I am out the door, stress falls away and I can easily finding myself walking for miles and miles along the bustling sidewalks of the city… seeking out unique vibrations and wild gestures.
The singular thing on my mind while in the street, is light and shadow. I’ll walk on the side where the sun is beating down and sometimes even circle a block over and over, if it interests me enough. But rarely do I remain in one place for too long. For that, I blame a deep seeded impatience and anxiety with sitting still. I’m usually quite fidgety. *laughs*
What other photographers (living or not) inspire you?
So many to list and not enough time. On the spot answer; Garry Winogrand, Daido Mariyama, Rinzi Ruiz, Bruce Gilden, Elliot Erwitt, Josef Koudelka, W Eugene Smith, Saul Leiter, Joel Meyerowitz. I could go on for ages…
Is there a theme or narrative in you work/style?
Simply speaking, harsh light and heavy contrast. Deep blacks are common throughout most of my work.
Do you find the arts or music play a role in your work?
Absolutely! Movies are a huge inspiration for me. I’m a bit of cinephile, so watching the work of great cinematic visionaries certainly molded the way I approach my work. Stanley Kubrick with cinematographer Douglas Milsome, Darren Aronofsky with Matthew Libatique. Tarantino, Oliver Stone, Terry Gilliam. The cinema offers us a smorgasbord of imagery and compositional studies, at 24fps (and climbing).
What are you trying to capture from these moments in the street?
In a word… Intrigue
Are you engaging with the people as you shoot?
Very rarely. Occasionally if asked, I’ll chat, but I feel that if I were to engage my subject, I risk changing the scene and evaporating the fragile moment of honesty in front of me.
Do you find yourself working the scene with multiple shots, or just a split second?
Most of the time, it’s a split second. Street Photography is a unique process that is very unforgiving, especially when considering how little time you have to compose an image. Much of this is motor memory and reaction to the quickly unfolding scene around me. I would say the most important skill is being able to anticipate the action before it happens. This isn’t a hard and fast rule mind you. On the flip side, if a great scene is missed, I won’t walk away immediately. Like a subject in a sneezing fit, sometimes you are gifted second chances.
Thank you so much for your time today, is there anything you want to add?
No, thank you Dave. It’s an honor to speak with you and to be offered the opportunity to do this. Admittedly, I still pinch myself every day, assuming I am walking through a dream. Between the exhibits, the publishing and my podcast, I feel that I have accomplished so much, but barely scratched the surface of what is possible.
The photographic community I have been welcomed into, not only here in San Francisco, but around the world, continues to surprise and inspire. So many deserve recognition and I would not be where I am without having the benefit of these friendships. I want to extend a thank you to everyone that has graced my life and helped me along the way.
Visit us again, as we bring you more featured photographers from around the world.
A little bit more about RE Casper
Originally from the midwest, Casper has spent the last 15+ years follwing a creative path of graphic design, web design, fine arts and photography throughout southern Illinois, Mid-Missouri, Chicago and now the Bay Area.
Professionally, he specializes in street and documentary photography, architecture/real estate, live events, products and fine art photography. Casper has also joined the team to teach street photography and Adobe Lightroom workshops here at the Harvey Milk Photo Center, starting this January 2017.
In addition to his photography, he is also an administrator for the group that recently brought eXposed to HMPC (SFSP) and produces and co-hosts the photography podcast, StreetPX. A bi-weekly broadcast, focused on interviewing street photographers, documentary photographers and photojournalists from around the world. Topics and discussion center on the artist; origins, experiences, inspirations, as well as the craft, gear, current news and random topics every other week.
*Lab operations end 30 minutes before close