120 Pearls to film: Q&A with Baltimore photographer Kaitlin Newman
Kaitlin Newman is a featured photographer in the upcoming RAW showcase at Tatu on February 7. She’s also the 2012 Mobbies winner for best new blog. The Darkroom caught up with Newman about her portfolio, searching for antique cameras and her “120 Pearls” blog.
YOU’RE A FEATURED PHOTOGRAPHER IN THE RAW SHOWCASE COMING UP. CAN YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT THE SHOW?
The gallery showcase consists of Baltimore artists across a variety of different mediums. There are performing artists, photographers, painters, illustrators, fashion designers and musicians. Altogether, there were 20 chosen artists for this particular showcase. I am one of four featured photographers, and we are all very different in terms of shooting style. The event is Thursday, February 7, at 8 p.m. at Tatu. Tickets can be purchased on their site.
RANGING FROM PICTORIAL FASHION SHOOTS, TO THE BALLERINA PROJECT, TO EXPERIMENTS WITH LIGHT AND DIFFERENT TYPES OF CAMERAS, THE SELECTION OF PHOTOS FROM YOUR PORTFOLIO ARE STUNNING. PLEASE SHARE SOME DETAILS ABOUT THE PHOTOS YOU’LL BE SHOWCASING.
Thank you! I like to use both film and digital often, but over the past year, as I have gotten reacquainted with film, I find my digital camera gathering dust. I use digital more for work-related endeavors such as company events, headshots, weddings, family portraits and journalism due to the immediacy that digital provides. I use film for personal projects, and for my showcase I plan to use mainly film work, since it is what I am the most proud of. Many of the photos I plan to show are just little concepts from my thoughts that have be translated into film. Bits and pieces of the way I see the world.
ONE OF THE PHOTOS THAT WILL BE ON DISPLAY IS A PHOTO OF A GIRL WITH AN AMERICAN FLAG DRAPED OVER HER HEAD. THE PHOTO RUFFLED THE FEATHERS OF SOME PEOPLE WHEN YOU POSTED IT ONLINE. CAN YOU TALK MORE ABOUT THE SHOT AND YOUR RESPONSE TO THOSE CRITICS?
The shot is my friend Olivia standing in my parent’s field. She has the American flag, backwards, held taut across her face. The shot before that was what it was meant to look like: the American flag flying high above her head in the wind. I snapped the shot twice and the second one – the one across her face – came out that way because that was how the wind blew it. It wasn’t meant to be any type of social commentary, but critic’s response was that I was disrespecting the flag and going against the rule that the American flag cannot be used as a prop. A few men in the service also interpreted the photo to be disrespectful. I just thought it was an interesting photo and liked the composition. My response was that as an artist, I know that the response to my work will always be subjective, so the best I could do in response was to explain my intent and my own interpretation and leave it at that. I have nothing but the highest respect for our servicemen and I would never intentionally be disrespectful. It was the wind’s fault!
SEVERAL OTHER PHOTOS YOU PLAN TO SHOW ARE BASED ON INTERESTING SHOOT CONCEPTS YOU HAD. AND MANY OF THE WOMEN IN YOUR PHOTOS AREN’T MODELS, BUT FRIENDS AND FRIENDS OF FRIENDS TO WHOM YOU REACH OUT TO BE INVOLVED. CAN YOU SHARE YOUR MINDSET IN MAKING THESE CONCEPTS A REALITY?
I like to picture a little basket in my brain that stores up all of the things I find inspiring on a daily basis, whether they’re noted consciously or subconsciously. I think in pictures all the time, and it is the tidbits from my little brain basket that fill in the details. I really don’t have an exact reasoning behind the concepts I create. Sometimes I do, but most of the time it’s just me creating an aesthetically pleasing composition that tells a story.
I like to work with “real” people, because I feel like that awkwardness, or uncertainty, in front of the camera brings the subject to life as a human being. I’ve worked with some very talented beautiful models, but as my craft progresses I find myself more so gravitating toward your everyday people. When I think up a concept, I just try to replicate what I see in my head in reality. I don’t know if I do it subconsciously or not, but a lot of the time I will find someone who I either know or kind of know who looks exactly like the subject I picture in my head. I don’t really ever have any trouble finding someone who has the look I need. To make the concept a reality, I simply ask the person I think works best both aesthetically and personality wise. I have yet to have anyone say no.
YOU’RE EXPERIMENTING WITH VARIOUS CAMERAS – CAN YOU TALK MORE ABOUT YOUR COLLECTION? HOW DID YOU COME TO OWN THESE CAMERAS? ALSO, ANY PREFERENCES IN FILM?
I have a pretty hefty collection of antique cameras. Most, I have found at antique stores, thrift shops, yard sales and flea markets. I have a handful of Kodak Brownies. My oldest dates back to 1920, and it is literally just a red leather box with a tiny hole in the front and one button shutter. A lot of the time, people disregard these old cameras as not working or not repairable, so they sell them pretty cheap. I know how to fix most things that prevent the cameras from working properly, so I have no qualms about buying something that is broken. Usually it’s something small that only takes a few minutes.
The last old cameras I purchased were a Minolta X-700 from a Goodwill for $15 and a Kodak Duoflex II from a flea market for $28. The Kodak Duoflex II was a cool find because it was in great condition and even came with the original flash. I used it, and the lens needs some fixing, but other than that it worked great. Since it was made in 1947, it has a very pretty classic camera look to it. The man who sold it to me didn’t think film was still made for it. The film camera I use currently for all of my film work is a 1976 Canon AE-1 that my boyfriend Andrew bought for me a few Christmases ago. My preference in film is Kodak Portra 400 for color or Kodak Tri-X 400 for black and white.
EVERY PERSON HAS A DIFFERENT HOW-I-FELL-IN-LOVE-WITH-PHOTOGRAPHY STORY. WHAT’S YOURS? WHAT FUELS YOUR PASSION FOR THE CRAFT?
It’s actually a funny story how I came into photography. From the time I was four until I was about 17, I took painting classes based in acrylic as well as pencil and charcoal drawing. I thought that was my destined medium for the longest time. When I was a junior in high school I needed another class, and since I had taken every level of painting they had offered as well as a portfolio development class, I had no other option but to take photography. It was either photography or ceramics, and the thought of lugging clay everywhere with me just wasn’t my pottered cup of tea.
When I developed my very first roll of film, a Pulitzer-worthy roll of the school parking lot, rocks and tree branches, I knew that I was hooked. After that, I traded in my paintbrushes for film. When I went to college I didn’t have much time for art, so it took a bit of a hiatus until I met my boyfriend Andrew, who is also a film photographer. He bought me a film camera for Christmas a few years ago, and I have used it on a daily basis ever since. He has been a huge influence in my work with film. As for what fuels my passion, I’d have to say people. I really love capturing what I feel people miss in everyday life, like simple gestures and minute moments, which is why I chose photojournalism as my career pathway.
YOUR BLOG, WHICH WON THE MOBBIES AWARD FOR BEST NEW BLOG, HAS AN INTERESTING NAME: “120 PEARLS.” PLEASE TELL US ABOUT THE NAME AND THE BLOG.
The blog was actually my homework for Stacy Spaulding’s Digital Publishing class at Towson last semester. Let’s just say I got super into it, and it became a lot more to me that just a weekly homework assignment. Dr. S was cool enough to let us choose something we were interested in to blog about, and the point of the blog was to teach us how to self-promote using the internet. I chose to blog about film photography and more specifically, film photography using antique cameras. I typically do a post every two to three days. It ranges from posting my own work done with antique cameras, interviews with other film photographers, posts on neat film history or just thoughts on film photography in general. Its been a really great experience because I have gotten to meet a lot of like-minded people through my blog.
The name 120 Pearls stems from the fact that 120 is the size of some medium-format films, which is what a lot of the cameras I discuss take. Pearls are symbolic of the time era in which these cameras were often used. One of the antique cameras I bought, the Kodak Duoflex II, came with the original instruction manual and the women in the instructional photos were all wearing pearls. There you have it: 120 Pearls.
AND FROM CAMERAS TO DARKROOMS, IS THERE ANYTHING YOU’RE HOPING TO EXPERIMENT WITH THIS YEAR THAT WE CAN EXPECT TO SEE ON YOUR SITE?
I would like to shoot a lot more news-related things in film as well as experiment with different sizes. I typically work with 35mm, but I’d like to venture out to using medium and large formats as well. I also like to dabble in Lomography a bit, and I have wanted to give infrared film a go, so that is definitely an experimental possibility!
ANY ADVICE FOR PHOTOGRAPHERS GOING FROM DIGITAL TO FILM?
First of all, I’d say bravo! Digital is great, especially in our fast-paced society, but I feel like to really learn true photography, film is the best teacher. I have learned so much and am still learning about photography through film, and I feel it has made me not only a better photographer but also a more patient, observant artist. Film forces you to concentrate and frame every shot, to take your time and most importantly to THINK about what you are photographing instead of over shooting. There have been some photographers who have fought me tooth and nail on the film vs. digital debate but I stick to my belief that film is the best teacher, almost in the same way tough love works. Film is not as forgiving as digital, so you either get it right or you don’t.
The best thing would be to start out with a simple film SLR and a few lenses such as a wide-angle, close-up and zoom. Having each range will help you to compose better. My personal set up is a 28mm, 35mm, 50mm and a 300mm. Kodak Portra 400 is a great film to use everyday and has beautiful color rendition. The ultimate advice I have for any photographer, film or digital, is to shoot daily. Daily shooting will teach you how to utilize the settings and how to manipulate light to your advantage. Bring your camera with you everywhere!