What is a photograph but a reflection of our innermost thoughts, visions caught in that split second which define a lifetime. And who better to portray the sense of romanticism and its silent solitude than Christian Were. His pictures are a testimony to the art of dramatization, every frame as if out of a scene in a theater of profound human emotion.
I present to you, Christian Were AKA Memetic, his viewpoint and a Saturday night conversation about his work.
Q. Tell us a little about yourself and how you started with photography?
A. In a way, it started many years ago when I got a Kodak 110 camera for Christmas. However, even as I upgraded my camera to an SLR years later, I really only used it for travel snaps. I didn’t have a huge interest in photography either and I didn’t think about what aperture and shutter speed meant until I bought a DSLR in late 2006. The ability to immediately get feedback on my images opened up a new world of learning photography. Using Flickr opened it up even further.
Q. Had you always been this attracted to taking pictures over your other passions?
A. Artistically speaking, I’m quite a dabbler. I’ve tried my hand at writing, drawing, creating music and, more recently, dabbling in the medium of video. I find photography quite a satisfying form of expression but it certainly is a very recent one for me.
Q. Would you consider yourself as a street photographer? What attracts you to shoot life over landscape OR nature?
A. I would say Yes, but I imagine a lot of street photographers would not agree with that. I think my photography is usually a little too romantic to fit in with the main genre that has formed out of street photography. I prefer shooting life because I love how photography can examine the briefest of moments in our daily existence. I love how these moments, once frozen, can be transformed into a completely new story. I sometimes shoot landscapes as well. But, even then, I’m shooting people as well; just this time I’m shooting their absence.
Q. Most of your pictures are more than just snapshots, they are moments as if from a story. Is this storytelling result a premeditated effort or does it come naturally?
A. I would answer this with both a Yes and No. I’ve trained myself to respond to scenes in a certain way, which tends to often be from an emotional viewpoint. That has determined when I click the button. I never think about the layers or metaphors before the shot because by then it would already have passed. However, you have to know what you want and “feel” the shot, then press click at the moment you feel is right.
Q. Most of your work brings with it the drama of the night and the play of hide and seek. Are you a night walker when it comes to photography?
A. Actually, shooting at night originally came out of necessity. The best opportunities to go shooting were after work, so it was usually dark by the time I got anywhere to start taking photos. I quickly fell in love with the colors of night. During the day it’s about the shapes and shadows, hence I prefer to shoot black & white film during the day, but night time is all about the color.
Q. What we see in your work is a lot of portraits. What interests you in faces?
A. I think when people see a photograph, they can like it for a number of reasons. Sometimes they can recognize something about themselves in the image, whether it be an emotion or a memory. I find portraits fascinating as I might find an emotion or story in there that I can recognize feeling in myself at one time. One that has a memory attached to it even if I can’t find the words for it.
Q. You usually like a lot of natural lighting, involving bright complex backdrops of the city. Is that because you restrict yourself to work within the atmosphere of the city as an urban artist?
A. I’m fascinated by light, but light is only interesting when there is shadow. I find cities are a great way to explore the drama of light and shadow.
Q. What has been your greatest support in photography? Has it been a single influence or has it been a variety of factors?
A. The greatest support has been all of the great people on Flickr. The community has been a great learning resource and interacting with other photographers has been an invaluable experience for me.
Q. The Pentacon Six, which seems to be your primary wing man seems to share quite a bad boy reputation when we read about it. Why did you end up choosing such a difficult camera?
A. Mainly it’s because I’m a cheapskate and I love a good challenge. I’ve never paid more than a few hundred dollars for any film camera and the Pentacon Six is one of the cheapest medium format SLRs out there, so I found it’s a great camera to start with but then I simply never really moved on to other film cameras. It requires a little more care and patience than other cameras but I find it’s well worth it.
What I like most about the Pentacon Six is that it slows everything down. You need to spend time to meter the light and achieving focus is no quick matter either. The process of taking a photo becomes a very deliberate thing and I’m more conscious about when to release the shutter because there probably won’t be enough time to wind it on again and get another chance. This actually makes me enjoy photography more. I’d really forgotten this as I’d been away from shooting film for the last six months but I recently shot my first (and last) roll of Kodachrome on a borrowed left-handed Exa 1b. Having to shoot left-handed slowed everything down and it was the most fun I had taking photos in a long time.
Q. There has been a major shift in the medium of photography in today’s world but you still choose to work with film. Why so?
A. Digital is ultimately too cold and too sharp for my liking. I like imperfection, the quality of hand-ground glass, lens flares. So, for me, film photography isn’t so much about the film but the look and feeling that the cameras and lenses give the image. It feels much more human.
Q. Are you currently working on any projects or just shooting what catches your eye?
A. I’ve been very quiet lately but planning to get back into some more staged portraiture and also have a collaborative video project in the works with an exhibition planned at the other end.
Q. What is the best tip you’d want to give to beginners photographers?
A. There’s a quote which I have in my Flickr profile,
“The real voyage of discovery consists not, in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes”
I believe good photography is mostly about having a fresh pair of eyes on the world. All the other technical stuff doesn’t contribute as much to a great photograph.