Kai Wiechmann was born in 1969 in Cologne, Germany. After stints in London and New York he is now living and working in Berlin. He has worked for editorial clients including Blackbook, Casa Brutus, Intersection, Sleazenation, Tank and Viewpoint along with top advertising clients including Delta Airlines, Ikea, Citibank and American Express among others.
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Liz Cockrum was born and raised in Chicago, IL. After earning her BFA in Photography from Columbia College Chicago, Liz moved to her current home in San Diego to nurture her passion for surfing. Through photography, Liz seeks to reveal little-seen elements of environments, cultures, and people to her viewers. Her current body of work, Sirens, focuses on female surfers in Southern California. She states, ‘My intention with this body of work is to celebrate the courageous and innovative females who are pioneering this shift towards a more positive, open surf culture. These images speak to broader ideas related to women in modern society, the power of determination and sub-cultures within a larger community. Through portraits, landscapes and details I want to focus the viewer’s attention on the individuals who are an integral part of a unique culture’. When Liz is not photographing, you can find her surfing, cooking, dabbling in mixed-media arts, or making plans to travel abroad. Her work is represented by Joseph Bellows Gallery in La Jolla, California.
Boone Speed is a professional photographer based in Portland, Oregon. Highly regarded for his painterly photographic aesthetic and minimalist sensibilities, Speed has been singled out by establishments like Patagonia, Nike, National Geographic Adventure and Nixon to help tell their stories. Boone’s photographs have been the subject of editorial and commercial campaigns, ranging from adventure travel essays and action sports exclusives, to intimate portraiture and fine art. Boone is also a principle architect in the evolution of the sport of rock climbing.
So you end up in some pretty insane situations geographically speaking, and otherwise. What’s the deal?
‘Just lucky I guess (laughs). I’ve actually spent most of my life exploring insane places around the globe, both as a photographer and also as a climber looking for unclimbed rock formations. You could say that I have a pretty unique skill-set for adventurous kind of work. So yeah, I’ve been to a lot of places that most people have never even heard of. I just returned from an exploratory trip to rural Venezuela to evaluate climbing potential there, which is amazing actually (cover story September issue of Rock And Ice).
What’s the most afraid you’ve ever been with a camera in your hand?
‘Ha, that’s a tricky one because it might not be what you’d expect. But what immediately comes to mind is when I was shooting Chris Sharma on his epic climb of Jumbo Love (at 5.15b, it’s considered the hardest rock climb in the world). I was suspended like a spider in a web of ropes about 200′ off the ground, strung out away from the climb about 80 feet, bouncing and spinning upside down to get what I wanted. That was disconcerting and frightening because I had plenty of time to think. and the consequences of falling hundreds of feet into talus were obvious. But that’s mostly mind over matter. Just breathe and k.i.t. But in reality, the most real danger I’ve been in was probably when I was shooting Conrad Anker on that melting ice pillar in Yellowstone, National Park (shown here). Three different avalanches came down on us that day and the whole 4,000 foot slab of wet snow above us was threatening to cut loose, which would’ve been certain death. So we had to move quickly and precisely. And look, it was totally worth it, right? (laughs) But it’s weird. That day we were all in the moment, doing our job and I never felt threatened, actually. That’s just the nature of it. And somebody’s got to do it!’
You’re living in a world without digital archiving. The house is on fire. You can save one photograph. Describe it for us.
‘Oh man, gotta grab the shot of my boy building dribble castles on the beach in Mexico. That one’s for me’.
Most of the photographs featured here have shown up as covers or editorial features. Yet you’re still arguably best known as an athlete (rock climber). Is this significant to you?
‘Well, at least I’m known (laughs). You know, I’m just grateful for all the opportunities I’ve had. I’ll leave it at that’.
When does the act of taking pictures become art?
‘Well, art is beyond just snapping a perfect frame. I believe art is craft plus vision. In the case of photography, it’s understanding the process and being fluent with the equipment, constructing and then deconstructing the process, breaking rules, adding textures and colors and seeing unique angles. It’s adapting selective focus techniques and knowing when to overexpose or underexpose in a way that transforms a shot and captures the moment perfectly. Making that moment extraordinary’.
What’s inspired you lately to the point of doing something about it?
‘I’m inspired by everything. Especially the impossible, like getting the impossible shot or climbing the impossible route. Sometimes I’ll just get inspired to shoot in horrible light, just to see if I can shoot a photograph that shows beautifully just how horrible the light is. Does that make any sense? This is something I learned from my father as we were driving across the desert one day when I was about eight years old. When I looked out the window into the hot sun, at the sagebrush against the desolate scorched backdrop, and I commented about how ugly it was, my Dad said, “You’re just not paying attention son. Look at all the colors in the sky, the purples and the oranges”. And then he related it back to how one of his favorites, C.M. RusselI, had the ability to capture all that beauty in his paintings. I’ll never forget that. I think since that day, I’ve tried to see, and capture the beauty, or at least its essence, in all things’.
You’ve mentioned on multiple occasions over the years that you’ll consider any gig, and that you’ll ‘get the shot’. What about that? Seems a mighty high bar?
‘This relates back to the last question. I guess I’m saying, “present me with an interesting challenge, and we’ll try to make it happen”. I love shooting. I consider myself lucky every day because I can actually make a living doing it. I devoted many years of my life to climbing, in pursuit of the impossible in that realm, without making any money. So I’d shoot even if I didn’t make money at it. But fortunately I do (laughs). But here’s an example: I’m the house photographer for the Doug Fir Lounge in Portland. It’s an opportunity to shoot great music in a dark club. It’s always a fun challenge to get a good shot in there. And hey, I enjoy every minute. In fact, I’d probably spend money to see most of what I shoot there. But yeah, it’s definitely not about the money (laughs). Oh no, I do it because I love it’.
Jake Stangel is a lifestyle-outdoor photographer based in San Francisco. He studied visual communication – a combination of photography, marketing, and visual philosophy – at New York University, and graduated in 2008. Stangel primarily shoots medium and large format, and prefers using the sun as his light source and the clouds as his light diffusion. He recently completed his first major photographic project, “Transamerica”, which looks into the vivid and thoroughly American world that still exists along the backroads of the United States. The project was conceived and shot on two separate cross-country bicycle trips Stangel took in 2007 and 2008. He is currently working on a self-published book of writing and photography from “Transamerica”. He also runs a photo resource website called ‘too much chocolate‘.
You’ve just completed a project, Transamerica, where you photographed people and landscapes while biking across the country. From the outset, what were your photographic goals for this trip and did they change over the course of the journey?
‘My photographic goals were certainly wide ranging, and if anything, I focused on a theme rather than a storyline. I definitely wanted to capture life on the road, and primarily look into this all-at-once placid, grand, vibrant nature of the country – its ‘American-ness’. I sometimes feel like there’s a fine layer of golden dust, car grease, and Bud Light that lays atop the entire country, and this is what I was after.
‘I also wanted to touch upon how much of the American back roads remain timeless and classic, even as the face of America is rapidly changing along our interstate ‘pipelines’. I am totally head over heels in love with mom and pop stores, original 50s diners, and all the people that make up what I consider ‘authentic America’. I would have loved living in the 50s, 60s and 70s.
‘My goals didn’t change much over the course of the journey, especially because I’ve done this trip twice, and knew what to expect in a way. My goal was always to capture what I described above’.
During your travels, you were very limited to how many shots you could take each day due to the format that you were working with. What were the determining factors that encouraged you to take a photo at any point?
‘These trip were self-financed and occurred before and after my senior year of college, and I had allocated a certain amount of money for film and processing on each trip. This second time around, I shot on 4×5″, and could shoot about two images every three days. It was not a great feeling to hit my quota for the day, but I made it work as best as possible. Each and every situation was different, but I tended to select scenes that together were iconic, had strong visual appeal, and really illustrated the “Americanness” concept I was after.
‘The shots were both of riders on the trip, as well as people I met along the route. In the afternoons, after the day’s ride, I’d often wander around town, and fall in love with a physical location. I’d then set up my camera for two reasons- to get as ready to shoot as quickly as possible, as well as to help me reel in or convince a subject to get in front of the camera. When someone walked past my camera – which could take upwards of half an hour in the first place – I’d gently approach them in the least intimidating way possible and ask to take their picture. The 4×5″ camera, set up, looks pretty grand, and I’d usually point to it, set-up and ready to go, and it often got people over the hump of “who is this creeper” into the “sure, that’s a cool camera and he seems harmless” zone’.
You are now working on self-publishing a book for this series. What steps must you undertake for this to happen?
‘I am in the beginning stages of creating a book that includes both images and anecdotal writing about the trip. I really love writing, and I’ll be including a collection of stories, narratives, and epiphanies that are hopefully as eclectic as the experience of riding across the country was. This book will be an ongoing side project, and I’m much more concerned about making it interesting and thoughtful than banging in out in two months, so who knows when it’ll come out. Some people have knitting, I’ll have this.
‘I’ve also decided, within the past two weeks, to ride across the country for a third time this upcoming summer. I’ll be 23, and I figured this type of adventure will only get harder and harder to fit into my life down the line! I want to accomplish a whole lot more on this summer’s ride as well. Last summer, my blog served up dispatches from the road that often included ’societal insight’ (like this), and this summer, I’ll be writing more of those kinds of posts. A couple people have recommended trying to team up with a publication like the Atlantic or Mother Jones for an online blog/column, so I’m currently shopping the idea around.
‘This summer’s photos will also hone in on one or two storylines – one (for sure) will more closely follow the experiences of the 30 strangers (I ride with a non-profit that raises money for affordable housing) that come together for a summer to ride their bike across the country. The other will focus on a socioeconomic issue – perhaps the role churches play in America, possibly about the plight of former industrial powerhouses that are falling inward on themselves due to globalized production – job loss, healthcare issues, home foreclosure, and a basic lack of sustainable town life. I’m also pitching these stories around, so if you’re at a magazine, holler at me!’
Just recently you have moved from NYC to Portland, Oregon. What’s the photo community like in Portland?
‘Portland has a cool photo community. I almost feel unauthorized to talk about it because I only moved here in October of ‘08, but there are some great photographers out here, a whole bunch of assistants itching to work, and a pretty friendly atmosphere amongst everyone, which goes a long way. Unlike New York, it’s small enough that everyone pretty much knows everybody, and I hang out with a good number of photogs and assistants on a regular basis. The biggest difference, far and away, is the lack of work here in the wintertime. It’s pretty much dead, and very frustrating, especially because we have Nike, Adidas, Weiden + Kennedy, and a plethora of other ad agencies in town. Fortunately, the cost of living here is about one third of New York. I haven’t lived here during the summer yet (and I won’t be this one) but I hear it picks up. The bottom line is this: photo editors, art buyers – there’s talent here, there are good crews, there’s a kickass rental house. Send work our way and we’ll deliver the goods’.
James Rajotte is a photographer living in Rochester, New York. After growing up in rural Pennsylvania, James studied Earth Sciences at Penn State University. He then worked as a photojournalist for several publications during and after his undergraduate education. Rajotte completed an MFA at the Visual Studies Workshop and is currently an Adjunct Professor of Photography at Rochester Institute of Technology and contributes regularly to publications such as the New York Times.
What made you start photographing East High School in Rochester, NY and how did you gain access?
‘My interest in photographing East came about as I was volunteering in a mentoring program in which students made short video productions with an anti-violent message. When I decided to photograph, I wrote a formal letter to the Superintendent and the Principal. After a bit of humming and hawing they made me East High School’s “official” photographer. They gave me a make-shift laminated pass and I became friendly with the security guards’.
What camera are you using?
‘Mamiya C220 is the camera that I used for this project. I borrowed it from an acquaintance’.
The photos in this series are devoid of people for the most part. Were you allowed to shoot the kids or was this a conscious decision?
‘At first, I was photographing students candidly and making portraits in 4×5. These were nice, but it was difficult to photograph students without commenting directly on socioeconomic status of East High School’s student body, and this is not what I wanted to do. I was however, interested in the dilapidated state of the school and the eerie familiarity that I felt. When I started looking at my pictures as symbols of a high school experience and not as documents about a particular school, something changed for me. I realized that people of a certain age and culture see themselves in these pictures, and that certain familiar objects and places contain or at least call to mind emotions that have not been felt in some time. The locker room for instance, is a place where traumatic things often occur. Just as important as the places, the objects that make up education – plastic chairs, fluorescent lights, miniature bags of Doritos, clocks and overhead projectors – all carry emotional weight’.
What is the most important thing you teach your students about photography?
‘I try to have my students to consider photography as asking questions about the world. I also teach them to find a healthy balance between craft and concept’.
With a degree in Geographic Information Science, why did you make the leap to photography and do you find your degree has had an impact on your work?
‘G.I.S. deals with communication, spatial relationships, semiotics and cognition; all things that have relevance in photography. The concepts that I studied as an undergraduate are starting to intersect more with my photographs. My most recent work is about a small town called Frenchville, PA, in which, the towns geography has played a vital role in its existence, identity and inevitable demise’.