Interview with Nicholas Calcott: "Understanding the tradition of architectural photography is a big advice" - La dialéctica de las imágenes

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20 de octubre de 2017

Interview with Nicholas Calcott: "Understanding the tradition of architectural photography is a big advice"

Nicholas Calcott is an American photographer who has worked for The New York Times Style Magazine, Dwell, Fast Company, Frieze, Herman Miller and Mociun. He has been chosen this year by Photo District News (PDN) as one of the best emerging photographers in the world. We invite you to know a bit more Nicholas Calcott in the following interview. 

∎ When did you start with photography? What or who motivated you?
I started in high school and, like a lot of photographers, was motivated by an extremely passionate artist and photographer, Ron Adams, who also happened to teach at the school.  We were very lucky in that we had a darkroom, and thanks to Ron, soon after taking his class I found myself in there at pretty much any free moment I had.

∎ Which are your photographic references?
I jump around quite a bit depending on what catches my eye, but at the moment I have books by Taryn Simon, Mark Steinmetz, Irving Penn, Julius Shulman, Ezra Stoller, Karen Knorr, and Katie Kline on my desk.

∎ Which genre do you prefer? And why?
I enjoy jumping around between genres, quite frankly.  Each genre has it’s own visual problems to solve, and moving between them keeps the work conceptually open and flexible.  Also, there’s a lot to be said for how images from different genres speak to each other, and the conversation between them often has echoes in photographic history that I enjoy interrogating.

Source: Nicholas Calcott

∎ Which photographic equipment do you usually bring with you to carry your photographic projects out?
For many years I shot with a large format camera (a Toyofield 45AF), but these days I use a Canon 5DS R often paired with tilt-shift architectural lenses for my assignment work.  For personal work, I use a whole range of cameras, but often settle on the Canon, a Contax G2, or the aforementioned Toyofield.

∎ Whom do you show your pictures before publish them?
The assignment work gets seen by the editors or whomever commissioned them, personal work often gets shown to other photographer friends, whose opinion I value extremely highly.

∎ Could you tell us about the years you were in France and why you went back to New York?
I left New York when I was about 24 after 7 years in the city – a lot of the reason why was simply ‘cause I was ready for a change and wanted to reset a little bit, both psychologically and professionally.  Up until that point I’d been assisting and bumming around the city and I think I was ready to rethink my work and the kind of visual problems I was interested in taking on.

When I arrived, however, it took me about a year of not photographing and just taking the city in before I found myself drawn to pick up a camera again.  My work had shifted and I was increasingly drawn to the City itself – not just Paris, but the very idea of a conglomeration of humans forming a kind of super-organism.

I found like-minded photographers in Paris – It’s a wonderful city for that: Big enough to draw a lot of serious-minded artists, but small enough and central enough that the networks are easy to jump into, open to the outside world, and often quite changeable, perfect for someone like me who was searching for an intellectually open and engaged community.

After about 4 years, I came back to New York, primarily for financial reasons and to start an editorial career, but continue to visit often.

Source: Nicholas Calcott

∎ How did you get to work with The New York Times Style Magazine and with Fast Company?
While in Paris, I assembled a portfolio of personal work and began trying to schedule meetings every time I came back through New York on visits. Two years later, when I moved back to the city, I had already met many of the editors I’d go on to work with several times, and they’d seen my work develop and change.  As such, after letting them know I was back, I began to get commissions, at first quite slowly, but soon with mounting frequency.  After that, one thing led to another – one wonderful aspect of magazine work is that people see it and then contact you to work with them.  Still, though, I do still spend a lot of my time reaching out to organizations and people that I’d love to work with.

∎ You use to take architecture pictures. What advice could you give to our readers to take a good picture?
Understanding the tradition of architectural photography is a big advice, and it’s a part of photo history that doesn’t get a lot of attention with photographers.  Designers and architects certainly know it, but it was never really considered part of the artistic tradition of photography (unfairly, I’d say). Your readers might start by looking at the work of Ezra Stohler, Julius Shulman, and Balthazar Korab, to start – those 3 are the acknowledged greats of mid-century architectural photography in the US, and their work is incredibly great.

Besides that, having patience is a big one – using a tripod and dedicated prime lenses help, but I’d say that this has more to do with the fact that when you set up a tripod, it slows down the process.  You’re forced to focus and compose for a minute.

Source: Nicholas Calcott

∎ How did the idea of carrying out the photographic project on the house of Louise Bourgeois come about?
That was actually a commission from Stella Magazine, in the UK, but was a dream and an absolute pleasure to shoot.  It was the start of a bit of a concentration I’ve developed.

∎ Which photography of another author would you recommend?
I’m obsessed with Dana Lixenberg’s Imperial Courts at the moment.  Highly, highly recommended.

Source: Nicholas Calcott

∎ Literature and images are closely linked, but do you think that images have their own dialectic?
They have their own vocabulary, and if we accept the hypothesis that the structure of language shapes our way of thinking, then they certainly have their own dialectic separate and apart from the vocabulary of words.  Teasing that structure out, though, is something that can only be truly explained in images themselves, both fortunately and unfortunately.

∎ Do you think that social networks like Instagram detract photography? How do you think people should use this type of social networks?
I don’t think it detracts from photography, but it does throw up a lot of noise that makes teasing out the meaningful signal difficult.  Though, it must be said that a social network built entirely around images can’t be bad for those of us who live and work in images.

∎ In La dialéctica de las imágenes we like to bring photography closer to our readers. Therefore, could you comment this picture?
Lunchtime atop a Skyscraper, by Charles C. Ebbets Source: Bettman Archive
It’s a hard one to escape from when walking around certain parts of New York, as you see it sold everwhere for tourists in one form or another.

Nonetheless, I’ve always found the photo fun to read in dialog with Soviet Socialist Realism and, closer to home, the work of the WPA.  It was, it seems, staged as a promotion for the construction of the RCA skyscraper and distributed in the popular press, and so created for the use of capital.  But the visual language is definitely one more familiar from Soviet propaganda and from the socialist programs created under President Roosevelt that drew heavily from the ideas of planned economies.  In this way, it can be seen as a direct participant in and result of the historical competition between Capitalism and Communism and the rush of modernity that the 30s brought New York and the world.

∎ Finally, we would like you to send a message to all the readers who visit La dialéctica de las imágenes.
First, thanks so much for your interest in my work!  And, of course, keep on engaging with images – there’s more there, the deeper you dig.

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