2012/04/04

CLAUS PEDER PEDERSEN

Claus Peder Pedersen's door to photography opened through architecture. His PhD thesis was on the relation between drawing, geometry and spatial configurations; he now works as head of research at the Aarhus School of Architecture in Denmark

Which perhaps explains the preciseness to the way objects are seen in most of his images; a matrix of x and y coordinates where things sometimes align. But his images are not emotionally dry; there's often the enigmatic quality of the De Chirico city square, but with softer Danish light, or a night time street lamp.

Working on architectural projects, Claus would sometimes bring a camera along to record sites during the construction phase. Then he began to see something more than a documentary record in his images. The catalyst came when he had a bicycle accident; having to convalesce for quite a while, a friend brought over a film camera for him to experiment with.

At first his love of form and punchy contrasts lead him to prefer black and white imagery; then came color, and because he likes it's subtle characteristics of tonality, the use of film. His work is precise, and done with quality equipment, giving his pictures an almost crystalline quality.

The muted colors of Claus' images recalls the paintings of Richard Diebenkorn, yet his pictures have the immediacy and snap of hyperrealism. His influences, from Sternfeld to Shore and maybe a touch of Baltz; are there to see.  His images are quiet and contemplative, with little desire to dazzle the viewer.

While he may be thinking abstractly, it's important for him that objects in his images retain their realism, although the photographs are not about any documentary kind of reality. Instead, he's often thinking of how space and form create relationships and environments, and he's sometimes interested in materials for their own sake, and how they can become organized or disorganized.

At other times, a surreal streak runs through his images, as unexpected juxtapositions and visual non-sequiturs provoke intriguing vibrations. He's relatively uninterested in the pursuit of light for it's own sake, and in most cases prefers overcast or night conditions. Not least is his rigorous devotion to the craft, embracing the full richness of physical reality, and a sensuousness bordering on the erotic. I urge viewers to click on the images to see them large in all their detail and immediacy.


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What got you started thinking visually?


I studied architecture, which is of course very much related to the visual. I did a PhD in architecture looking into relations between drawing, geometry and spatial configurations and been doing exhibition projects, architectural competitions and books.

I work theoretically now as head of research at the Aarhus School of Architecture, but I have had some practical experiences as well. I was partner in this office: www.transform.dk some years ago, and have this almost defunct office still: www.blankspace.dk. As for architectural books I have contributed to a few, but none that are widely available internationally, but you can get a glimpse of this on that I co-authored http://www.arkfo.dk/shop/3167-kartografi-morfologi-topologi-9788787136891.html

All these activities have been almost unrelated to photography, which has played a very minor role in this work. I never brought cameras to study trips, as I made a conscious decision not to view the world through a lens at that point. I was sure that my potential pictures would not be able to match those in books and magazines anyway. Later I would use cameras to document sites and projects, and as backdrop for rendered architectural projects, but the use of photography would be very pragmatic. It was all about capturing the needed visual information in decently lit images.

While my interest in photography developed slowly away from the utilitarian there was a very defining period in early 2010. I had a bicycle accident and had to stay at home for more than a month. During that period my friend and colleague Frederik often came by. He found some old photographic equipment from the school of architecture and we started experimenting with it. This really was the beginning of my serious interest in analogue photography.

Gradually the documentary aspect has become less prominent and I became less interested in describing particular geographic locations or specific events. However, it's still important to me that my photos hold a relation to observed reality. The exploration of chance encounters between spaces, shapes and materials is an important driver for my visual thinking. The kind of photography that I'm interested in takes it's starting point in something existing that is observed, selected and framed in particular ways.

I think my images are related to my architectural interests. Almost all my images are related to the organization of man-made environments, but part of the fascination for me is that photography allows me to engage in these environments in completely different ways. Architecture projects ideas, concepts and ultimately buildings onto the world through design, while photography makes it possible to explore the world in its visual complexity without the need to change it.












































You first started in architecture, but once you added photography, who and what were the touchstones of your thinking?


In my view the relation between architecture and photography might be most interesting when photography explores areas which architecture as a discipline has troubles understanding or handling. An example of that might be Ed Ruscha’s exploration of American car-based culture in Twentysix Gasoline Stations or Every Building on the Sunset Strip, which used techniques that were later incorporated in the architecturally highly influential Learning from Las Vegas from 1972. The visual documentation of ever-expanding urbanization by the New Topographics photographers such as Robert Adams and Lewis Baltz is another example of investigations of themes that architecture and planning are still trying to come to terms with. Another example of leisure-based use of the landscape is in Bas Princen’s Artificial Arcadia or Simon Roberts’ We English.
 
Even though I like photographers who address such issues, I tend to prefer photographers without a too outspoken agenda or clearly defined documentary project. The photography that interests me most is open to exploration and discovery and I tend to prefer non-staged photography. Maybe that is why the photographic road trip still holds a fascination for me. Stephen Shore's Uncommon Places and perhaps especially Joel Sternfeld's American Prospects are among my favorite photo books.

The unlikely scenes in the latter such as the famous images of a collapsed elephant or the fire fighter buying a pumpkin while a house is on fire in the background, never cease to amaze me. That also goes from its slightly ominous and ambiguous portraits that seem to suggest something distorted and perverted underneath the suburban perfection. Alec Soth would be another influence in the same tradition.
 
Flickr is another huge cultural influence. That obviously has to do with the humbling amount of astonishing photographers. It is hardly fair to pick a few, but Mando Alvarez’ night shots, Simon Kossoff’s strange slices of Americana, Steven Brooks’ work, Patrick Joust’s images of Baltimore or Don Hudson’s images of Michigan are among my favorites.

But my interest in Flickr is not only related to quality but also the quantity of images. I can easily spend hours browsing through photographs depicting every imaginable subject spanning geographical locations, artistic visions and various techniques organized in more or less esoteric groups. I find the resulting visual overload quite helpful in my thinking of images. It helps me becoming more aware of both clich├ęs and subtleties and has played a major role in developing a more clear idea of what kind of images I am striving for.
 
I'm not sure how much these influences become visible in my work. One thing I know isn’t visible, but which I consider quite a bit, and hope to be able to work with more consciously in the future, is the sequential or narrative ordering of images. John Gossage’s imaginary walk in The Pond, Tod Papageorge’s use of the Book of Genesis of the Bible to structure images of Central Park spanning several decades in Passing through Eden: Photographs of Central Park, or Paul Graham's rhythm and structure of images in A Shimmer of Possibility could be quite different examples of this fascination.

Another influence I might mention is Wim Wenders. It probably started with his film Wings of Desire many years ago. I think my fascination is related to the importance locations play in his films. It seems to play a much more integrated role compared to most films. The rhythm and narrative structure appears to be completely dependent on the character of the location rather than just being a backdrop for a story or mood-creating device. Wings of Desire is intimately tied to Berlin before the fall of the wall, but something similar are the locations for most of his other films as well, for instance Hamburg and Paris in The American Friend or Elko in Don’t come Knocking.





































How do you use color in your images? But start with your work in black and white.


It is true that I have been experimenting with both color and black and white photography. I had been doing quite a bit of black and white using both analogue and digital cameras. I've experimented with various film types and developers. I also have a small digital camera, a Lumix, that has a setting that produces great black and white images with a lot of punch and contrast. But in general I don’t really like to work with digital black and white images; it somehow feels fake.

I always get a slightly nostalgic feeling using black and white. It seems so tightly connected to a certain period in photographic history and has been explored so thoroughly that I find it hard to escape the feeling of reproducing something that has been done better by others. I know that photographers make great works in black and white, and that it's probably lack of imagination on my part, but I've now come to prefer color images.

I've been experimenting with different film types and digital processing techniques in relation to my color photos as well. I generally aim for relatively naturalistic, not too saturated colors. I like the tonality of color films that to me have some indefinable qualities that I have great difficulties achieving with digital images. Part of this interest in tonality is obviously also related to lighting conditions.

I only shoot using available light and I have noticed the images I tend to like most are often shot in evenly overcast conditions. I don’t start with a specific color scheme in mind. I tend to look for motives, situations and possible framings before color. Of course they are intimately related and colors play a large role, sometimes to a point where the colors of the scene more or less determines the motive.




































How much pre-planning goes into your work?
 

Usually I don’t plan much. However, I often visit the places I find interesting again and again. I have a preference for places undergoing transformation, such as building sites where stuff is gradually shifted around and creates ever-changing vistas. A lot of my images are shot in a relatively small area of the harbor of Aarhus that is currently being developed. The repeated visits are not related to an idea about capturing the spirit of the place, and only partially to an interest in documenting the changes.

I'm interested in exploring what happens when the obvious photo opportunities gradually become exhausted. What new possibilities arise when you can no longer endure taking the same images? This approach can often be frustrating, reproducing previously captured images or just merely contrived or banal images, but occasionally it works. I'm really interested in those images where something slightly uncommon appears in familiar settings.
 
Of course I like to use photography to explore new places as well. My earlier hesitation towards viewing the world through a lens has long gone, even though bringing a camera obviously changes the way you experience things as you are always looking for motives and viewing positions.












































How do you go about your street photography in Denmark?

I mostly photograph objects or spaces that are easy accessible. People seldom play an important role in my images even though I am very interested in images containing traces of human activity. I rarely do portraits and then mostly of people I know. Maybe that's part of the reason why I normally don’t get bothered when I am out photographing. People here are probably also less paranoid than what appears to be the case elsewhere. The few times I've been stopped by guards on private areas, they have let me continue once they discovered that I wasn’t doing investigative journalism or trying to steal something.

I do enjoy the idea of being out there exploring through photography. The Danish climate can occasionally be harsh although it is mostly wet and windy rather that really cold. As Denmark is quite far north the lack of light during winter can be a challenge as well, the sun sets at 3:45 in midwinter, leaving very little time for photography. The positive aspect to being here is the changing seasons and light conditions throughout the year.
 












































Why do you prefer film?


I tend not to have a disposition toward nostalgia. I gave my up my LPs years ago and have no intention of going back, so why analogue film? For a while I tried to argue to myself that the quality was superior. I am not so sure anymore – certainly not for 35 mm film at least. Medium format negatives can produce amazing image quality if you can get it scanned properly.

Part of the reason is as I already mentioned - the colors and tonality. I mostly shoot negative color films such as Kodak's Portra. They produce a subdued and yet rich and vibrant tonality that I find is very hard to produce with digital cameras.

While this is important, the main reason is probably that I find it more challenging and interesting to photograph with film. The process is slower and more complicated, and I think it helps me concentrate and think more clearly.

There are only ten or twelve images on a 120 roll and you have to wait for the film to be processed, so there is an anticipation (and often disappointment) compared to immediately checking the image and its histogram on the display of the camera and taking a new image if the first one didn’t work out. I find that the urgency to get it right and not knowing how it turned until later gives the whole process of photographing a sense of urgency.

The chance of missing out makes me value the good shots more. Another very important aspect of using film is that there are fewer images to sort through. The one thing I absolutely hate most about digital cameras is that I take so many images. For some reason I find it very hard to delete even the obviously bad ones and it takes me forever to go through them several times to gradually narrow the selection down to the good ones.

I like the variety of cameras and formats as well. The square format of a 6x6 calls for another way of framing compared to the elongated of 35mm or digital cameras and makes you think about motives in another way. The same goes for the way the cameras operate. I particularly like using a chimney finder of a TLR. It is not as intimate as looking through the finder of a SLR because you are looking at a matted glass plate and at the same time more intimately related to the subject than using the screen of a digital camera.
  












































It seems you work has taken a less rigorous, even humorous turn recently. What's going on?


My stream has never been the most consistent. I occasionally tire of what I am doing and try out new directions for a while. I don't think that the recent images are a completely new direction. I had a small series of 'findings' quite recently and I have a small gallery on Flickr called Material Organization containing  related images.  

They might contain a touch of humor, but what mostly interests me in these images is slightly strange or puzzling shapes, and material or textural clashes such as pink balloons and a big man in a red sweater who appears almost floating, or a red sign and a blue textile connected by a strange torn green material. I want the photographs to retain such recognizable elements. 

I'm very interested in this material organization, and the resulting shapes and colors that go beyond obvious narrative logic or documentary relevance. It's also very important to me that the photographs don't turn into purely abstract explorations of composition and structure. I actually dislike abstract photo art. Part of my fascination is that it is a very difficult balance to get right. The border between trivial banality and something worthwhile is challenging. These images I consider as  visual sketches in between my more carefully considered work. They are collected over longer periods, most often using a pocket camera in between my medium format work.













































Photography is in a state of transition. Now we have the internet and the tremendous mash-up known as Flickr, Tumblr, and the like. What's your take on photography in the age of the internet and instant communication? 

Photography seems to have been the most approachable medium throughout the 20th century, where amateurs, artists and professionals had the same opportunities and where every form of expression from the most banal or peculiar to technical or artistic seems to have been expressed. 

The internet seems to take this multiplicity even further. But I find it interesting that more photo-books are being made than ever, and I think it's often closely related to the ability to find like-minded photographers to promote, produce and finance photo books.

Better computer screens in the future will give web-based photography better possibilities. Tablet computers are also already suggesting new ways of navigating book-like structures and integrating other forms of media that will probably make exciting new ways of presenting photography as it develops. 




































Finally, regarding the equipment lust we all share; you've been shooting with the Mamiya 7 for a while now. How do you like it?

I like it very much and recommend it highly. The positive is that it generally handles well; the options are of course very limited compared to a digital camera. The lenses are very good, especially the wide angle lenses. It is not too big; about the same size as my Canon 5D, though a little taller and you are not mistaken for a reporter as with a big DSLR. 

The downside is that it is a range-finder, which depending on your preferences might be annoying. I don't feel that it is a  problem, but I am not sure it's my favorite way of shooting. The viewfinder is bright, but you have to estimate field of depth.

The lenses are not very fast: 80mm is f4 and 50mm is f4.5, but they are sharp wide open due to the lack of a mirror, and the camera can be hand-held on relatively slow shutter speeds. Because the mirror in an SLR has to flip up in order to let the light pass on to the film or sensor it can cause the camera to shake. This has no importance to normal shutter speeds (and neither to very long exposures where the camera has time to stabilize) but with shutter times from 1/4 - 2 seconds it can have an effect.

That is why most SLRs will allow you to lock up the mirror to avoid this. It is of course even more important with medium format where the mirror is larger causing a bigger shake. Because the Mamiya has no mirror it is only the shutter that moves causing less vibrations. For the same reason it is also very quiet.

The wide-angle lenses have an external viewfinder, which means you have to focus using the ordinary viewfinder, and then move to the second one to frame the scene which require a bit of practice. According to some, the camera is a bit delicate. This might be true compared to a weather sealed professional DSLR, but I haven't noticed any problems.


Thank you, Claus Peder Pedersen


More of Claus Peder Pedersen's work can be found here.



















































































































































































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