We’ve forgot to put up this interview with the super-awesome Warren Haas that was conducted in the first issue.
BizarreBeyondBelief: As a someone who took a number of fine art courses, do you think that photography now relies more on its manifestos and write ups, as opposed to actual content?
Warren Haas: Sometimes I do feel that some photographers put more effort into writing a description or “artist’s statement” than they do their actual photos. I’ve seen photos in galleries where I’m just baffled why they’re up there, then I see there’s a long conceptual write-up about what the project is “about.” I’m believe I should be able to tell what your photos are about from looking at them.
In all the artistic photography classes I took, we were always pressured to be able to justify our photos. I just wanted to take photos. I definitely think the focus should be on your photos and not how to describe them.
BBB: Do you believe that because of these institutions implementing their beliefs on their students, would you say that this transfers into the photography community?
WH: It’s hard to say. If students are leaving school thinking that’s the only way they can succeed as an artistic photographer, then yeah, probably. But I wouldn’t say I’m really a member of any photography community. And that could partly be because I’m not comfortable writing about my work. I’ll do it if I have to for a submission, but it always sounds stupid and I feel stupid doing it.
BBB: How do you find your muses affect your actual process in photography, such as portraiture versus landscape?
WH: With portraits, the subject can really make or break a photo. I guess it’s supposed to be my job to try to make them comfortable and relax, and I try to do that, but I find some people are just better at sitting for photos than others. A lot of people are uncomfortable with having their photo taken, and you can’t always do something about that. But that also doesn’t mean you’re going to get bad photos. The more a subject is willing to try stuff, the more I photos I’ll end up taking. If a subject is reluctant, I might spend too much time trying to capture that one second where they’re not. With every other kind of photography, I find I’m always just looking around. There’ll just be someone or something that catches my eye and I’ll want to take a picture of them or it. I definitely take a lot more time to frame up what I think is right, whereas with portraits I’ll just click away. I feel more in control as a photographer outside of a studio, which doesn’t seem to make any sense.
BBB: Due to development in technologies in the social media era, with things like iPhones, Instagrams and Tumblr, do think the integrity in photography has been lost?
WH: I don’t know. “Integrity” is a weird word. Before all of this stuff, it’s not like photography was a sacred artistic medium. You still had lots of people out there making a living shooting weddings and lame family portraits. I do think a lot more people like to call themselves photographers these days. I don’t think you need to make a living at it to call yourself one, but you should definitely understand the photographic process, even if you’ve only ever used a digital SLR. Instagram is neat because it provides instant gratification in the same way Polaroid used to, but it does not make you a photographer. There’s no focusing, there’s very little angling or framing, people just throw their phone up in the direction of a sunset or their cat, throw on a vignette and some washed out colours and call it a day. I think it’s a shame that people are missing out on one of the biggest joys of photography, which is the learning process. Learning how to take good photos. I learned on a film camera, and that’s simply because digital cameras were barely around, and I used to love the wait for photos. It’s still exciting for me to go through a roll of film to see what worked and what didn’t. But beyond that, I felt you also learned a lot that way. With digital, you just delete what you don’t like. You don’t have to stop to analyze what you could’ve done differently. I’m sure people still do, but it’s too bad it’s no longer an essential part of the process. I don’t really consider Instagram to be “photography,” so it doesn’t really bother me. In the same way that someone who writes Twitter posts all day isn’t a writer, someone who posts lots of photos to Instagram isn’t a photographer.
BBB: Because of social media, do you find that it has become more difficult to actually gain recognition and breakthrough into photography as an employment?
WH: I don’t know, probably not. It’s always been extremely hard to make a name for yourself as a photographer and turn it into a living. That’s part of the reason I have a 9-5 job. I think social media probably makes a little easier to get your name out there if you work it hard enough, but I don’t know if that’s going to lead to work. There are a lot of photographers out there letting their photos be used for free because they think it’ll help them get paid work. It won’t. I know some photographers have used Flickr to meet like minded people and build networks of contacts, and I think Tumblr is a great place to share work. Not sure how much this helps or hinders you. Maybe if I actually made a living as a photographer I would be able to give a better answer.
BBB: Moreover, do you believe that with the technologies in actual equipment, like digital versus analog, would you say that the focus on the actual knowledge of cameras and their functions has been neglected?
WH: Definitely, yeah. Digital cameras are so incredible these days, you barely have to do anything to get a properly exposed photo. That said, a properly exposed photo obviously does not make it a good one. It’s too bad you don’t have to spend a lot of time with your camera and learn what every setting does. And you really should, because digital cameras can do so much. Whenever I get a new camera, I sit down with it and the manual for a couple hours to try to figure everything out. Then I try to use it a bunch and try all the different settings out. It’s fun. It’s not so much people are neglecting their cameras, they just don’t need to know anything anymore. But I’m sure a lot of people never knew how to work their film cameras either.
BBB: And because of these techno-evolutions, even in your time as a photographer has this made you conform to a different style of work and process than you began with?
WH: Yeah, I’d say so. When I first started, my process consisted of just pressing the shutter button. But as I started to learn the intricacies of shooting film, working with a light meter, strobes, and that sort of stuff, I really felt like I was in a zone. When I got a digital SLR, I didn’t feel that way anymore. I know I could play around with the photos in Photoshop later if they weren’t quite right.
I’m much more careful when shooting with film, because I want to make sure it doesn’t take a whole roll to get one shot. With digital, I just click away. The experience feels pretty different to me, even though I try not to look at the display on the back for as long as possible.
I’m not sure I’ve changed my style of work, but I do definitely need to learn how to use Photoshop better. I would like to figure out how some photographers achieve that film-like look with their digital photos. It doesn’t mean I’ll stop shooting with film. It’s just that, like any part of photography, I want to learn as much as possible.