Today Luc Store would like to present an extensive uncut original interview for Emerging Lab magazine who did a special feature on Luc in February of 2014. Luc talks about his beginnings, his definition of photography and its role in society, why he chooses to shoot in black and white, where he takes quotes for his pictures from and how is street photography different to landscape for him.
(…) The new generation of teenagers is probably the first one who will have lived all their lives accustomed to taking pictures, recording their whole existence through photography on a daily basis because every cell phone has a camera now – it’s like everyone has a (public) visual diary these days. It’s more than that – even before you’re born your mother will post that first sonogram image of you saying she’s expecting and a digital footprint is created for you without you having a say. Somebody will most likely take a picture at your funeral as well, right? I find it fascinating (…)
1/ Luc Kordas, tell us about your first contact with photography : When did you decide to become a photographer ? What motivated you to practice ? How do you live your everyday practice of photography ? What is the relationship between your life and your practice of photography ?
Well, my mother would take thousands of photos of us when we were kids. I didn’t like that too much, she was taking it too far, but I did like seeing them printed. I remember I would volunteer to go to pick them up from a photo store. I liked to see them right away. My first contact with a pro camera is a bit of a strange story. Ten years ago I worked for a charity in London with a Chinese guy. We hung out together a bit and one day he lent me a (film) SLR Canon. It was supposed to be for a couple of weeks but then he disappeared into thin air – all contact was lost. And I was left with his camera. At about the same time I discovered my Spanish roommate had a book on basic photography, which I borrowed. That was 2004. So I didn’t really decide to become a photographer. I think I was born a photographer among other things – it just took me 20 years to discover it and it was by coincidence anyway.
I’m not one of those people who will carry a camera everywhere they go. Except when I am traveling of course. I only have one and it’s pretty heavy. But I do say “that would be a nice photo if I had a camera” a lot to myself. My visual perception of the world has definitely changed since 2004. Photography has become a habit by now. It just came along one day and stayed with me. I do it quite regularly, but I had a couple of spells of not touching any camera at all. Two years ago I actually sold all of my gear because I needed money and didn’t photograph at all for 6 months.
I don’t even like when people call me a photographer. I am a human being who, among other things, takes pictures. But in fact there are a couple of things I enjoy more than photography like going in for sports, learning languages, traveling. I think I could live without photography. I don’t think I could without traveling.
YOUR DEFINITION OF PHOTOGRAPHY – TO BE A PHOTOGRAPHER TODAY
2/ What is (in general) today’s photography according to you, Luc Kordas? What personal definition do you have through your practice?
The trend tends indeed to trivialize and to democratize itself more and more with digital cameras, cell phones, etc. Nowadays everyone can do photography.
What is being a photographer today? How do you see the future of the practice? What is your position on this subject?
In essence, photography hasn’t changed since the beginning. The principle is the same. But it has evolved so much over the years becoming immensely more potent and omnipresent. We devour hundreds of photographs every day. And everyone is a photographer, true. I really mean it. I don’t see it as a bad thing. And I don’t think asking if it’s good or bad has a merit either. That’s just what it is – the evolution, democratization and hence trivialization is inevitable and the best thing you can do is accept it and deal with it. I love projects like Instagram – you express yourself through images, that’s great, isn’t it? I love cell phone photography too. I started doing it myself only a couple of years ago and man not only is that great fun but also very useful. I don’t have to carry that heavy camera around. Sometimes a low-quality snapshot will do just fine. It’s back to basics when you photograph just to remember. I think it’s great everyone can do photography today. But I’m glad not everyone does.
It is certainly harder to make it in photography today but if you’re in for the money or fame then you’re in for the wrong reasons. But because the medium has gained so much importance over the past 15 years it also means there are more opportunities I guess. And although on one hand I see a lot of mediocre photography I also see incredible amount of really good savvy photographers out there on the internet who not only have “the eye” but also know how to edit, which is equally important; many of them amateurs, many of them in their twenties – the offspring of the digital age and I definitely feel a part of it. There are a lot of ‘hidden’ photographers among my friends, I see their self-phone snapshots and I think give that girl a proper camera and a year …
Having said all that I do believe there’s still a visible division between a professional photographer or say, photographer at heart, and people who just take pictures to record their memories. Both of those groups do photography, but not both of them are photographers.
I think photography will continue to gain importance. It will grow and it will become an even bigger part of our life. The new generation of teenagers is probably the first one who will have lived all their lives accustomed to taking pictures, recording their whole existance through photography on a daily basis because every cell phone has a camera now– it’s like everyone has a (public) visual diary these days. It’s more than that – even before you’re born your mother will post that first sonogram image of you saying she’s expecting and a digital footprint is created for you without you having a say. Somebody will most likely take a picture at your funeral as well, right? I find it fascinating.
3/ In your opinion, what should be the role of a photographer these days? What should be its role in the society?
I think photographers who feel the need to express themselves through that medium rather than see it as a way of making a living should be considered artists. As such their role in the society is the same as every other artist’s. But then photography is such an ample term these days. There’s photo journalism for instance – a very different kind of photography and with a different purpose altogether. This one’s about showing the world how things are and asking them questions they normally wouldn’t have to answer.
4/ How do you locate the place of photography in relation to the other arts? (painting, sculpture, etc.)
I hear some people say photography is not art because it is not creating from scratch like in other arts but merely recording what already is and so photographers shouldn’t be called artists. I personally don’t feel like one and it feels weird when people call me that but I also think there are a lot of photographers who really are. True photography is about having a special kind of sensitivity and as such is no different from other arts. It definitely takes less time to master it and its effects are more immediate than in the other arts, but so what? My definition of an artist is very broad anyway; I met many artists who didn’t even know about it.
5/ What are your favorite photographer(s), art movement(s) and artist(s)? Why ?
There are so many of them, many of them virtually unknown. This is another thing about photography in the XXI century – it’s hard to answer such a question without going on for minutes (as you’re double checking their names in your “favorites” on the internet because you can’t remember them all). But what’s more interesting to me is to observe how contemporary photographers evolve. I’ve been following a number of photographers since their early beginnings for over 7 years now, some of them used to be my followers at first and then turned to photography themselves, and it’s really fascinating to see how far they ‘ve gone and to see the progress they’ve made.
The best photography exhibition I have ever seen was last year’s Sebastiao Salgado’s Genesis in London. The photographs were huge and that always helps. The only reason why I didn’t go back right to the beginning of the exhibit to see it again after seeing the last piece was that I had already spent there 2h. That was something.
As for the art movements I like surrealism, impressionism and romanticism. And many more. Rembrandt’s lightning. Balthus’ motives. I love Beksiński – I had his works all over my room as a teenager. I like Kandinsky, I like Pollock, I used to paint when I was in elementary school and my abstract works were a lot like his and even done using the same technique – I discovered him years later. Contemporary art is many times a hit or miss for me. Going to museums of contemporary art is somewhat risky these days.
In photography I’m open to all different kinds of styles and appreciate diversity, but the style that touches me the most personally is the type of b&w photography of the likes of Elliott Erwitt, Diane Arbus, Vivian Maier, Richard Avendon, Brassai, Willy Ronis, Billy Brandt, Edward Weston, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Doisneau, Robert Frank, I like Sebastião Salgado, Peter Lindbergh, Garry Winogrand, Bruce Weber, Walker Evans, Irving Penn, Susan Burnstine – basically whenever an image is a portal to a whole new obscure world, a maze, a mystery.
6/ Would you cite references from books you link to your work and universe ? (poetry, litterature, etc.). Which photography theorists do you enjoy?
Existentialism and Latin American realismo magico in literature are my two favorite ones. I still love Polish, English, German romanticism, too, even though most people grow out of this as they become adults (what a shame). I like XX c. American literature a lot as well. Sartre, Dostoyevsky, Faulkner and Cortazar would be my top four writers I suppose. Many of the quotes I link to my works come from things I am reading at the time. It’s been mostly Proust recently. I’ve been reading his In Search Of Lost Time for the past three years. I read each volume in a different place of the world – it’s nice to have that continuity through a book’s character. However, one of my favorite quotes is from my favorite TV series, actually. Whatever feels right.
As for photography theory, I haven’t been schooled in it, and I’m probably not going to be any time soon. I’m with Elliott Erwitt who said you don’t study photography, you do it. Eventually you develop certain skills. But it’s no brain surgery. It’s fairly simple. I know it’s a bit irrelevant to why people come up with theories, I know there’s need to organize and label things, but still, to me using too many words to describe images is a mistake in itself even if you’re trying to see … a “bigger picture” of the medium’s panorama. Kertesz said that for him what people say about their photos doesn’t have much importance. It is enough to look at the pictures. And I couldn’t agree more. Many times – for the boring pictures – people feel like they have to say something smart to show you there’s something to them when many times there is nothing. The same applies to all art.
YOUR STYLE IN CONNECTION WITH YOUR TECHNICAL CHOICES
7/ What are the technical choices you prefer and which are also for you a «signature», your style? With which device(s) do you feel the most effective?
I photograph almost exclusively digital. Being on the road for most of the past 10 years and not really having a home, sadly, I haven’t been in a position to truly explore other options that require having a studio or a darkroom for instance. But many people think I work with analogs. That’s the feel they get from my pictures. Some people are surprised to see I’m a contemporary photographer. What is my signature style? I do quite a few genres because traveling exposes me to many exciting situations of various kind and so I choose a technique according to the circumstances (I did a cycling trip across Europe recently and photographing it in a classic b&w style never even crossed my mind, that would have been just sad and wouldn’t convey the whole excitement of it, the fun I had, the colors, so I photographed exclusively using LensBaby, made all of the photos teem with loud colors with some special effects like textures or lighting layered on them – you wouldn’t say they’re my pictures at all) but the one that’s closest to my heart is definitely my fine art/street/portraits b&w film noir style. That’s what really moves me. Everything else is just playing.
8/ Why you prefer black and white photography on contemporary subjects? What is the meaning of a black and white photograph today in your opinion? What is your relationship with color photography ?
I prefer black&white photography for the same reasons most of b&w photographers do. Lack of color makes it easier to focus on light, composition and subjects. It also gives photographs that noble or even vintage look. I like when people say my photographs “have that 70’s look“. But I have to say I love color too. I have grown to like and appreciate it more over the years. By now what I do got to be 50/50 split between color and b&w. I like muted subdued delicate colors.
RELATIONSHIP TO THE TRAVEL/STREET PHOTOGRAPHY
10/ What is your relationship to travel and street photography through your practice?
Travel photography comes naturally. I am constantly on the move and I document the journey. Essentially that’s how I got into photographing in London in the first place. Street is embedded in it. A lot of photographers e.g. Winogrand don’t like the name for it – street - but I think it’s accurate. This is exactly what it is. Street often blends with travel for me, I mean I can take both kind on the same trip, but it’s also something more than just travel. Street photography in my view should be strictly limited to city life but not necessarily exclusively to the streets themselves as some want, you know. If I go into a staircase of a building, is this not still street photography? That would be taking it too literally. Despite overlapping sometimes, travel and street photography are quite different for me. Travel I do relaxed most of the time and 80% of the time in color. It would be a shame not to use color in Latin America. Street for me is mostly b&w and I don’t do street by-the-way; when I do street I go out specifically to photograph the city and do nothing else.
When I am there on the street it doesn’t always work for me. All too often I come back from a day ofstreet empty handed, not a single shot (never happened in New York though). Other times it just happens. It definitely resembles a sort of a trance to some extent, like when I was in New York for over 90 days I did practically nothing else than street photography. I spent a lot of the time outside all times of the day. Sometimes I would wake up at 9am, other times (mostly) at 3pm and other times I wouldn’t sleep at all and leave the apartment with the first sun rays like that one time in Bronx when I hadn’t slept for 30h and then went out to check that neighborhood in the early morning sun. Deprivation of sleep gave me an interesting perception of things. Surreal. People were strange. The rest of the time in NYC I edited and slept and tried to socialize a bit in between but I didn’t even go to museums a lot or anything like that – I just basically took pictures. Period. That was a really unusual experience – photography all the way, living it 24/7 for 3 months. And although I did get physically tired a lot, sometimes I was absolutely beat after a full day, I never got tired of it. But that’s New York – there’s no other place like that forstreet. Then my camera broke because it got soaked in heavy shower but I couldn’t resist and kept shooting. Then I came back to London, stayed over the weekend, and took 0 photos after a period of taking anywhere between 100 and 600 a day. I wasn’t feeling it at all. That’s just the way it goes.
Travel photography is mostly about producing interesting visually spectacular images; what I love aboutstreet is that all of those bizarre, funny, terrifying, disgusting, heart-warming, unexpected etc, moments happen right there on the spot on many streets of a city at the same time, it’s not staged like fashion, it’s real as it is, it’s there waiting to happen and your only task as a photographer is to be there and silently capture that instant. How to get that shot? It’s a numbers game you know, the more time you spend on the street, the more you will get out of it, not only because you will spend there more hours and so your volume increases (honestly, if you take 500 pics a day there’s no way you’re not gonna get at least 15 decent ones and 1 to 5 that are very good – 1 great image a day is enough for me, 1 makes my day, anything above that feels like a bonus) but also because you will feel the street better, you’ll get the taste of it and feel more at ease with it which is crucial because let’s face it – street should be done with a wide angle lens and to do that you need to get really close to your subjects. Sometimes they almost have to feel your breath on their necks (you know what Capa said) and the viewers also have to feel it and frankly I’m not always in the mood for that. Sometimes I go beyond that barrier within me and feel okay with it and other times I just can’t. It’s all in the game. I think in the case of street photography you should be taking pictures all the time to get yourself in a state where you no longer notice the camera yourself, when taking pictures is as natural as walking. Then you forget the awkwardness of taking a picture of a total stranger in a possibly dubious situation, maybe in trouble, sticking that lens in his or her face. It’s definitely a process and it doesn’t always come easy.
12/ What have you learned as a photographer during your travels? What deeds or marking tale?
When I traveled in Latin America I came closer to the people mostly through the good knowledge of the language but also thanks to photography. I became more socially sensitive and aware of how things are in those parts of the world. It’s a different thing when you hear about people struggling for survival on TV and a whole different ball game when you’re actually there to see it and you hear those people’s stories first hand. I was so happy to be able to speak good Spanish, listen to what they had to say. And they had to say a lot and it wasn’t pretty all the time. Listening to people on Cuba was actually often pretty depressing. There are quite a few memorable street situations over the years. Where do I begin? I described one of them above, but there’s aplenty. One that comes to mind right now is when I was chased by a drunken prisoner on the streets of Edinburgh. It was Halloween around midnight – go figure.
YOUR RELATIONSHIP TO THE PORTRAIT
14/ What photographers do you think are some of the best portraitists? What are your favorite portraits of photographers?
Too many. Irving Penn I like among hundreds. I saw a very good exhibit in London some time ago. I liked his series where he put people in a very tight corner made of carton and then took their pictures probably without giving them time to get comfortable. It’s more than a simple photograph. It’s challenging people, putting them in an (literally) uncomfortable situation and recording how they cope with it. Brilliant.
I like when photographers take pictures of other photographers because it’s a double game. Photographer becoming a model knowing all the backstage stuff so to say. I don’t have any particular favorites but I like Capa’s images taken by Cartier-Bresson for instance.
What I like most are self-portraits. It’s tricky. It tells you a lot about the photographers themselves. Many photographers start off with self-portraits just to practice because it’s not technically easy. And it’s a good exercise. Taking self-portraits is a little bit like traveling solo – you don’t have to worry about anybody else, no stress, you are the master of the situation; as a model you know what the photographer wants because you are him, and as a photographer you don’t have to bother with explaining what you need to the model, because you are the model. I like that a lot because I’m not good at telling my models what to do. I give them single words, talk under my breath, make funny gestures or faces, then look at them and realize I only confused them. I always tell my models to act naturally, because that’s what I’m after, but it’s not easy even for a pro model, let alone for somebody who does that twice a year.
16/ What have you learned from humans, their culture and society taking photographs? Have you an example picture to show us in relation to your answer?
Oh many things but I think above all I have learned that we are all the same in essence no matter how and where we live. We are all one species.
YOUR RELATIONSHIP TO NATURE & LANDSCAPE
17/ What have you learned from nature and landscape taking photographs? Have you an example picture to show us in relation to your answer?
I do landscapes and travel because I am on the road a lot. It’s a totally different approach. It’s nothing like street. Nothing like portraits. It’s meditating. Taking it easy. Breathing. Being alone, which I like. Different senses work when I do landscapes – it’s not that much about seeing, it’s listening to the sounds, it’s the smell, the general feeling. Yeah, it’s like meditating basically. I like taking lessons from the nature and accumulating those not so rare moments of beauty. If only I could make a video of the most spectacular vistas I have seen in my life – that would be something. I’ll have to make do with a photo album one day, though it’s not the same. Photography falls short here. A photograph will never smell, you’ll never feel the raindrops on your skin, you will never see that detail in it. It is just a reminder of things past but it’s a nice one at that.
But you see the thing with landscapes for me is that they never get as good as the reality. And never will. I am not even talking about editing, many times excessive these days, but a simple fact that a 2D piece of paper with some ink on it won’t do much justice to what I really feel when I’m there taking the shot. Not even if it’s a 70” x 100” print, although that certainly helps.
With portraits – often times it’s the other way around, because when I do portraits I create. I am not too bothered if the girl in the pictures is similar to the one standing in front of me. She doesn’t have to be, she’s only a model. I am not even bothered if she likes it or not. Sure, I’d like her to like it but if she doesn’t…I give myself the liberty to do my own thing and take it as far as I want. With landscapes, however, I mainly try to recreate. I try to make it feel as good as it feels in the nature and of course I fail every time but I accept that.
YOUR CURRENT AND FUTURE PROJECTS
18/ What are your current and future projects ?
(…) other than that, I am opening an on-line store with my photographs very soon, you’ll be able to get prints, posters, postcards, photo wallpapers and more at very reasonable prices because I think photography should be accessible and available to a wide audience so instead of pricing them ridiculously high and selling none as is the common practice I decided to do the opposite and sell them really cheap because I like the idea of people having my photos on their walls; but if you’re gonna start off with prices like $500 a piece that just doesn’t work and since I’m not gonna make money off selling prints anyway I thought I might as well sell it at a reasonable price – stay tuned!