Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Where When How Wednesday - Chris Blackhurst

Welcome to 'Where When How Wednesday'. In these weekly posts I'll be interviewing creatives about their journey into the creative world, their works, and what makes them tick. This week I'm interviewing Chris Blackhurst, a talented photographer based in Wigan, Greater Manchester.

Hi Chris, thank you for taking the time to answer some questions. Lets start at the beginning, when and how did you come about getting into the world of photography?

"My first influence was going for long walks with my Dad. He shot with a Minolta SLR and he loved to shoot the outdoors - landscapes and wildlife etc. I just loved being with him, in the countryside, however, I didn't pick up a camera with any intent until a few decades later. I do think that, if it weren't for my father’s influence, I may not have eventually done so.
I have always been interested in art (certainly, appreciating it) but it took some considerable time for me to actively participate in it. A quick scan of my Flickr account suggests I made my first strides into photography in 2007, when I'm fairly sure I picked up a Nikon D40 and kit lens and just shot random crap, as I am sure a lot of people do when they are first starting out. But I have always been one to get “cabin fever” quite quickly - I've never been happy just sat at home watching TV - that kind of existence could send me Postal. So, initially, photography was my escape from just being inside, watching TV or hooked up to the internet etc. However, my motives for photography soon evolved. Without wheeling out a sob story, I fell quite ill a few years ago - so ill, that I was forced to evaluate what was important to me - hence, photography became (and still is) my therapy. When I am not involved in something creative, my mood slumps - I'm not nice to be around."

Photography can have it's share of problems. I personally have a particular problem with self confidence. This confidence issue can and has caused me issues with my photography. Do you find any aspects of photography particularly challenging?

"Phew, I have lots of issues with photography, but I'm not sure that anyone reading this would have the patience to read all of my gripes. However, I will try to select a few that really grinds my gears. 

I find the whole issue of “networking” somewhat tiresome and a tad sycophantic. I understand its a necessary evil to get yourself “out there” and I am as guilty as the next person for using it as a platform of self promotion, but I struggle with how social networking isn't that social, hence I always do my best to pay it forward and try to promote others who I collaborate with or whom I admire as much as I can, hence qualifying the “social” aspect of networking. On the whole, I don’t enjoy internet forums either, because of the whole keyboard warrior aspect. I genuinely doubt that the majority of people speak to people face to face as they do on the internet. The internet is a scary place - a doubled edged sword. I’d love to be brave enough to ditch internet networking completely. But I'm not quite there. Yet.

I am also not a technical photographer either. I know what works for me and I stick to that. I am happily ignorant of most technical aspects of photography, certainly when it comes to digital. Its the part I find least interesting. I apply the same basic principles to whichever photographic platform I am using. 

My biggest problem is being able to produce a high quality body of work that engages the viewer. Also, I am too ambitious. I'm always punching above my weight. And I don’t like making things too easy for myself - I put myself under quite a lot of pressure quite often, otherwise I don’t feel like I've earned any positives out of the situation - paid my dues.

People I do not have a problem with. Its an area I can handle relatively well and that comes from my day job. I do play this down. I am a big believer in under promising and, at the very least, attempting to over deliver. There’s a lot to be said for remaining humble or having a pinch of humility, I think."

Photography, especially online, tends to fall into specific genres and/or gets described as being a specific style. The trouble with this is it's quite subjective, the style someone views an image to be can often differ to the style the person creating it views it as. How would you describe the work you are putting out there?

"That’s a good question. Something I've not really thought about before. I'm not sure how I would describe it at it is now. Transitional? Transient? I'm still very much finding my feet with what I want to shoot - hence I have hopped from genre to genre, but I know that I have had a few constants throughout these periods. There are definite aspects of abstraction in all of my photography and elements of connection too. Most recently I've done some conceptual projects. Lots of arty farty words there. But its just me feeling around, seeing what I connect with most. I'm getting there."

In my series 'Foto Inspiration Friday' I share the people, images, places etc that I find give me inspiration. Who, or what, or where do you draw inspiration from?

"At last! Something I’ll find quite easy to answer! My two biggest influences are probably Anders Petersen and Michael Ackerman. Absolutely love their images and am in the process of greedily consuming their publications (I am somewhat of a photobook whore). You won’t be able to see this influence in my current photographs, but I’ll perhaps touch more on this later.

At the material time of answering these questions, I am still shooting models (beauty / portrait / conceptual work), I don’t think there is any one person who particularly influences me in this genre, but there are certainly aspects from numerous photographers that have some influence on what I shoot. For example - Ryan Muirhead  - he strives to do minimal work in post, hence his images are more “honest”. I absolutely abhor photographs of models (or anyone) with that horrid, waxy finish after a bout of skin smoothing (is that the right term? See - not technical!). Personally, I find it insulting to the subject. I understand that I am in the minority and this is probably one of the reasons why my tenure with the whole “shooting pretty girls” thing will be finite, or at the very least, sporadic. Its another aspects of why I don’t like forums - I find that if an established figure states something, this is usually taken as Gospel, because of the herd mentality that forums can promote. As such, me going onto a forum and championing doing little work in post would likely be met with “Because you don’t know how to / you’re lazy” (Both kinda true) - but its certainly not the only reason. The fact that some models just expect to be, um, “touched up” (for want of a better turn of phrase) really doesn't sit well with me. Its the whole feeling the need to conform thing - the herd mentality that forums and indeed the internet as a whole often promotes. Its feeling the need to conform to these expectations, nay, feeling obliged to, that is a stepping stone to body dysmorphia. Its just another reason why I will probably not stick with shooting “beauty” shots in the long term. As my bio on a certain site says - scars, wrinkles, marks etc is what makes us who we are - why would I wan’t to shoot one subject after another and spend ages “tweaking” them to make each shoot/subject an homogenised example of the colour beige. Not for me, thanks."

Sometimes images hold a special significance to us. It can be the first image we ever made, it can be an image drawing attention to a cause close to our hearts, it can simply be an image of someone we love. Do you have an image or images that hold a special significance to you?

"Well, I was originally going to post one of my own, but I think it would be more honest to post an image that made me think “That’s what I want to make” - and its still a very powerful image for me. Whenever I hit a creative slump, I keep returning to this image...

© Michael Ackerman give me a kick up the arse. I am still a million miles away from shooting anything like this, but some day…."

Photography sometimes leaves you open to scary or funny situations. What's the scariest or funniest situation you've found yourself in because of photography?

"Christ, you know, I don’t have really! I have shot a lot of street photography over a number of years and have never had an issue with confrontation. Best I can do is a boring example of me making a school boy error; I bought a Hasselblad and was inspired to attempt some landscape photography with it. I packed it up, with a tripod and cable release and drove some distance to Malham Cove. I parked up and carried all this shit to the photographed-to-death Limestone Pavement and took a while to load the film, set up the camera, take meter readings and wait for the right gust of wind to blow some material caught in the branches of a gnarly tree. I was there for about an hour, when finally “whoosh” - the wind delivered her goods and “click” - nothing! The shutter wouldn’t release. Panicked, I double checked the camera, and tried to fire a few test shots, but to no avail. After about another hour, embarrassed and frustrated, I packed up and left and drove back to home crap home. I was really distraught, because my initial feeling was that this beautiful camera I had just invested around £800 was broken. For a few minutes, there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then I noticed the dark slide, which I had neglected to take out. What a dick! Now I make it a habit to write "dark slide” somewhere about my person. This has steadily grown into a plethora of notes, a la War and Peace over the years and now if you end up having a shoot with me and I look like Guy Pearce in Memento (except without the square jaw and brooding antipodean good looks) you’ll now know why."

We've talked about your start in photography, we talked about your current work, let's quickly chat about the future. What have you got coming up this year, more of the same? any special projects? And in regards to a more long term plan, where are you hoping your creative journey will take you in the years to come?

"I'm currently involved in a semi-long term project that is tentatively titled “Siren”. It;s a bit of a radical departure for me and my style of shooting, is fairly ambitious and involves a number of very well established creative people. I want to always be about making my photography tangible, to Siren will hopefully lead to a book and certainly some prints. Siren is going to be a work of visual fiction - a fairy tale of sorts, that will hopefully work on two levels. Something that is none explicit and is accessible for children, but also something that adults will appreciate and who will realise there is a darker undercurrent that kids [may not] initially notice. Because any text will be sparse, the story can be told or understood in numerous ways. Its under lying themes are life, death, escaping, being consumed and drowning - both figuratively and literally. I want this element of tangibility to run like a golden thread through this and future projects. 
It’s sad that a lot of peoples photography ends up a zero’s and one’s on the internet. Some people buy 40 megapixel camera and shoot in RAW, then only ever upload to the net to be seen on, what? A lap top? A tablet? Phone? Smart watch? 

After Siren, I’ll be looking to shoot some documentary work, I think. I’d like to do something a bit gritty and personally challenging. Not just for the sake of it, though - its just that ambition thing again, I think. More to push myself to work that bit harder to produce something worth someone's time and perhaps even money? I’d very much love to shoot something nearing the aesthetic that Michael Ackerman produced throughout his Half Life book (probably my favourite photo book). See? Overly ambitious. I'm conscious of shooting in genres (and bear with me, as this may seem slightly controversial) that are quite incestuous in their nature (lots of people working with the same people and promoting each other cyclically) and although beauty and portraiture is as difficult a genre to master as any (and, indeed, I am at the very bottom rung of that ladder), I am always aware that producing images of very good looking people is somewhat of a quick win. Even if you don’t conform to certain technical expectations or current trends (milky baths, native American head dresses, stuff in front of the camera etc), most images still seem to garner positive comments and attain love. Shooting with models and other creatives has been an invaluable lesson for me. I have learned an immense amount about collaboration and compromise and even to some degree, about professional expectation and legal issues. Its been a very sobering process for me - I was completely ignorant of most of these aspects this time last year. What I like to look at, the aesthetic that I get enjoyment from does not translate well to beauty images. Indeed, its probably counter productive. People in this industry (and it is that for some people - their full time living) are not interested in exclusively black and white, unphotoshopped-warts-and-all, abstracted images, because then, its not what is commonly understood as “beauty” any more, is it? 

Its not a criticism in any way. Well, it might be, but not of anyone else. Just me. Its an issue of mine, only. I'm attempting to transfer elements from one genre to another and that is not always mutually acceptable."

We can't really talk photography without discussing gear, so...what is your 'go to' equipment that you find yourself gravitating towards the most on shoots?

"Years ago, I used to be a right gear head. I've lost count of the thousands I've thrown away on gear. Its been a slow burn of a lesson, but thankfully, I've learned from it and now have a very stripped back selection of gear.

My “go to” camera is a battered old, unreliable Contax 645. I do have a Contax G2 and a couple of Polaroids, but the 645 is my default camera. I don’t have a range of lenses either - just the amazeballs 80mm f/2 (and 45mm on the G2). The G2 and the 645 compliment each other due to their similar focal lengths (equivalent) and almost identical aspect ratios. I am naturally inclined to shoot a lot wider (80mm on a 645 medium format body is the equivalent to a 50mm on “full frame”). This focal length to me is a bit of a half way house. I'm much happier with anything between 28-35mm (full frame) - I think this comes from previously shooting street etc. I am currently considering “toying” with the now defunct “Holga” cameras for my next project. I like the idea of something anti-technical, but still very usable and portable and relying more on the content of the resultant image over the perceived IQ. I am always talking about the “feeling” of a photograph with a friend of mine and this is certainly by no means gear dependant. Plenty of images look pretty, but not many make you “feel” something. Stripping down to some extremely simple cameras should be a good test of that. If/when I return to digital (I am not a digital hater, I just prefer the aesthetic and the haptics of shooting film) I will likely return to a high end compact with a fixed focal length. Despite wielding the Contax, I'm not concerned about the perceptions of others and don’t feel the need to wave around a bulky DSLR with an L series zoom on it in order to garner respect. I'm not an inverted snob though, either. Everyone should just shoot what they are happy with or what best suits their chosen genre. As previously discussed, I don’t really have a chosen genre, but I am definitely keeping my gear options open for where I think I'm headed in the next couple of years. 

I'm sorry. I realise I have just given you my life story. You only wanted to know what gear I leaned towards for shoots! lol - Short answer - Contax 645"

Now for the shameless self promotion part of the interview...where can people find you and your work?

"Well, my “hub” is my website which is (probably due a spring clean) but for something a bit more accessible and for some behind the scenes stuff, my Facebook page is"

Once again, I'd like to thank Chris for taking the time to answer a few questions for me. Be sure to check out all the links above to see more of his work.

Models Featured; CinnamonGaze, Harley Monster and Amy Morris.


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