“Reflecting on one’s work in the darkroom. I know of no better place to form a voice in your head about your photography than in the pitch-black or the red of a safety light.”
Christian Finbar Kelly
Christian Finbar Kelly (born in 1976) is a photographer from the USA currently living in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. He studied photography at Columbia College in Chicago, Illinois. Christian Finbar Kelly has a passion for analogue photography and alternative photographic processes, such as pinhole photography and cyanotypes for example.
“I am not interested in software. Paintings, illustration, sculptures, and photos don’t come from pixels. My art is moving forward by standing still. I move with it and together we explore possibilities. We are interested in fitting out with society. Dedication,creativity, and patience make art and life important and easy to share.”
Interview with Christian Finbar Kelly
Christian, why did you become a photographer? And why pinhole?
My father initially encouraged and supported my interest in photography. He knew I had an interest in the arts, but painting and music didn’t seem to be subjects I was fully grasping. I think he might have sparked the photo interest. I was 9 or 10 years old he enrolled me in an after school photo program. I used a Kodak point and shoot that took the disc film. I stuck with it, he bought me a used Konica SLR with some cool lenses.
“The special effects, the magical way to tell a story, the patience, and the minimalism of the machine, for me, are very attractive parts of pinhole.”
Later in life I was in college, things weren’t working out. I realized I needed to find a way to make a living doing something I would do for free. I moved from Boston to Chicago, that’s when I choose photography as my path.
I was introduced to Pinhole photography in high school art class. At Columbia College in Chicago I took an entire semester of pinhole photography with Valerie Burke. I started making my own cameras. I used a foot locker, broken cameras, cardboard containers, cans, multiple lenses, etc. I loved being able to use large format film without purchasing a view camera.
The special effects, the magical way to tell a story, the patience, and the minimalism of the machine, for me, are very attractive parts of pinhole.
Is there anything in particular that you want to say with your pictures? And in other words: What is it that a photograph can say at all?
I want my photos to say handmade. This was a process that uses light, darkness, and chemistry.
Has pinhole photography in particular has taught you something about photography in general?
Wait for it.
You also like to experiment with other alternative photographic processes. Can you explain what you do exactly?
I go off in a lot of directions. This year I made a life-size female body emulsion lift. It took 295 separate photos of the body. Each slide was used to make a print onto Fuji pack film. I lifted the emulsion and put it on the armature in its coinciding position. For instance, photos of the collarbone went on the collarbone, the detail is really good. I love looking at the finger nails.
I have been doing a lot of cyanotypes and Van Dykes. I do contact prints of pinholes photos and I use 8×10 negatives I make in the darkroom with Lith film. When it’s not sunny out, I use a personal face tanner to make my exposures.
I just completed five glow in the dark photos for my Halloween show at Armature Art Space. I used liquid light and paint on bamboo.
In the past I was a Polaroid transfer junkie. Nowadays I am experimenting with doing transfer with the fuji pack film. It has to be done in the pitch black, I still am warming up to it.
Besides your experimental work you do fashion photography as well. How does that differ from other projects you do? And what do they maybe have in common?
In the past I tied my experimental photos into fashion. I did a series of lingerie shots using Polaroid transfers, some pinhole too. Experimental photo is like a fashion editorial. You might have an idea of what you want when you begin, but through process the idea can grow in many directions.
Can you recall any special moment shooting pictures?
I was recently at a prison taking photos of artist inmates. While I was shooting a band, one of the inmates walked up and exclaimed, “Is that an RB67, that’s a workhorse, that was my camera of choice!” He went on to tell me it was his camera for 20 years, until 1992 when he was locked up. He thought he would never see one again. I gave him the camera and let him shoot the last few frames. His love for photography was striking.
Which photographer has inspired you most?
Peter LeGrand. His love of ideas and different ways of solving photo problems.
What’s your favorite photography quote?
“I don’t like to have my picture taken.” The entire world before social media
How would you describe your photographic language and creative process of shooting pinhole images?
Patience paints the picture. Slow down, smoking some marijuana is always a good start. It’s going to take some time, so, during an exposure, daydream a little.
What’s important in order to develop an own photographic language?
Reflecting on one’s work in the darkroom. I know of no better place to form a voice in your head about your photography than in the pitch-black or the red of a safety light.
What do you consider to be the axis of your work – technically and conceptually?
Where do you draw inspiration from for your photographic projects?
Mostly from my imagination and what I can do with what I have.
What kind of photography equipment and photographic supplies do you use?
A 4×5 Leonardo pinhole, an 8×10 wooden pinhole, an RB67, a Holga, a Nikon F4 and N70, a Polaroid Land Camera, a Polaroid day lab, an Omega Chromega B color enlarger, Ilford and Kodak film, Ilford fiber-based paper, Fuji Crystal archive, Rockland liquid light, Photographers Formula brand stuff. In the darkroom, I stick to Kodak chemistry. For lighting, I love my Alien Bees and the sun at golden hour.
What photography book would you recommend?
The Museum of Modern Art’s book of Philip-Lorca diCorcia’s work. The light is incredible.
Which advice would you give to someone getting started with pinhole photography?
Don’t bother doing digital pinhole. It makes pixels even uglier. Get some film, poke a tiny hole in a body cap, smooth it out, shoot, keep notes, in time you will know your camera.
Last but not least, let’s switch roles: Which question would you have liked to be asked in this interview about your work that I didn’t ask? Please feel free to add it – as well as the answer.
Q: Are digital imaging and photography the same?
A: No, outside of sharing some of the same equipment, the two are entirely different. Photography needs chemistry and is created for the world we physically participate with. They both capture light, but so does opening your eyes. Pixels are for computers. I don’t see why anyone would print pixels on paper and call it photography. I find that to be insulting, it’s a picture. It would be like coating canvas with emulsion and telling everyone I am a painter working in Realism.
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